Why it's a good thing
So coming to learn that vulnerability was good was somewhat counter-intuitive to me. US researcher Brene Brown talks about vulnerability in one of her Ted talks. She’s bigtime so she knows what she’s talking about (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability).
And so there I was this morning wearing a not-very-fetching blue polyester V-neck T-Shirt with nothing on underneath (I got to keep my long pants and knickers on, luckily) i.e. bra-less in the radiography department of Ascot Hospital, here in Auckland, New Zealand, pretending that everything was normal while a male radiographer told me all about the procedure I was about to undergo. I noticed I was vulnerable because I was holding my hands, with elbows bent, in front of me, protecting the nipple region. Usually there’s another layer, i.e. the fabric of my bra, between me and a total stranger. So in the absence of that layer my slightly nervous hands did the job. Sort of. Feeling exposed like that in strange surroundings – ie a CT scan room – was very odd and slightly unnerving. The radiographer, a nice, 40-something chap, with greying hair and a rather bushy moustache, was doing all the talking. Then he asked me if I’d had a CT scan before.
‘Is it the noisy one?’ I ventured, having a stab at it, really, because I was pretty sure I hadn’t had a CT scan in the past.
‘No’, he replied, gently, in a way that didn’t leave me feeling ashamed of not having the Right Answer.
‘That’s an MRI.’
Which I kind of knew, having had an MRI about a year ago for a dodgy knee. However, having been a journo for years and years, I am not the slightest bit afraid of asking silly questions. Then he went into quite a long explanation of what the scan was about. Something about finding if I have some kind of crusty build-up in my arteries which can lead to heart disease. Of which my family, on both sides, has much experience. Probably the reason I’m here in the first place. And to see if I need to keep taking a medication called statins, which I don’t care about much because I don’t seem to get all the yucky side effects that others complain about. Then it occurred to me that his spiel was to justify the $330 I would be stung with afterwards. Poor bastard probably gives this spiel 20 times a day, I thought. And the least I could do was listen even though I wished he’d just get on with the job so I could get out of there and home for a cup of tea; tea being the only stimulant I ingest these day, and I had missed my first of the day because it contained caffeine, something I’d been told to avoid 24 hours before the scan (god knows why).
If the scans shows that I don’t have the artery-clogging stuff I’m at less risk of heart disease and I can stop taking the statins. The nice radiographer said it was important to have this ‘warrant of fitness’. Nice analogy, I thought.
I got up on the bed thing and lay down and he asked me what kind of work I did. ‘Addictions counsellor,’ says me. ‘Oh, that’s important work,’ he said and then launched into a story about a mate of his who had a drinking problem, who had died at the tender age of 50-something. At least it distracted me from the anxiety of not really knowing what was about to happen. I still had no idea, although it looked as if the bed was going to slide through an X-ray-looking type of contraption. He asked me to reach my hands above my head and hold them there, presumably so the scanning device could get a clear shot at my heart and its environs. This definitely brought on more vulnerability – i.e. there was now only one layer of layer in front of my breasts, but at least he wasn’t standing in front of me; just a huge curve of steel, a piece of machinery labelled Phillips that arched over me, lying powerless, waiting for the invisible CT rays to zap my arteries, probing for the deadly crusty substance while a computer-speak voice told me when to hold my breath and when to breathe again. I did as I was told and kept perfectly still, as instructed.
I didn’t tell the radiographer about my sense of vulnerability today, but I thought I’d just jot down some notes and see if I could figure something out in the process. If I had been truly authentic, I might’ve said something about feeling a bit anxious, but perhaps my slightly fidgety hands-as-barrier-over-naked-breasts carry-on was a clue. That’s not the point, though, is it? The point of vulnerability is to actually name it. But it’d be a bit daft, right? to say something like: ‘I feel anxious when I’m with a man I’ve just met [albeit a professional, in this case], standing half naked at arm’s length, because I can’t control this situation and I’m not sure whether I can trust you’. But that’s about the length and breadth of it. And even though I hate wearing bras, there’s something inherently trustworthy about encasing one’s breasts in a bra because societal norm dictates the shape of a bosom. And swinging proud and free ain’t it . . .
Brene Brown says the purpose of vulnerability is that we feel closer to one another when we get vulnerable. But that’s when boundaries come into play (something else I’ve been investigating recently and perhaps the subject of another blog). Maybe if the radiographer had been a woman, I would’ve felt more inclined to open up. But then again I wouldn’t have felt so vulnerable with a female radiographer doing the scan.
Anyway, I felt much better striding off to the carpark with my bra on again, the requisite two layers of defence against the elements, while giving me a secure feeling, wearing my best black woollen jumper which almost kept out the chills of a particularly chilly spring day.