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Share Your Vulnerable Story: Find Strength by Letting Others In

Holding Hands

“Pain is not a sign of weakness, but bearing it alone is a choice to grow weak.” ~Lori Deschene

In February of 2011, I went to see my doctor because I was suffering from severe headaches that I figured were associated with using computers all day at my law job. After having a few tests, the doctor said that I wasn’t doing well and he suggested that I take a leave from work to focus on my health.

The next few months, I found myself in and out of doctors’ offices, medical labs, and hospitals on a weekly basis. With a variety of tests already done, my doctor suggested we do an MRI of my brain. I went for my MRI in June of 2011.  

Weeks passed by after my MRI, and assuming no news was good news, I made plans for my summer. I decided to have a change of scenery and went to San Francisco for a fun summer job that didn’t involve computer work.

After a great summer there, I was in Toronto in late August for two weeks visiting my parents when I got a call from my neurologist in Vancouver.

She told me I had a brain tumor.  

The floor dropped beneath my feet, my heart sank, and my mind raced, contemplating how I would break this news to my parents. I put the phone down, walked into the kitchen, and I told them. We hugged and then we cried.

In that moment, my life flashed before me. I was 28 years old, single, unemployed, and now, more lost than ever. I didn’t know if I would finish my law license, return to Vancouver, move back into my apartment, or when I would see my friends again.

But, as it always does, life went on.

I didn’t take my return flight to Vancouver, my friends packed up my stuff and rented out my apartment, and I dropped out of the law society licensing process in British Columbia.

I moved into a spare room in my parents’ house and spent most of September of 2011 sitting alone in the living room of the house, reading and writing.

I read personal development books like How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Dale Carnegie, as well as Buddhist teachings about life and death.

I took up a more rigorous yoga practice, meditated daily, and ate a nutritious diet every day. I wrote journals to clear my mind, reflect on my life, and transcribe what I had learned on my journey.

I also spent a lot of time looking through my old stuff. I looked through old Facebook photos with friends, reminisced about road trips and travel adventures, and read all the notes and cards people had given to me.

I valued this time alone, but I soon realized that I was isolating myself.

Why is it that we so rarely share our vulnerable story, let someone in, or take time to be compassionate and truly empathize with others?

I felt scared to let people in. The few relatives who knew what I was going through told me to think positive, that everything would be okay, and to not worry or be afraid. They told me to take my mind away from it, cheer up, and to stay busy.

Although I appreciated this advice, to a certain extent, I realized that it was simply telling me in some way not to be fully human.

It was telling me that I could control the outcome if I thought positive, that negative emotions and crying were not worthwhile endeavors, especially for a man, and that everything would go as I intended if I had a strong enough intention.  

The truth is, I was afraid, I did cry, and wondered why life was doing this to me. I fought with my mind as it toiled over these nagging thoughts and how great things used to be. I went through bouts of anger, denial, depression, and despair.

Although I did eventually reach acceptance, my route wasn’t the one I was told to take.

I decided to reach out to people who I could trust to listen to me without judgment or a long list of what I “should” do in my situation, who love me no matter what and who want to be there for me.

I sent an email to friends to let them know what had happened to update them, knowing that I would expect them to do the same if they went through this. I told them that I loved them, that they have mattered to me, and laid out all the reasons why I care about them and think they’re special.

When I stopped isolating myself and finally shared my story, people’s responses were overwhelming. 

They also opened up, and told me how they truly feel about me and why they love me, sometimes deeply touching words they have never said before to me. They even sent me virtual hugs and positive mass-shrinking vibrations from afar.

I wonder why we rarely tell people how much we care about them? Why do we wait until moments of strife, illness, or loss to express how we feel about someone?

During the fall of 2011, I went for more MRI’s, had lots of tests and needles, frequented numerous waiting rooms, and felt how isolating the medical system could be.

The people in my life during this challenging time were invaluable. They helped me regain my sense of self, honor my emotions and let myself feel them fully, and have the courage to accept where I was at each day, taking it on one moment at a time.

By reaching out, being vulnerable, and letting others in, I felt more connected and confident that I would get through this.

I went for another MRI in January of 2012, and a follow up in May. Finally, in May of 2012, my neurologist gave me the news that, and I quote, “somehow, the mass didn’t continue to grow in the past few months.”

