— James A. Garfield
I’ve been pondering the idea of bravery over the past few days. Consider me, an absent-minded, imaginative individual with what some would refer to as “a lot of free time”, when I tell you that my mental image of bravery involves a handsome knight, a gorgeous horse and maybe a gruesome battle of some sort. I’m not sure what triggers this imagery in my brain, because my definition of bravery extends far beyond myths and fables — don’t even get me started on “damsels in distress” (barf) — but the idea of a mythical quest, or a war of the worlds, or one valiant person (let’s be real — a man, duh; cue exasperated eye roll, in whatever level of severity you prefer), single-handedly preventing the human race from crumbling to ruin is, more often than not, at the forefront of my imagination when I think about being brave.
I recognize heroes every day, unassuming in their “ordinary” bravery. Primarily, and most importantly: I live with and am fortunate enough to love one. Watching Jo don their suit of armour every day is both mesmerizing and disheartening; hypnotizing in the fluidity of it all, like watching the creative process of a virtuosic artist, musician or craftsman. The way they prepare themselves to enter the world is evidently a process that has been practiced, reworked and refined over an extended period of time; to the point where they now use it as an almost impenetrable shield against any potential danger. The fact that this is a defence they have even had to consider perfecting obviously gives me mixed feelings, the most notable being a confusing combination of sadness and rage, but I admire them daily for their courage in simply stepping out the front door.
I’m sure anybody reading this can immediately come up with a list of every day heroes, whether or not that list includes someone close to them who has their own suit of armour to slip into every day. Fire fighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, veterans, teachers, social workers, police officers, customer service agents — the list goes on and on. And even on levels that may seem “insignificant”; the teenagers helping an elderly woman across the street, or the person who pays it forward in the drive thru line up, the animal service workers who reunite lost pets with their families. Guys, I could keep going for hours.
I’ve run into a few different situations in the last seven days or so that have required a little self-check, a pep talk or two, and a whole lot of stuffing my hesitation into a box and locking it away — while it snarls and scratches incessantly at the insides of its’ confinement like a wild animal. Meaning, there was a lot that had to happen this week that demanded I put my anxiety and non-confrontational nature aside in order to just get. shit. done. We usually have to find our courage in what appear to be the most harmless situations, it seems.
I’ve been pretty outspoken about my struggles with ADHD in a few of my past posts here, so it’s fair to say I’m an open book as far as my mental health goes. But, I was pushed to take a good look at how I was doing, and then to write about it all, by an awesome article written by a member of our regional council, Laura Ip, aptly named Mental Health Barriers. She speaks not only about her own struggles with mental illness, but about the struggles of those close to her — which also made me think about the effect mental illnesses have on relationships; specifically, mine and Jo’s. It’s honest, heartfelt, maybe a bit political but still worth the read.
I have a pretty long standing history with mental illness. I was a happy child, enthusiastic and friendly; I loved spending time with my grandmother, and I was especially passionate about horseback riding. My mother managed to catch onto my cues almost immediately, and I will be forever grateful for her instinct and willingness to listen to her gut. She picked me up from my grandmother’s one morning, to take me to my horseback riding lesson, and I told her I didn’t want to go; not for any particular reason, I just didn’t feel like it. I was seeing a child and youth worker within two weeks, at most.
I was referred to a counsellor, Dorian, through the Chedoke Child & Family Centre, and developed an incredible relationship with him over the span of two to three years. In that time I struggled with serious episodes of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and ideation, irrational and dangerously impulsive behaviour, etc. etc. as well as the chemical concoction that is depression (as well as undiagnosed ADHD and anxiety — because I wasn’t hyperactive, just terribly, terribly sad). I also saw a psychiatrist at some point and was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and medicated by the time I was ten. Young, maybe — but I was also threatening to kill myself, doing serious physical damage to my body and therapy was not enough to stop me.
There had been a series of months when I was essentially on suicide watch, and meeting with my therapist three or four days per week. My mother came into my bedroom multiple times each night to check on me and make sure I was still breathing. I was discharged from therapy when I was twelve, a year before we relocated from a big city to a tiny green-belt town. Dorian had unfortunately fallen ill unexpectedly, so I had switched to a new therapist by then, Kirsty, and we had made enough progress that she was confident I had the strategies to manage on my own. I suppose I sort of managed on my own, keeping my flirtations with self-harm to a minimum, but acting out and getting in shit in almost every other possible way. High school was a change of pace, I flourished in the music program and had a small group of friends, a job and a decent home life — then in the summer of grade twelve, I got pregnant and, well… That just changes everything.
I have been medicated pretty consistently since that fateful day when I was ten. Over the years I have done many psychological evaluations, had various therapists, been diagnosed, re-diagnosed, used medications that were incredibly helpful, and some that made me feel like I was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” insane. I have a running list of red flags that I make sure to look out for, signals that I may be trying to grapple with some old monsters that have managed to claw their way to the surface. This doesn’t extend to depression alone; my anxiety has its’ own gauge that is separate from my panic attacks, and my ADHD is another beast entirely.
