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December 4, 2013

How I Freed Myself Through Vulnerability.

Using Creativity to Express Yourself During Challenging Times.

Vast, unmoving strength, like that of a mountain, often seems the answer to coping with challenging times. Growing up, I was expected to tie my shoes a little tighter and get back to dancing or playing basketball if my ankle hurt. My entire life has revolved around frequent hospital visits for chronic, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Alertness to any change in condition has always been necessary—to be able to think clearly and speak effectively, expressing my symptoms. I learned how to be an advocate for my medical needs, but I was a long way from having my emotional needs met.

My life changed for the better when I realized I didn’t have to be a pillar of strength at all times.

Creative expression has helped me realize this.

When I entered my adult years, I was barraged by serious hospitalizations including blood clots and severe infections. I wanted to be strong so my parents wouldn’t be scared for what I was going through. I thought the “tough” version of me was what everyone wanted and that is what I decided to give them. I didn’t want to see my friends cry. I put on a thick skin and made jokes to lighten the seriousness of my health.

I think in some way it was helpful to all around me, but stoicism was not benefiting me.

The nightmares were the first sign that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I would have horrific dreams post-hospitalization about being in the hospital. It was as if because I didn’t deal with my feelings the first time around, my mind was left still reeling from the pain and frustration. I wasn’t allowing myself to be upset by the ways my life was altered, the events I was missing and holidays having to be spent hooked up to machines.

The only moments where I would allow myself to feel, were the moments spent listening to music. I felt my emotions through the lyrics and feelings of others. I finally let my pent-up frustration out, but was embarrassed by it.

After one particularly rough hospitalization, I began writing.

I wrote songs or poetry as a child, but never something that would leave me emotionally vulnerable. I felt comfort in expressing myself through writing, but was terrified at the prospect of how others would judge my humanity. My friend, after reading a personal essay I had written, said something lovely to me “Sami, you hardly let anyone in. What you don’t realize is you are most beautiful when you are vulnerable.”

In that moment, that I felt freed.

I was spending too much time keeping up the appearance of false strength; I never realized all everyone wanted for me was for me to be myself and feel.

Since that moment, I’ve used writing as a tool to connect with others and discovered new-found freedom and fearlessness in creativity. In life, we all face challenges. My challenge has been poor health. We do not need a society of mountains. I realize now that things which are strong in only appearance, like rock, are breakable.

Now, I choose to be more fluid like water, flowing with the motions of life and ready to go with whatever happens next. If we each realize that we can use tools such as music, art or whatever creative means we need to express ourselves openly, we give permission for others to be fluid like water too.

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Assistant Editor: Gabriela Magana/Editor: Bryonie Wise

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Sami Holden

Image: Frances Gunn/Unsplash