He no longer thought it was cancer and downgraded it three levels, to something that is in the benign category (translation: no cancer).

Imagine my relief. Picture my face as I stepped out of the medical building, felt a gust of fresh air, and took in what felt like a breath of freedom. I think I may have even squeezed out a few tears of joy.

Today, I still have an olive-sized mass in the right side of my brain. But it is no longer my foe. Rather, it has become the greatest blessing I could have asked for.  

My mass has taught me about how fragile life truly is, and made me want to live life to the fullest. It also reminded me of what can be accomplished through my own inner work and when I open myself up to receive the goodness from those around me.

There are many people around us who are struggling with one of life’s many problems; I’ve been one of them and have met many others during my time in the medical system.

My experience has taught me that supporting one another to fulfill our individual and collective potential is why we are all here. Sometimes, all it takes to connect with someone else is sharing our vulnerable story, lending an ear or a shoulder, and just being present for them. 

At the end of it all, I wake up each day even more grateful than the day before. I feel at peace. I feel blessed for my life as it comes at me, one complete and beautiful moment after the other.

What is your vulnerable story, and who could you share it with? Who could you support as they go through their vulnerable story?

Photo by Alex Bellink

Avatar of Sahil Dhingra

About Sahil Dhingra

Sahil is passionate about fostering a collaborative community of connected and fulfilled people, sharing and learning from one another’s vulnerable stories, and bringing back the “humanness” to our lives.  Connect with him at @sahiltdhingra, or check out his blog and online interview show entitled “Reconnectfully Yours”:  http://sahildhingra.wordpress.com/.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/khurty.ramudu Khurty Ramudu

    This is so so so beautiful. I feel so honored for having read something so intimate. Thank you.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thank you for opening up about your life story Sahil and what you’ve been experiencing the last couple of years. Glad to hear the tumor that once was isn’t your foe, but your blessing.

    I think sharing our vulnerabilities comes at the cost of uncertainty. If we don’t share, don’t let people in, we know what to expect and know how people will react. If we do, we have no idea and find ourselves in situations that we are unfamiliar with: people sharing their feelings with us, telling us that they love us and sending us virtual hugs. : ) When we are vulnerable, others become vulnerable and not sure if we’re all prepared for those situations. I’ve usually tried to run from those situations until recently. But why?

    Sharing our stories shows us that we’re all humans and have a lot more in common than we think. Great post and reminder!

  • sri purna widari

    I cried after reading your story. Thanks so much for your openness. It inspires me to do mine.

  • scarlett

    It seems like the articles I really need to read show up in my inbox exactly when I need to read them. I was in fact, diagnosed with cancer in 2010, had a lung removed on top of weeks of chemo and radiation and went through it all alone because I did not want to inconvenience anyone. I am right now in fact, on a bus. I am due for follow up CT scans and the cancer center I chose is 5 hours from ,y home. I make this 2-3 day trip every other month by myself. I have isolated myself from my family and friends and don’t know ho w to undo it now.

  • Julie

    Thank you so much for sharing you story, it is incredibly inspirint and touching, wishing you every future health and happiness.

  • Julie

    sorry I meant inspiring

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Khurty! Thanks for your comment. Glad you liked it, and I hope it inspires you to share openly as well.

    With deepest gratitude and respect,

    Sahil

    t: @sahiltdhingra
    f: http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc
    b: http://sahildhingra.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Vishnu,

    Thanks for your reflections on my post, as I too learned from your comment. I agree that us being vulnerable first and sharing our challenges/struggles, in some way gives others permission to do the same. I couldn’t agree more that when we do share our stories, and listen to the stories of others, only then can we find the interconnectness and commonalities beneath our differences.

    With deepest gratitude and respect,

    Sahil

    t: @sahiltdhingra
    f: http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc
    b: http://sahildhingra.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Sri, I am glad to hear my story touched you. Please do share yours and submit it to TinyBuddha. Lori is amazing to get to know, and we are all a community here to support you in your journey. Sending you courage, strength, and a hug.

