Have you ever had one of those breakdowns?
When things fall apart. When life, as you know it, collapses into pieces.
Some view those moments as downfalls. Others, like my client Chris, decided to turn his breakdown into a breakthrough.
Today, Chris shares his story on how he built deeper connections. How he went from being closed to opening up about his struggles, fears, and vulnerability. (The new and much more attractive kind of strength and masculinity, am I right ladies?)
As always, leave a note to this epically inspiring man who shares his story in the raw, honest and no BS way I know you’ll love.
I leave it over to you Chris…
From closed to embracing vulnerability
At the start of 2015, I was a broken man.
It felt like my world had collapsed around me. Within a three-month period my marriage had crumbled, ending in divorce; and my cousin, who was battling depression, took his own life.
I had a million and one thoughts and feelings running through my mind, but I dealt with them the only way I knew how: I internalised them. To those whom I did speak, it was only sparingly and to no great extent. At the time, this is what I considered to be the best way to deal with the way I was feeling.
Why couldn’t I ask for help from those that are close to me? Something I have never fully understood.
A shoulder to lean on, perhaps? Or just someone to listen to what I have to say? Why can’t I allow myself to feel vulnerable, and let those close to me know that I am actually not feeling so great?
Oh, that’s right, it’s that male complex thing where you are not allowed to let your guard down, for fear of being considered less of a man.
For 35 years, this train of thought has conditioned me to internalise almost all of my struggles in life. Until recently, I would never have opened up to partners, family or friends. If I did, it would only ever have been to allow the smallest glimpse into some of the troubles I was facing.
I was recently described by a long-term friend as being “a closed clam” when it came to discussing my state of mind. No matter what issues I was facing, I would never discuss them; with anyone. I retreated. I internalised every single struggle and challenge that came my way.
I thought it was what everyone did? And I was no exception. After all, surely those who are close to you don’t need to be burdened with your emotional struggles? Why should they take on that responsibility?
Ignoring doesn’t change things, it just keeps you stuck
I really thought that if I ignored the feelings, in time, they would just go away. Right?
Wrong. How very wrong I was.
Three years have passed since those events. Carrying the weight of those emotions, for so many years, has undeniably dragged me down in so many areas of my life. It wasn’t until recently when meeting someone who challenged the way I internalised my thoughts and feelings, that I realised how damaging this behaviour can be.
A negative outlook; a lack of empathy; constant mood swings; and the inability just to have fun: just some of the areas I can now recognise are a result of internalising everything. I have come to realise that if I don’t pay special attention to these traits, the downward spiral will continue and become even worse.
How accepting vulnerability changed everything
I don’t want to be that guy. I want to lead a happy life. All of these things have come from an inability to allow myself to be vulnerable, to open up and discuss how I am feeling, or what I am thinking.
There isn’t some magic switch inside you where you can one day wake up and say to yourself — “Ok, yep, all good. I want to open up now and talk about everything with everyone — problem solved.” That button just doesn’t exist, unfortunately.
You just need to make a big effort to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to open up to those your trust, and to be patient — patient that you won’t change overnight.
A couple of months ago I did an exercise with myself, drawing up a list of people I considered to be in my close inner and secondary circles. I wrote an article about how I have let fear influence my every decision from adolescence onwards. To the point where fear had convinced me to never explore certain business and professional opportunities, as I was petrified of failing or the potential of being made a fool of. It removed my ability to communicate with loved ones on a deep level – because what if that person would reject me or not love me for who I am?
Once completed, I emailed them individually with a link to the article, basically stating that “hey — this may explain a few things about me. These are my struggles. If you want to chat about them, I am ready to discuss them with you, as I really value you in my life.”
I hit the send button, and instantaneously my mind was running wild with self-doubt.
I questioned my decision and worked myself up into a total panic. Perhaps showing this vulnerability to my close ones would be frowned upon? Most of these people would have never heard me discuss this kind of thing before.
How wrong I was… again.
The bridge to building real connections
Over the following week, it became so very clear how much they actually cared. The biggest surprise of all was that by me opening up about my own struggles, some of my friends started to open up about their struggles in return. This started a dialogue that I had never experienced with them before.
Everybody’s inner-circle is made up of a different dynamic and is unique to you. For example, my close inner-circle is made up of five solid friends I have known since high school.
Everyone in my circle responded to the article in their own way, but there was a common message that ran through all of the responses:
“I am here to support you, always. I am here to listen to ANYTHING you want to talk about, at any time.”
Fast forward until now, and I can happily say that I am a lot better than I was, even a few months ago. I’m still far from being a total “open book”, but I know that I will be a bit better tomorrow than I was yesterday. And a little better again next week. It is a slow process, but one that I know will be worth it.
Step outside your comfort zone
If you’re not used to opening up, this will feel terrifying. But, it will be worth it. That moment of discomfort is nothing in comparison to the love, connection and honesty I’ve seen as a result. If I can do this – then so can you.
If you’re longing for deeper connections, then first decide to make a change. Then put yourself outside your comfort zone by opening up about something you normally wouldn’t. It may be over email, phone or in person – the medium doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take the step to share a piece of the real you…..
Talk, talk, talk. Be open, be vulnerable, and stop keeping your troubles to yourself. Write your thoughts down. Don’t keep them internalised and unprocessed. Seek help from those that are close to you, and do not be afraid to seek professional help if needed. I do both. Research, and use trial and error to see what you feel comfortable with, in order to get the best results.
Remember, you’re not in this alone.
Originally from Australia, Chris is currently taking some time out to explore Europe and beyond. After 10 years of working in Digital Marketing and eCommerce within the luxury retail sector, Chris is now investigating how technology can be utilised in agriculture and food production to ensure we don’t kill the planet trying to feed ourselves. Feel free to reach out at c.nolan[at]icloud.com