Facing the Vulnerable You

Vulnerability. We all experience the dread of coming face-to-face with our weaknesses and fears manifest. The racing heart. The light-headedness. The overwhelming need to break down and cry. Unfortunately in the West, we are often taught to push beyond our vulnerabilities as they are considered a sign of lesser character or even narcissism. Yet as is proven in physics, energy never disappears but rather alchemizes into different forms and functions. The need for a good cry, box-locked and forgotten will one day rear its ugly mug with demands compounded and physiological-the body will be forced to deal with what the mind tried to evade. And yet, God forbid you open-up and show your vulnerable side to your doctor. A doctor who was trained to look at the body and its dis-ease compartmentalized from the spiritual and emotional whereabouts of the patient. These pesky little burdens which are quickly dispatched for fear of “dirty’ing up”the clean field of diagnostic medicine. However, it is often while sitting quietly in acceptance of this vulnerability and by shining a light on our most elemental fears that the greatest strides in healing can be met. We shouldn’t be so quick to “shake it off”, as often times, this vulnerability points directly to our present state and guides us to our imbalance.

A while back, my six-year old gifted me his stomach flu the day on which I was scheduled to give back-to-back lectures. Unsure of myself and shaky with the deleterious effects taking hold of my body and mind, I looked out at twelve unknown faces and a wave of panic ensued. What if I couldn’t hold my space? What if I needed to make a dash for the restroom? What if I zoned out and lost my mojo? Here I stood, empty, exhausted, and afraid, yet having committed to informatively and entertainingly share my medicine with a group of strangers—the epitome of vulnerable. My first instinct was to brush it aside, giving myself a Knute Rockne inspired internal peptalk, “Ragsdale you f***ing pansy! Blahblahblah…”

Now I was shitting my pants. Literally and figuratively.

Plan B: Running out of the room without looking back, seemed a bit extreme.

Plan C: (gulp) Coming clean and admit to myself and these strangers that I would not be my normal charming self and that I was frightened and hurting and in need of support.

Instead of trying to make an end-run round my weakness, I sat quietly and watched it as it slithered into the nooks and crannies of my consciousness and then with a deep breath, I told the group my fears. This circle, which had taken time out of their busy schedules to listen to an acupuncturist riff on the “Zen of healthy living” was now forced to contend with my vulnerability and its effects on the room and those gathered within.

It worked. I relaxed into the moment; the room seemed to expand with a collective and empathetic breath. I took note of this compassion, this space brimmed with sympathetic smiles and I lost myself in the talk. Beyond anything that I taught that day, I believe that the ‘take home message’ was one in which I was a living example of recognizing, accepting, and even appreciating our weaknesses no matter how malefic they appear .

I have carried this newly engendered strength with me into the treatment room since then. I am more in tune with my patients’ fears and vulnerabilities, those manifest and those still lurking in the darkened corners. I wish upon all docs and patients that they are able to meet in the darkest moments of vulnerability while creating a space of emotional, spiritual, and physical assuagement. This is the truest expression of a patient-doctor relationship. This is healing medicine.