    Sahil

    t: @sahiltdhingra
    f: http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc
    b: http://sahildhingra.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Scarlett,

    Thank you for sharing what you’re going through. You’re already on the path to let others in. I started by thinking about how I would want them to share what they were going through if they were in my shoes. I then sat and took time daily to just check-in and see where I was at by asking myself how I was doing, what I was struggling or finding challenging, what I was afraid of, and what feelings I was carrying around within me. After addressing my pain, I took time daily to think of what I was grateful for. Gratitude will help you get to acceptance, help you overcome the uncertainty, and make you more present to enjoy each moment you have. We all don’t have a guarantee on how long our hearts will keep beating. Letting people in means telling sharing your pain and gratitude, and asking them to be a sounding board for you, without judgment. A few people were this for me, and were incredible once we established that I needed this. I’m happy to be this for you as a friend if you ever need one, as I hope to start an organization some day to provide friendship for patients going through cancer.

    Know that there are people who believe in you and are willing to be there for you. Your story inspires me too, and I hope my story inspires you to not go through your’s alone.

    Sending you much courage and peace,

    Sahil

    t: @sahiltdhingra
    f: http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc
    b: http://sahildhingra.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Thanks Julie for your kind words.

    With deepest gratitude and respect,

    Sahil

    t: @sahiltdhingra
    f: http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc
    b: http://sahildhingra.wordpress.com/

  • Kate

    Hi Sahil. I feel the desire and my life purpose is to spread the word on people suffering with depression. There is hope for those that feel this way, I’m living proof of that. Thanks for sharing.

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story/journey, truly inspiring! :) I am so happy for your health, and such amazing growth! :)

  • mebaz

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve just started to write mine and every time I doubt whether I should, I come across something like this and it pushes me forward. :)

  • Marianela

    Sahil, Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. So happy to hear that you will be ok. So inpsirational and so true that we are all here to help each other. We are all connected. Thank you for that reminder. Wishing you all the best always. Peace

  • Michelle

    Dear Sahil, Thank you for sharing your courageous, inspiring story/ journey. It’s amazing to find your post at this time. I sitting here in front of altar I created to honor my precious dog, Maxxee, who suddenly passed two weeks ago. Today I received his ashes and on e again was overcome with great sorrow. Your story touched me deeply because I, too, withdrew from friends and family at first…not believing they could ” understand” and offer the support I needed. After days of painful isolation, I began to text and email them…noting that i couldn’t talk…but wanted them to know. The outpouring of cards, texts, messages, voicemails was astounding… They encouraged me to come back to yoga, come back to my Buddhist community…that they would come to me or welcome me to their homes for comfort. And as You said, letting people in, sharing your vulnerabilities, gives them the opportunity to do the same…and in that way we help each other heal together. I have discovered the blessing of being part of a caring, non-judgmental community and I am filled with much gratitude. So thank you, my dear friend, for re-affirming the power of sharing our journey and I wish you much continued good health and much happiness. Sending you heartfelt gratitude, love and giant hugs, Michelle

  • Annie

    Thank you so much for sharing ..although I do tell me friends I love them quite often perhaps because ..I’ve lost loved ones early in life & I appreciate all the love I have . .. However , I do have a tendency to hold back on what is troubling me at times in my life & coming from the Bronx & being vulnerable is just not something that is easy to do .. & sometimes when you do ..it is a beautiful thing when those who are close to you .. are there for you & support you thru that anguish .Being that you are a guy ..that is even more relevant & poignant & So beautiful ..that you bravely shared !

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    I’ve supported many people through their vulnerable story. There’s just no one to share mine, if ever I have one, so I keep them or try to let them go or ignore them as much as possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cindy.padova Cindy Padova

    Hi Kate, I am being treated for depression, What do you have to share with me as far as hope is concerned? Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Thanks for your kind words, and I’m glad you connected with the story!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Mebaz, please do share yours. It is incredible how many people you can connect with and touch once you do so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Thanks Marianela, we are all connected. Thank you for your words and well wishes. With deepest respect and gratitude, Sahil

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Michelle, your story has touched me deeply as well. Losing a pet is tough, and I have been through that. I am glad you too experienced the value of reaching out, and commend you for your courage. Keep shining, and please do keep in touch. My info is above. With a full heart, Sahil

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Thanks Annie! Sharing our love for others, struggles, joys, and challenges, with others is for me, all part of what makes us human and this life such a rich experience. I wish you the courage to live fully and continue to share yourself openly and fully.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Nicole, I too have for a long time been a good friend for others and supported them through their story. When it comes to myself though, I held back initially as well. Once you overcome your perceived self-limitations of your mind, you feel a huge weight off your shoulders, and it leads to an unstoppableness in your life where you’re confident to share your story with others, treating their reactions as simply opinions, not judgments. I really do wish you the best, and hope you find the support you are looking for.

