The Power of Vulnerability
By Lacey Roy | Photography by Alexis Emm
When I was just a little girl dreaming of being a grownup, I told my dad I was going to change the world. I innately understood that to do so, I would need to be perfect.
But I wasn’t. I’d experience devastating lows that lasted until I didn’t feel anything at all. The days of crying turned into a desert of non-emotion. Equally devastating highs destroyed relationships. My friends’ lack of ability to keep up with me caused frustration, as did my own inability to complete a thought, as dozens of them ran through my brain at once.
Then, about 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar. I hid my diagnosis for close to a decade, although I was relieved that there truly was a reason for what I felt was wrong with me.
But what happened to that perfection I’d need to change the world?
I had spent decades striving to be like everyone else. And at times, everything flowed. My mask was applied fresh every morning, as I patted foundation in place and swept the soft pink eyeshadow across my lids to brighten my face.
Looking back on those times, I remember how excited I was that I’d figured it all out. When I fully immerse myself in specific memories from that time, I see the disillusionment. I still feel the vague, fuzzy feeling of disconnection from people I saw on a daily basis.
I had many friends and I had no friends, simultaneously. With my diagnosis carefully tucked away, I hid behind my mask, enclosing myself in my glass cube. I was too scared to go out into the real world and connect with someone, anyone.
“How are you?” people asked me. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
I answered flippantly with a pleasantry of some sort, while I patted my mask back into place throughout the day. Behind the mask, the answer was, “I feel like I’m drowning. I’m exhausted.” To my own detriment, the people I enjoyed seeing had no real connection with me. I wasn’t ready for vulnerability.
After years of this exhausting masquerade, I wondered if there was another type of perfection. “Perfectly imperfect” seemed to sum up my acceptance of myself and my uniquely gifted brain.
Ultimately, my perfectly imperfect way of embracing my new normal brought me to the decision to “out” myself on Facebook to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month a few years ago. Once a week throughout that month, I’d chronicle my day, including the internal-but-not-mine voices I hear. I gave myself permission to be vulnerable for the first time I could truly remember.
I’ve learned my purpose isn’t to change the world, but to show acceptance.
Through my writing of real-life answers to simple questions and starkly honest speaking engagements, I know what connection is. A few people usually linger after my talks to tell me they or their friends share the same challenges, but they had been too scared to connect with other people. Lifelong friends have sent me carefully- worded text messages, full of brave honesty, telling me I’m not alone in my exhaustion or elatedness.
The power of vulnerability isn’t about changing. It’s about accepting — accepting yourself through your own perfect imperfection. SWM
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For more information, visit nami.org/mentalhealthmonth.
Lacey Roy was photographed at The Gear Factory in Syracuse. For more information, visit thegearfactorysyr.com.