Moving on; in taking the time to reflect on the fallout of the last two and half months — potentially life changing surgical mistakes, dealing with a child who is struggling in school and then falling apart at home, an increase in anxiety and generally untriggered panic attacks, being coerced into making amends with people who did shitty things, yada yada yada — I realized that I’d kind of relegated my mental health to the proverbial back burner. I was spending hours hyper focused on things that were not productive, I was perpetually blue — not upset or sad about anything in particular, just “blah” (if you suffer from depression, you know exactly what I mean) and, more to the point — it was affecting Jo and Joey in ways that weren’t necessarily apparent on the surface. I try and see things from an outside perspective and can’t even imagine what it must be like for Jo to deal with me when my mental state is out of control.
So, I had to get brave, or more aptly put, I had to give myself a kick in the ass. Aside from the sheer inconvenience of my doctor being a 25 minute drive away, I don’t particularly enjoy going in and picking apart every detail of my mental and emotional well being, especially when I’m struggling. To skip through the boring bits, my latest psychological evaluation ended up gifting me with a compiled list of all the scary sounding conditions I already knew I had, but organized in a way that was a little overwhelming: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), ADHD, generalized anxiety, and panic disorder.
Would you believe I only went in there to get back on my ADHD medication?!
Anyway, to conclude that thought; I’m glad I reached out to my doctor and I’m currently one week into my new medication regimen. The first few nights were an absolute nightmare (if you’ve never heard of Serotonin Syndrome, I hadn’t either, but I’m pretty sure it’s what I experienced and I sincerely hope you never do), but my body seems to be adjusting to it all now and I’ve noticed a pretty significant difference in my productivity and mood. Moral of the story: You know if you need a kick in the ass, so just give it to yourself for f**’s sake. Ask for the help you need. Keep an eye on your mental and emotional well being. Medication may not be for everyone, but there’s no shame in using it if it helps you.
“When your past calls, don’t answer. It has nothing new to say.”
Jo gently reminds me on a semi-regular basis that I have an inclination toward revisiting and focusing on my past. They are a forward thinker, always planning for the future, not fixated on any negative aspect of the past other than the lessons they learned so they don’t have to do it all again — and even have their own list of warning signs to add an extra level of protection and avoid being blindsided. I glamourize my past in a lot of ways; I look back on even my most traumatic experiences with a sort of fondness that may seem a little sadistic from the outside. I am an open book about my many past ordeals with the genuine intention of providing insight and helping people, but can’t reject the possibility that I enjoy the opportunity to revisit them in a weird, maybe perverse, way. I suppose it should come as no surprise that I’ve been labelled as a masochist on more than one occasion.
That being said; there are some parts of my past that I, for various reasons, recognize are not worth the tenderness. The way the cookie has crumbled, though, means that I regularly find myself face-to-face with a past that comes back to “haunt” me; one of my “ghosts”, if you will. So, to quickly relate back to the theme of this post (before my aforementioned ADHD took off and ran with my brain, S.O.S), bravery; do you consider it brave when you have to face the things, people or events that have damaged you? Does it take courage to be in the same room as a person that indisputably changed you?
I had to have a meeting, of sorts, with my ex this week. I know most people who don’t have children would probably heave at the notion of being in the same room with any number of their exes, but, for the most part, Duder’s dad and I have managed to get along over the five or six years we’ve been separated. There have obviously been blips on the radar, but, to his credit, he has evolved from the manipulative, angry, aggressive person that I left, years too late, into a somewhat responsible, relatively impassive person that is beginning to really prioritize the wellbeing of his kid.
I still have flashbacks of explosive fights with this person, of the gaslighting and the manipulation. He’s not the same person now, but that doesn’t mean the trauma he caused doesn’t flare up on occasion. This is why I ask about bravery. Is is brave for someone who has undergone trauma to face their triggers head on, or is it just stupid to put themselves in that situation? I don’t really have a choice, and I find a strange sense of comfort in that. That doesn’t mean I look forward to sitting my ex down, looking him in eye and telling him something that I know has a startlingly high chance of pissing him the f** off. Is there a clothing store that sells big girl pants? Because I’d like a back up pair.
To keep it succinct, it went surprisingly well. We talked like adults, I got what I went for, and finally got a sense of what confidence feels like. Maybe it’s my new medication and the fact that I’m taking an honest look at my demons; maybe it’s because we can finally make our announcement and the tension of taking the steps to get to this point has finally disappeared; it could be that Duder is starting to talk to us, he and Jo are finding their footing with each other again, slowly, and our life is starting to feel normal — maybe it was normal this whole time and I just haven’t seen it. Regardless, change is coming and it feels good. I’ve never been one to be scared of change, I love that it gives my brain something new to chew over, but I know that the process of things evolving into something new can be daunting, despite even a guarantee of a positive outcome.
I think bravery, courage… it’s all subjective. What is scary to some may not be to others, and acknowledging the effort it takes someone to overcome their obstacles, regardless of how straightforward it may seem to you, could be motivation, at least, to continue overcoming, continue persevering, growing, evolving — and to keep pushing the limits of what can and cannot be done. This will look different for everyone and the levels of what our fears and reservations are will vary. This doesn’t make the little victories we achieve, every single day, any less significant. It could just be meeting your ex for coffee and signing a parenting plan — if it scared you and you did it anyway, it deserves to be celebrated.
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”—Henry Ford