How to have more courage every day.
“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”
– Mary Tyler Moore
Are you brave?
Your first instinct might be to qualify that question as to what type of circumstance I have in mind.
It’s true, some situations are much easier to be brave in than others. More likely than not, though, if you are coping with chronic or mental illness or helping someone who is, you are already brave, even if you don’t recognize it.
Bravery has been on my mind a lot lately. One reason is that I’ve been listening to the Do It Scared podcast. If you’ve not heard of Ruth Soukup and her podcast, I strongly recommend you check it out.Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist
The whole premise of the podcast is to learn to be brave, especially when it comes to pursuing your dreams. I am so passionate about the podcast that I may devote an entire post to it later on.
While listening to the show, Ruth and several of her guests have shared amazing and gut-wrenching stories about themselves. Even though many have been through horrific events, they still show up and put on a brave face and are successful in their lives.
I envy that type of bravery. Courage has never come easily to me. As a child, I tended to fear everything, from water to the dark.
It Was a Cold Dark Night
I grew up in rural Wisconsin in farm country. Where we lived, we could only see one of our neighbor’s houses. Nighttime was dark. Very dark.
It was my job to go out and get the mail when it came. If I had been obedient and gone out as soon as I got home from school, there wouldn’t have been a problem. However, like so many kids, I decided to play the day away, and then it was very dark, and my parents did not have their mail.
Off I was sent into the cold dark night.
I was terrified. We had a long driveway. There were no outside lights on the front of our house, so I was sent out with only a flashlight in hand.
Near the end of the driveway, we had a line of blue spruce trees. They were wide and full at the bottom and provided plenty of room for someone to hide behind them.
Was That a Noise?
I was near the end of the driveway when I heard a noise off to my right, behind the pine trees. I froze in panic but kept my flashlight pointing down the driveway. If I was going to be eaten, I didn’t want to see what was coming before it ate me.
It seemed like an eternity I waited, but nothing happened. There was no noise, so after a while, I continued on to the mailbox.
Standing in the road, there was a certain amount of security. The road was open, and I could see around me. No monsters. But I had to walk back past the pines to get to my house.
We had a long driveway. I could have screamed, but our Wisconsin home was buttoned up tight trying to keep as much heat in as possible. No one would have heard me.
Do you ever feel like your pain is invisible? This poem video is for you.
Choosing to Be Brave
I was faced with a choice. Either I could decide to stay there, safe in the road, until I eventually froze to death, or I could find out how brave I really was and make my way back to the house.
The cold was biting, so I forced myself to take those first steps.
I was barely past the first tree when I heard a noise again. Determined to prove my courage, I pointed the flashlight at the trees to prove there were no monsters. What greeted me were two bright green eyes.
Again, I froze. My heart was pounding so loud I could hear it in my ears.
My first thought was to throw the mail and run. Maybe the monster would be enticed by the mail and not chase me.
I knew no one would believe me, though, so I would have to make my way back out into the night to fetch the mail that would now be scattered amidst the ominous trees.
One way or another, I was going to have to face the monster.
I swallowed hard and decided to be brave again. I yelled for the monster to “Get out of here!” and stood my ground.
To my great fear, the monster did charge at me, but as it got close, I quickly realized it was my neighbor’s black lab and not a monster after all.
That night I learned a valuable lesson. Being brave doesn’t mean that you aren’t afraid. It just means you are choosing to not let that fear paralyze you.
My monster taught me that I was braver than I thought.
Facing a New Monster
For months now, I have not been brave. I have not shared a lot of my authentic self on my blog for fear of what others would say or what they would think of me.
Despite my plans to have a site where people could find validation and support and see a man actually talking about what it was really like to be living with mental illness, I was letting my apprehension stop me from sharing my most valuable stories.
Two things changed me.
One, one of my posts, Speaking Bipolar – A Mental Illness Translator, continues to get a lot of traffic and comments from people about how much that post means to them. It’s one of the few posts where I have been open and raw about my mental health.
The other thing is that I have been watching other men, some with a lot of followers and some with very few, being willing to set the example and be brave by sharing their experiences, good, bad, warts and all.
Again, I am choosing to be brave. I am choosing to face my monster head on, with just my words to protect me, and I am going to finally tell the painful stories that are part of my mental illness journey.
I am terrified, but I have a story to tell, and you might be the one who needs to hear it.
You can read my first step out in the post: Surviving Bipolar – Sharing My Story: The Journey Begins. It is part one of what I hope to be a weekly series.
You Are Braver Than You Know
Believe it or not, you are brave too. You are willing to look for help and support on the internet to make it possible for you to cope with mental or chronic illness. Don’t discount that bravery.
Just being open and seeking medical care takes bravery.
If you are a patient, you know how long the diagnosis process can take, how long it can be before you find a drug cocktail that gives the right benefits without too many unbearable side-effects.
You likely also know that sometimes even the right meds can stop working for no apparent reason.
Yes, seeking help is brave. Don’t discount it. Depression, bipolar, chronic illness, they all can be the green-eyed monster hiding in the trees, but every day you choose to get up and fight shows how brave you are.
This week, I want you to commend yourself for the bravery you have already shown. Celebrate the small and the big successes you have made, whether it is years of proper care or the first time you have had the strength to tell someone that something might be wrong.
Courage grows. Each act of bravery makes you stronger.
Keep fighting. You got this.
What acts of bravery are you celebrating this week? I want to hear your stories. Please leave a comment below.