Are You Courageous?

Courage is from the Latin word, cor, meaning heart — the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. *

It takes great effort to be courageous in the face of infertility. This is just one of many thoughts that provoked new insights this week. The insights first percolated at a business presentation on Monday and continued over lunch with Wendy on Wednesday. Each filled in the canvas of understanding infertility and what it takes to move forward a bit further.

It started when two young entrepreneurs talked about applying their talent in bringing communities together online to help people with chronic diseases manage their conditions in a way that promotes healthier bodies and happier lives. A wonderful side effect is that positive reinforcements from peers and behavior changes also help combat depression. They referenced studies that show that:

Depression caused by chronic disease often aggravates the condition,especially if the illness causes pain and fatigue, or limits a person’s ability to interact with others. Depression can intensify pain, as well as fatigue and sluggishness. The combination of chronic illness and depression also can cause people to isolate themselves, which is likely to exacerbate the depression.

When I was diagnosed with endometriosis and infertility and it became evident there was no “cure” in sight, I fell into a serious funk. Limited interaction with others (e.g. my fertile peers in particular)? Isolation? check. check.  That’s where the online world and the ability to engage with those who share chronic conditions brought a world of support and positive reinforcement. It’s not surprising that most people with infertility find each other online using an alias. Some conditions are more socially acceptable than others. Alas, infertility still has a long way to go in that regard, which takes me to my second set of insights: the complications brought about by a sense of shame and vulnerability.

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Over salads Wendy talked to me about *Brené Brown, a social worker and prof who has researched shame, vulnerability, courage, compassion and connection. Brené explains in her talks and writing that “shame is easily understood as the fear of disconnection.”

Light bulbs went on. I started connecting dots. Isolation caused by shame leads to disconnection. I must know more. I dug in further last night and captured the following thoughts and soundbytes from Brené’s talk at TED that sounded oh so familiar. (You can listen and watch her full talk here.)

Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?

“The hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection.”

“The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”

She interviewed people and determined that the people who possess a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. Among her findings:

1) What those who felt worthy had in common is courage. Those who felt worthy had the courage to be imperfect.

2) They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others…”because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.”

3) They had connection. “This was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,” — essential for true connection.

Finally, they embraced vulnerability. They believe that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.

Brené’s findings were the opposite of what she expected. Stymied, she struggled because she knew that “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

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I could not agree more. Much as I learned in my own coming to terms with infertility and the shame and isolation it caused, it was damned difficult to acknowledge that I was different: infertile but still worthy. That acknowledgment became the first step in overcoming my fear of being rejected and allowed me to find a path back to being connected. As Brené points out, “we cannot selectively numb emotion.” When we numb the hard emotions (fear, grief, sadness) we numb joy, happiness and gratitude.

The challenge, she points out, is that the more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are. To be vulnerable, though, is to be alive. “To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably see; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — that’s really hard — to practice gratitude and joy in moments of terror.”

Amen, sister. I’ll close this post with one other thought from Brené: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.”

What’s your story? If you’d like to share more than a comment — an essay or blog post, please email me ptsigdinos (@) yahoo (dot) com.

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4 thoughts on “Are You Courageous?

  1. Lucy

    dear Pamela,
    your thoughts always warm my heart… which perfect in the cold winter.
    kind regards from Europe,

  2. being vulnerable is so difficult and it is scary. i found out a long time ago that my willingness to be vulnerable with people and open about my struggles and imperfections actually helped to free me. great post.

  3. Tammy Rusnak

    Courage. I am not there yet. We just stopped our treatments in December 2010. Still working through the anger, sadness and depression. But I like that “courage” is something that is attainable. It will take time but, hey, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to start repeating the word to myself over and over until I get the perfect fit.

  4. LizG

    Love this! So profound!

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