What is 'vulnerability' in the current climate?

Vulnerable_main

This month’s guest blogger is Esther Williams. Esther works for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and as we went to press was completing a posting in Japan. She has been a participant on our Civil Service programme, DELTA for future leaders with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Since writing this blog at the end of May, I’ve made it back to Tokyo to finish out my posting and my health has improved. I’m still feeling extremely vulnerable when I go out of the house, but learning to accept that and put plans in place to lessen the impact. I’m looking forward to a new challenge when I return to the UK in October, and to catching up with the menagerie of animals at my sister’s. (And we were all surprised when Alexander Dumas turned out to be a girl!)

I've been thinking about vulnerability recently. A trip back to the UK in March coincided with a down turn in my health, and the PM's lockdown announcement on 23rd March; a perfect storm of events. So I'm in lockdown near Ely with my sister, my brother in law, and a menagerie of animals. It's certainly a different life to my life in Tokyo. 

Everyone has different reactions to what's happening at the moment. Some thrive on uncertainty, some don't. We all worry about different things: our health, others we care for, our jobs and finances. And all of this can make us feel vulnerable. I had a rude awakening concerning vulnerability when my consultant wrote to tell me that I was on the 'extremely vulnerable to COVID-19' list the Government was compiling. I didn't react well to getting the letter! 

At the same time, one of our chickens, The Brain, had chicks. We were super excited about the possibility of them, trying not to get our hopes up that they'd hatch. The Brain did an amazing job and 8 incredibly cute chicks hatched over 2 days. They've already got their own personalities. My favourites: Noor is brave, Alexander Dumas is a bruiser, Airbus is cautious but loves cuddles, and Pearly Joy is super independent. (Yes, all the animals have names!) When they were a couple of weeks old, we noticed that one wasn't doing well. He was much smaller than the others, and wasn't eating. He was definitely vulnerable - chickens are opportunistic and we worried that if we left him with the others they'd take the opportunity. Needless to say, the outlook wasn't great for Ferdy. So we brought him into the house to keep him warm and comfortable. He was struggling to breathe. But he rallied for a day or two. This led to a very awkward moment on a video chat with someone from my team, when I had to confess that the cheeping he heard was because I had a sick chick stuck down my jumper to keep warm!! Unfortunately Ferdy died a few days later. But I think we helped him thrive those few days, and we helped him be comfortable. 

I think back to my reaction to hearing I was on the 'vulnerable' list. And I wonder why I was so stressed by it. It felt like a judgement on my value - I wanted to scream “I'm valuable, I'm not vulnerable”. My reaction was more acute as I wasn't able to work full time because my health was still problematic. I felt like I was being assaulted on all fronts - struggling to prove my worth to the network, to get back to work, to get medical clearance, and to prove that I wasn't a burden to the team.

As I was busy feeling sorry for myself, and railing against the Doctors for calling me vulnerable, out of the blue, a food parcel for me turned up from the government. A week's worth of food was delivered to the door. It made me feel like somebody somewhere cared. And then I got even better news: I was on the priority list for delivery slots for online shopping! Unless you're in the UK and have experienced the battle for online delivery slots during lockdown, I can't explain the joy this news brought. And also the great relief. My sister has implemented really strict rules for us because of me shielding, so they weren't even going to the supermarket, and even our post goes into 'quarantine' for 24 hours! It was an anxious time trying to work out where we could source food from online without supermarket delivery slots. The food parcel and delivery slots helped in this strange time.

So what does it turn out that being vulnerable really means? For Ferdy and me it meant we needed a bit of support to allow us to thrive. Slightly different arrangements, a bit of flexibility. I wonder why it's so difficult to admit we need help and might be vulnerable? Brene Brown writes about vulnerability and asking for help in her book Dare to Lead. She asked business leaders what's the one thing that makes most difference to earning their trust - asking for help was hands down the most common answer. To ask for help is a risk, it makes us vulnerable, but to ask for help is also powerful, and leads to trust. Without it, we find we may keep getting the same projects. But by showing we can ask for help, leaders know they can trust us to put up our hand when we need help, or when we're in trouble, and we can develop. I think about that when I think about vulnerability. It's easy to see vulnerability as a strength in someone else, but to not respect it in ourselves. Perhaps this is something we need to recognise?

I hope to get back to Tokyo soon and finish my posting. (And maybe nobody will find out if I sneak Noor into my suitcase and bring her back with me?!)

Esther Williams.


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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

 
 

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