  • Kate

    Cindy, I’ve living with depression for the last 15 years. I’ve found through spiritual growth, self discovery and professional help (meds, counseling) that there is hope that things can get better. My twitter is kate0215. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do. Take care!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brendantebrinke Brendan te Brinke

    This is what I am working on now. Amazing message about self-limitations and opinions, not judgments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mickey.jay.79 Mickey Jay

    You can share it with us here nicole, you’ll find us patient and caring:)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mickey.jay.79 Mickey Jay

    dear kate
    mostly depression arises from the feeling that u’r not loved or appreciated; or that u haven’t achieved much in life. any ‘quick tips ‘to fight such feelings?

  • Kate

    I’ve dealt with all that. I had to stop focusing on what all I hadn’t accomplished and soul search within myself to realize what all I had done instead. to retrain my thinking. No I hadn’t finished the degree, BUT, look what I’ve learned from this job or from that.

  • Suse

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful part of your life with us. I have been through a time just now where I suffered with anxiety and depression. I had also isolated myself and my doctor, family and true friends have been there for me the whole journey….I am feeling better than I have for decades and the joy is radiating from my core once again….

    Thank you all for being there for me as I have always been for you….xx

  • Jasmita

    Thank you for sharing your story Sahil. I can understand why your relatives said to be strong and stay busy, they may have been at a loss of how to help. It is easier to tell someone to cheer up and be happy then to be their support as you help them through sadness. I am glad you reached out to your loved ones, because sometimes we don’t know what we have until we let our walls down. It really is easy to shut down in time of need and keep others at an arm’s length. Thank you for the inspiration.

    wishing you all the health and happiness in the world.

  • Sachin

    Reading your blog I cried not knowing you we’re going through this the entire time. You are right why is it when there are moments of strife and illness do we say how we feel? We take many things for granted … I do love you very much bro and am so happy on your outlook on life and there is so much I can learn from you. I hope we can spend more time together ….

  • Kristin

    This was just beautiful. Thank you for your story Sahil. I have a blog that I have been opening up on…and the response I’ve gotten has been amazing. As we know, “There is strength in vulnerability.” I wish you luck. Thank you again – Kristin

  • Alicia

    Thanks for this article. I have never been an open person… But I would like to be. I just don’t want to inconvenience anyone or become a person who complains all the time. How do you share vulnerabilities without complaining? Your response to Scarlett’s comment is probably where I should start: imagine how I hope they would tell me things, if I were in their shoes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Jasmita,

    I couldn’t agree more that we don’t know what we have until we let our guard down, share our journey, and let others in. That was very beautifully said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    Hi Kristin,

    Keep sharing openly as it will inspire you and maybe even inspire others to do the same. I’d love to see your blog, so feel free to send me the link.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sahil.dhingra.ubc Sahil Dhingra

    I usually preface what I’m sharing by saying “This is happening in me…” That gives people notice that it isn’t a complaint, it isn’t about them, but rather, it is just an observation and interpretation I’m making of what is happening within me emotionally and physically that is of concern. Tell people what you want and how you want them to respond too. Tell them for instance, that you just want them to listen, or for advice, or for their hand to hold because you’re scared. I don’t know it all either, as how to initiate that conversation is tough and different for each person you speak with, but this is what I have found works for me so far.

  • kaylynne50

    This is a lovely post. I know exactly what you mean, I was dx in March of 2009 with breast cancer. Spent the rest of the year in surgery, chemo, and then radiation. Still alive though! My therapy was my bog: http://kaylynne50.wordpress.com/ I also had a photojournalist follow me through every medical procedure, and I have been thinking of another project, a book of sorts to chronicle the fear, and coming out of fear….

  • Tashi Tsering

    Thanks for sharing this Sahil. You are awesome. I am deeply touched and inspired by your story. Lots of love!