Jillybean's Blog











{August 7, 2013}   To Be…or Not to Be…Seen…

We spend a lot of time trying to hide things.
It could be the old “guilty pleasure” CDs we hide on the shelf behind intelligently-titled books. Perhaps it’s those few extra pounds gained over a particularly indulgent weekend we hide under baggy shirt tops. We hide it when we’re wrong, when we fall in love, and when our feelings are inconvenient. We hide all kinds of things.
This tendency fascinated me enough to begin exploring the concept of vulnerability just in time for New Year’s Day.
I was enchanted by the empowerment birthed from “allowing yourself be seen,” as Dr. Brene Brown puts it. How exciting was it to stand up and be honest all the time?
I read a few books, put out a few self-revealing blogs with a new emphasis on the “truth,” and adopted a new focus. Honesty, honesty, honesty. I got it. Easy enough.

But honesty is not vulnerability and I didn’t know that I was so terrified to be truly vulnerable that I would risk my life to “protect” my pride.

And as is the case in life…just as we’re sure we “get it,” just as we’re sure there is nothing more to be learned about something, we’re tested.

Like, REALLY tested.

***

The trigger for this lesson was waiting for me on a warm June night at a hotel in San Antonio, Texas. We had just wrapped up another broadcast day at the NBA Finals. Game Five was over. In the morning we would head back to Miami for Game Six.

The hotel restaurant was open late. Maybe we’d all have a quick bite before bed.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten.

No wonder that bowl of mixed nuts sitting in the middle of the table looked so appealing. Mixed nuts NEVER look appealing. Everyone knows they’re the dirtiest nuts out there (yeah, yeah, I know…).
But try telling your growling stomach that at one o’clock in the morning.

I sat down and immediately became engaged in a discussion about work with some higher ups. I was so involved in the seriousness of what we were talking about that…I just…didn’t…see it.

I absent-mindedly reached for it without looking. It was the first and only one I ate.

I knew it as soon as I did. It was a Brazil nut.

I’ve never been allergic to nuts. They are always part of my diet. I mean, sure, the last time I had a Brazil nut, my throat itched for a few minutes. It was nothing a glass of water and a little patience couldn’t cure. But this was different.

Something was wrong. TERRIBLY wrong.

As my superiors brainstormed and strategized, I was torn…torn between hanging in there and contributing to the conversation…while trying to hide a reaction with which I was extremely uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

What was happening to me??

I was LITERALLY morphing. Is this how the Hulk or a werewolf feels??

My palms started to itch.
My eyes started to water.
I went to speak. Oh, no. Dear God, no. I lost my voice.
When my tongue swelled and my lips doubled in size, I knew I had to make an excuse to leave the table. I tried to gracefully exit while disguising my panic.

All I cared about was escaping before anyone noticed. Sure, safety was in the back of my mind somewhere…but for some reason, that PALED in comparison to the horror I’d feel if anyone here, any of these professional superiors saw…me…weak.

“Where’s…the…bath…” Oh shit, I’m SQUEAKING. Was that a SQUEAK???

Let’s try again.

I barely squeezed out the words.

“Where is…need tuh…ahem…cough…(coughing fit)…to…’scuse me.”

Uh oh.

“A-hem. A-HEM. ” Is that MY voice? What pitch is that?

Great, now I can’t breathe. But that’s ok. As long as nobody SEES me. Thank God it’s dark in here. I put my head down and calmly walked forward, tossing a cursory wave in the direction of more familiar faces walking through the halls.

PLEASE don’t look at me.

Harboring inner panic with the need to save face is a TOUGH balancing act.

If I thought I was hiding anything, I only had a few minutes before this unexpected and unidentifiable attack came on with increasing severity.

I went to the bathroom and scrubbed myself clean. Soap, water, paper towels, the whole bit. My heart sank when I saw how swollen my eyes were. There was NO WAY I could go back out there. My face was puffy, breathing shallow…my lips were…actually my lips were looking pretty sexy…but they obviously weren’t mine.
Not recognizing your own face is a pretty scary thing.

Holy shit. I may be in actual trouble here.

I remembered I had an emergency antihistamine up in my room. If I could get up there without being seen, I’d be fine. Everything would be back to normal.

***

I snuck away to my room, took the pill, sat on the bed and rocked myself a little.
“Breathe, Jill. Breathe. This will pass. Deep breaths. Push through. NO one can know. Don’t panic. In…and out… You got this. You ARE GOING to Miami. Breathe.”

I probably needed a doctor. I probably needed serious medical attention. But that wasn’t the issue for me. I HAD to get to Miami. I HAD to be ok. I closed my eyes and just kept breathing.

***

Wait…was it already 6AM??? Shit, I have to get downstairs. Wait, that’s STILL NOT MY FACE. What the hell am I gonna do???
No, suck it up. We’re leaving for the airport! I look like hell…but at least I can breathe.

