Did you know that the noun bravery can mean fine clothes or a showy display? I myself didn’t until I looked up the dictionary definition online for bravery. At first, I was going to aspire after high school debating teams and attempt to start this article with a dictionary definition, but I got side tracked by the idea that you could wear bravery. Anyway, moving on…
Too many people think bravery simply means doing something and not being afraid of it. That to be brave is to be bold and fearless. That a brave person is someone who continually holds faith in their capacity to successfully manage any situation, regardless of how dangerous it may be. However, that is not bravery – that is either being drunk and/or knowing that you are immortal.
Bravery also often has connotations of victory and success: accompanied by triumphant music, the hero’s head is held high while they charge into battle/towards the dragon/keep on getting shot at but somehow magically be able to keep fighting/raise their weapon, roaring about their homeland/mother/freedom. But bravery in real life is quite different. The type of bravery that is required when recovering from a mental illness isn’t so noble or cinematic.
With a mental illness you have to be brave every day. You aren’t really given a choice. If you want to recover and be free from it you have to constantly confront uncertainty, intimidation, terror, and pain. You are required to always be a knight, wobble around in rusty ill-fitting armour, and face off a giant wrinkly dragon (or a giant spider, if you like dragons and don’t want to envisage hurting one) who just won’t leave you alone.
Being brave is personally different for everyone. Especially when it comes to mental illness. Please bear in mind that certain situations and tasks which may seem trivial, forgettable, and even enjoyable to some, may seem to others a like a dragon who has just stepped on a piece of Lego.
Being brave, or having “the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty” when trying to recover from a mental illness is exhausting. But you don’t have to do it well. Being brave means confronting your fears, and so even if you make a mess of it all, you’re still brave if you’ve ploughed through and given it the very best shot that you felt capable of at the time.
Your legs have been bitten off, the princess has vomited on her dress, and you’re still facing an enormous, utterly terrifying monster. The dragon breathes out and searing flames of panic attacks, flashbacks, hallucinations, phobias, and hateful criticisms engulf your body and its flimsy armour. As the fire blinds your vision, you start to cry, which is unromantic for a knight, especially when you start getting snot all over your armour, but do you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how badly you screwed up trying to fight the dragon, because you tried. You may be a crawling, sobbing knight, but you’re still facing the situation, and you’re not running away.
Your legs to grow back, you buy some tissues, you try to repair your damaged armour… and you go out and face the beast again. You know that it will be waiting for you, growling and cooking up another blistering firebomb in its stomach. But you still go and confront it, because you know that in order to survive, you have to face the dragon, and as awful as it may be, it is the only way forward. And every conscious choice to attempt to move forward is an example of bravery.
Maybe I am getting a bit too into the metaphor here… just let me put it this way: When you are let go of the ideas that are both your safety net and trap, when you accept the crippling yet liberating truths about yourself, when you give up the dangerous behaviour and rules that are comforting and feel like all you’ll ever know, when you say ‘no’ to the ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ to the ‘no,’ that is you being super-duper incredibly brave. You would put a dragon-fighting knight to shame.