I am never going to stop caring about spilled milk. And here is why.
Recently I had to answer the question ‘What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?” I thought about it for days.
Part of that was the lack of context. The best relationship advice? Career? Sex? Cooking? Who knows?
And, obviously, I’m a woman. I’ve been given a *lot* of advice.
I have always been sensitive. Even as a young child, I cried over things other kids didn’t care about. I was anxious and easily upset, which of course made me a target, right through to high school.
I’ve spent a lot of my life looking for reasons why I’m like this, so I can change it. Trying to figure out ways I can be less open, less trusting, less hopeful. Less easily hurt.
The advice I have been given reads like this: ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk.’ ‘It doesn’t matter what other people do, what matters is how you choose to respond.’ ‘No one can make you a victim without your consent.’
This sort of advice is meant to be empowering. It is meant to encourage you to face forward. It is meant to offer strength.
What it can do, though, is invalidate your emotional and physical experience, and result in one of my most hated kiwi catchphrases: ‘Toughen up.’
I am not tough. The spilt milk matters to me. What other people do to me does matter, and if my reaction is one of sadness, that is valid. It’s not fun, sure. But it’s valid. And the last one? Well, someone misunderstood the definition of consent. I have been a victim many times, and I have never consented.
It is understandable that people who care about you would give you advice that they hope will lead to less sadness for you. But all my life, I have been instructed to blunt myself. And that ignores who I am.
My sensitivity is, among other things, a tool. It is the tenderness that lets me have meaningful personal relationships. It is the empathy that makes me a good friend, member of the community, family member, journalist and storyteller. It is the vulnerability that enables me to lead my life in an authentic way.
It is hard. At times it is unbearable. I have cursed it and wished that I could care just that little bit less.
But fighting against your innate nature leads to more pain and it requires energy I don’t have. I’m not going to spend my spoons hardening my heart, trying to rebuild myself from the ground up.
So instead, I’m trying to be more honest with others about what I need. Instead of attempting to suppress my emotions (which I suck at), I try to have the courage to talk about how I’m feeling, why, and what can be different.
Research professor Brené Brown wrote that vulnerability is key to living what she calls a ‘wholehearted life.’ Brown studied thousands of personal stories in order to try and understand what it was that ‘happy people’ had in common. And it was this: They had the courage to be vulnerable and in doing so create true and meaningful connection with others.
Last year, I had this completely bizarre experience in a yoga class. It was the sort of class where you do more laying around thinking about things and investigating feelings than bending yourself all over the place, which is my jam, given that I can’t really bend and I have a lot of feelings. lol.
Anyway we were about half an hour into the practice, and the teacher says ‘Ok, now you could invite an emotion into your body.’ I was internally eye-rolling but I tried to keep my mind open.
And then I had this… vision, thing. Like a mental animated short. Please bear with me, I know how this sounds. What happened was, I saw a wooden door open. And through it walked my heart.
Keep in mind, I was only a few months past a difficult breakup. So it wasn’t that surprising that I was thinking about my heart. I just didn’t expect it to be quite so literal.
It was also extremely *casual.* It just walked on in, wearing the heart equivalent of hightop sneakers, and was like; ‘Yo. Sup?’
And I was like… ‘well for starters, what the fuck are you doing? And secondly… why do you look so normal?’
(I know, I’m having a mental conversation with my own heart about why it’s fucking about in my head wearing a pair of pink Converse, but stick with me, this is going somewhere).
So the response is something like ‘I’m here representing love, dummy. It’s the easiest symbolism in the universe.’ And I’m like ‘Sure, but love and me aren’t on speaking terms. You’re broken remember?’
So I’m trying to rejig the picture so the heart has peices missing or bruises or is, at the very least, bleeding. I mean, that’s what they do, right? I’m sensitive; that’s how mine should look. This shouldn’t be hard.
And yet it is. Try as I might, I can’t see the heart as anything less than whole. And it just smirks at me.
I left yoga thinking… ‘What the fuck was that?’
By the time I’d walked home, I felt lighter than I had in months. Any way you want to look at it (dream? Yoga-induced coma?), the message was clear. My heart was whole.
I’d heard of Brené Brown before, but her name was one of the first hits when I started googling. Her Ted Talk on vulnerability was a turning point for me when I watched it five or six years ago, and I watch it again at least once a year.
Brené has Ten Tips for how to live with your whole heart.
1. Cultivating authenticity: Letting go of what people think.
2. Cultivating self-compassion: Letting go of perfectionism.
3. Cultivating a resilient spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness.
4. Cultivating gratitude and joy: Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark.
5. Cultivating intuition and trusting faith: Letting go of need for certainty.
6. Cultivating creativity: Letting go of comparison.
7. Cultivating play and rest: Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.
8. Cultivating calm and stillness: Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle.
9. Cultivating meaningful work: Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
10. Cultivating laughter, song and dance: Letting go of being cool and “always in control”.
In the talk, she says “The original definition of courage was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
I’m aware this post contains some of that undertone of zeal you can get from people who’ve discovered a new diet or exercise regime. Those of you who know my history with being recommended those will know that’s the last thing I’m advocating.
I’m telling the story of my heart, to confront and stand with my vulnerability. To attempt to not suffer in silence. To own the fact that yeah. I care about the milk.
To be sensitive, to do these things, is courageous, not weak. A whole heart is a heart that is open.
Sure, it’s harder than most of the diets I’ve been told to do, including the ones that don’t let me eat peanut m&ms and chicken enchiladas. But the happiness of the resulting relationships is more than worth the pain.
After all. I have never laughed while eating a salad.