I sure as hell hope the ticket agent can match my face to my ID…what if they won’t let me just get on the freaking plane?

What if my colleagues see how disfigured I look standing in line? Will they assume I had a postgame bender and judge me for it? And even if they do know I suffered a severe allergy, will they, even worse, pity me?
Nope. Status quo.
I pulled the drawstrings on my hoodie to near-closed and put sunglasses on to cover the rest.

I arrived at the gate and sat on the floor, nursing a bottle of water. I tilted my head back and waited to board.

Can we please just GO already???

I rubbed my face gently with my hands. It was STILL completely swollen.

I’ll tell you this. You can think you wished at times that you looked different…had higher cheek bones, a nose a different size…but when your face is actually disfigured and you FEEL it in your hands, all you can think about is how much you miss YOUR face.

This, my friends, was anaphylactic shock. And it wasn’t pretty. Uglier still was my reaction to it. When I really needed help, what did I do? I hid. And I continued to hide it as long as I could. I was a complete and total coward.

And then it hit me.

In light of all my recent studies, just what exactly did I REALLY know about vulnerability?

No matter what I’d read or what mantras I’d tried to cement in my brain for automatic recall in recent months, I still didn’t get it. I didn’t know the first thing about true vulnerability. There I was, physically vulnerable, and I couldn’t bear to be SEEN by anyone. It was a physical lesson, made simple enough for me to grasp the concept. And as we all know, the exterior is sometimes merely a reflection of what’s going on the inside.

Sack up, Krebs.

I took a deep breath and walked over to my boss. Time to be seen.

“When we land, I should probably go to the hospital.”

***

My Connecticut bestie picked me up in a car to take me to urgent care when I landed in Miami.
I greeted him with a huge smile and a hug. Wow, it was good to see him.

He wasn’t so happy with me.

“Are you fucking crazy??? You are THIS sick and got on a plane??? Now I’M gonna kill you.”

He was right. I was lucky. Damn lucky. Did I really risk my health (and possibly my life) because an unhealthy dose of pride prevented me from being seen…and being helped? It was actually a pretty scary thought. This was a personal flaw in need of serious attention. Sometimes you HAVE to let people help you and admit when you’re physically weak. And the same is true on the inside. Maybe there was a spiritual connection here.

After a trip to the ER, and a few jokes with the cute doctor about maybe keeping the lips I’d really learned to like over the last eight hours, I had time to reflect while recovering in my hotel room later that night.

The physical representation of vulnerability in its simplest form was perfectly clear. How many other things had I left unsaid…left hidden?

***

Vulnerability is an interesting topic and it doesn’t just mean being honest. In fact, brutal honesty is often more about going on the offensive.
And it’s not just about being “strong.”
It’s not just about having the courage to look up from your phone while standing in an elevator comprised of total strangers and saying, “hi, how are you?” instead of pretending that last text message was REALLY urgent and just couldn’t wait because you’re THAT important.

It doesn’t just mean telling your kids you love them more often, or being affectionate with a spouse or apologizing when you’re sorry.

It’s not about ignoring the last person who hurt you and being “strong enough” not to show emotion while passing them in the hallway because you’re unaffected to the point of being “over it.”

It’s about holding your head high, smiling, and saying hello, even when you feel the need, practically BEG yourself, to just look away.

It’s about looking people in the face, even when you may be showing your cards.

It’s about not panicking and hyper-cleaning the house when you’re expecting houseguests. It’s about leaving a few dishes in the sink before company comes over and saying, “that’s me. I get busy, lazy…whatever.”

It’s about saying, “I like you, and that’s that.”

It’s about being brave enough to say, “you don’t treat me well enough,” and having the courage to watch someone walk away, thus evincing the clarity of your conviction in doing the right thing.

It’s about knowing you have a weak spot. Knowing you have a “kryptonite.” (Mine is apparently a nut. Insert joke here.) It’s about taking this knowledge, and knowing that, no matter who knows your weakness, you are absolutely more than enough…even when you need to grow.

It’s about not saying anything to and about yourself that you wouldn’t say to a dear friend.

It’s about having the strength to extract the lesson from any given situation or heart-wrenching disappointment without bringing the emotional baggage along for self-protection.

It’s about not having to take a shot of whiskey before hitting “publish” on a blog.

It’s about not hiding yourself anymore.

Sometimes we think vulnerability is about being comfortable with being truly seen by others at our best.

But it’s more about being comfortable with being seen by others AS YOU ARE.

Exactly where you are right now.

Exactly who you are. Flaws and all.

Who knows? Your physical well-being and mental health just may DEPEND on it.

And how liberating is that?

***

And now I’m certain, should this happen to me again…should I find myself with a swollen tongue and puffy lips and disfigured face, I’ll stand up and shout from the middle of the restaurant, “WHERE the hell is the EpiPen???????”

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Sandy says:

You are very, very, very lucky you survived that reaction and lived to tell about it. Also, you are &*%#@ nuts! No pun intended.



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