Friday, April 27, 2018

Resilient and Vulnerable and True (I Hope)

I'm writing now from a hotel room (a luxurious, thirtieth-floor hotel room, complete with a bathtub not sprinkled with plastic bath toys) in Chicago, where I landed early yesterday afternoon for a conference this weekend. Chris has approximately 45 weeks of field work and/or conferences this year, so I requested these few days to bask in the uninterrupted glory of a good night's sleep (or three).

Bless him, Chris is holding down the fort during a teacher walk-out that by some estimates resulted in the largest march on our state capitol in Arizona's history yesterday. Hey, legislators, just fund public education already. It's in our state constitution and you've already been sued many, many times on this.

But back to my hotel room. I am not here just for the fluffy bathrobes and overpriced room service.

HealtheVoices is a conference that supports healthcare advocates across a spectrum of disease communities, from cancer to HIV/AIDS to diabetes to mental health. What I love about this gathering is the reminder that we all face so many of the same struggles -- and often even side effects -- even across very, very different afflictions. It reminds me of our collective humanity, and gives me hope watching people doing good things for each other. As one speaker put it this morning, when we stand up for each other, we are unstoppable.

I've been to the HealtheVoices conference before, in 2015 by invitation and in 2016 as part of the conference's advisory panel. That year, I ended up in the emergency room at Northwestern Hospital because of chest pain shortly after the lung biopsy that changed my diagnosis (and my world, if I'm being honest). The chest pain was probably a mild panic attack, although I didn't know that at the time. I just didn't want to fly home if my lung was going to collapse mid-air.

Last year, I was newly pregnant and skipped the conference. This year, they asked me to sit on a panel for a session on resilience. Did you read my last post? I am feeling far, far less than resilient at this very moment along my path to wellness than I've felt in awhile, but I'm going to show up and give it my messy best. I still shake when I tell my story. I still don't know exactly where to start or how to frame the work I feel called to do. When I'm asked by other attendees what I advocate for, breast cancer seems like an incomplete answer. How much time do you have? I want to ask them.

Coincidentally, I just finished Brené Brown's Braving the Wilderness about what it means to truly belong, especially to belong to oneself. She wrote, "You will always belong anywhere you show up as yourself and talk about yourself and your work in a real way," which could be the tagline for HealtheVoices.

I highlighted more passages than I typically do in a book, but one of my favorites is when she writes about courage and vulnerability:

Most of the time we approach life with an armored front for two reasons: 1) We're not comfortable with emotions and we equate vulnerability with weakness, and/or 2) Our experiences of trauma have taught us that vulnerability is actually dangerous. 

Uh, she might be on to something with that second one there. She continues:

The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it's our most accurate measure of courage. 

Here I go, to show up vulnerable and soft-bellied and as my truest self. I hope it looks like something resilient.

And just to be clear, Janssen Biotech paid for my travel to this conference, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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