Last week Andy Murray held an emotional press conference, announcing that the Australian Open may be his last tournament, due to an ongoing hip injury. Hiding behind his baseball cap, his voice quavering, he revealed that he has been in constant pain for 20 months. When Murray confirmed that the pain is too much, he seemed to break and the enormity of his personal loss was palpable. There’s nothing quite so excruciating as publicly admitting something you have known privately for a while, because when it’s out of your head and into the world, it becomes real. To do this on a global stage must have been very hard.
I’m not a sports fan but I did feel sorry for Murray, as the tears rolled down his cheeks and he tried to hold it together. Although it was painful to watch, him being so open about his distress was actually rather helpful. I’m sure he didn’t make a decision to cry in public, but it was a positive example to men who might feel that showing their true feelings is socially unacceptable. Men are less likely to talk about their mental health, but are far more likely to commit suicide. The notion of being strong and taking it like a man can be fatal. When successful men in the public eye are able to show emotionally fragility, they provide a positive and helpful example to others.
As a society, we need to become more comfortable with vulnerability. Showing one’s most sensitive foibles is a brave and noble thing to do, as it not only allows the world to see an authentic emotional response, but there is great generosity in being publicly vulnerable. When one person is genuine and open, it emboldens others to do the same. And yet, as a society we are adverse to showing the slightest sign of fragility as it is confused with weakness. The sight of someone crying on the tube, or a colleague having a panic attack at work, is often met with outward sympathy, but we internally we cringe with embarrassment. In my expereince, when people are unwilling to admit to any kind of vulnerability, they tend to act out in other ways. Living with emotional pain that is unspoken and unexamined usually results in negative auxiliary behaviour. I know that when I’ve tried to escape some painful, but irrefutable truth, I’ve ended up embroiled in self-sabotaging behavioural patterns in an attempt to placate whatever was causing me anguish.
Of course I’m not suggesting that we all burst into tears as soon as we get into work, drop the kids off at school or sit down for a drink in the pub. If possible, it is always better to be emotionally candid in a dignified manner, although this isn’t always possible. Showing vulnerability is a sign of strength and honesty, rather than an indication of weakness. If we could become more comfortable with this notion, then perhaps it would feel safer to express our frailties in a productive way. When we open up we not only allow others in, but we also give them permission to feel comfortable and free in our company. I have sometimes wondered if I’m a strong person. I oscillate between feeling strong and then fragile, such is the nature of Bipolar type 2 with rapid cycling. The answer is that I am both. Andy Murray crying at being forced to give up the profession he has worked at tirelessly since he was a child was heart breaking, but the inadvertent message was it’s ok not to be ok