Day 159, Quote 14: “Brave does not mean…”

We’re shifting. I’ve been running on movie quotes this year and JP and I have been watching A LOT of movies. The spring was tough and there were more date night’s in,s o we revisited some of our favorites and found some new ones. Some inspired me and struck something that made me want to write.

But I’ve been working on writing more in a different way. Not just blogging or the workbook, but journaling and writing just to write. My friend Kara started a writing group for about a dozen of us using a writing challenge that prompts us daily. The prompts may be quotes, it may be a photo, but regardless you’re encouraged to write what comes to mind that day.

There have been some where I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of my head on paper and others that frustrated me and left me pondering for most of the day.

This was Day 8.

day 8 bravery

Bravery.

My first thought was self-demeaning.

I am not brave.

I then thought of all the times that I’ve been told I’m brave.

I reached out to Kara and said in not as many words, this post was something I wanted to expand on outside of the group. I asked her to co-write a blog post with our view points of bravery.

As you read through our perspectives, I want you to ask yourself what brave means to you now. Has it ever changed it’s meaning? Do you think it can continue to evolve for you?

I also want you to consider its Google definition – you know, when you search Google like this: def:bravery.

brave.JPG


Here’s Kara’s point-of-view.

Moments of bravery go unnoticed every day, while moments of pride and vanity are heralded as heroism.  Because bravery means something different to each individual, because we all have our own fears – both acknowledged and hidden – bravery takes many forms.

The definition of bravery that resonates the most with me is from Merriam-Webster’s latest edition, “Having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty”.

Is it brave to commit yourself to defending your country? 

Absolutely.

Is it brave to put your life in danger to save the life of another?

Most definitely.

It’s also brave to get out of bed in the morning when every part of you hurts, and you just don’t think you can do it.

It’s brave to try something new that takes you out of your comfort zone, knowing failure is the likely outcome.

It’s brave to find the lesson in the failure and try again, over and over.

It’s brave to speak up and share your truth when you know your perspective is different.

It is brave to form your own path, often walking away from what is comfortable, expected, and accepted.

In the last year, I have been called brave more than perhaps any other time in my life.  Due to a series of localized tragedies that the CDC has deemed a “suicide contagion,” I decided to share my story.

I spoke to my high school classes, and eventually to the entire student body, about being a survivor of multiple suicide attempts.

I have always been open about my experiences with mental illness, both in person and on social media.  Hiding who I am and how I am struggling is something that I decided long ago that I would not do. Pretending that they don’t affect me every minute of every day isn’t helping anyone.

During moments of openness about mental illness, I have often been told how brave I am to share my struggles. To me, this isn’t brave. This is just being who I am and not being ashamed.

I share my experiences because I hope to find connection with others, along with understanding. I do not want pity, but I do want others who may be fighting their own battles silently to know that they are not alone.

Ironically, the moments in my life when I have felt the most brave probably wouldn’t be what most consider brave actions. It was the moment that I stepped away from a relationship that on the surface looked perfect, but underneath was damaging.  Or the first time that I put myself first, rather than fulfilling my lifelong role as a people pleaser. It was finding genuine happiness for a friend at her baby shower, days after I had miscarried. It was willingly putting myself into a situation that I knew would induce panic, because I know it’s part of the process of healing.

Each of these moments were terrifying and overwhelming for me. In every instance, I convinced myself that catastrophic repercussions and failure were imminent. However, these moments of self-doubt ultimately became moments of self-discovery.

The grandiose and the quiet moments of bravery should be equally celebrated and appreciated.  Growth, both individual and societal, can only come from moments of bravery.


Here’s Cristina’s point-of-view.

I hate the word brave.

I know we all have our own definition, but I feel like people confused bravery with doing the right thing or doing what it takes to be successful or doing what is necessary to live your life fully.
I’ve been brave for putting on heels and a bikini.
I’ve been brave for talking about my PTSD.
I’ve been brave for calling out online bullies.
I’ve been brave for telling people about my bad days.
I’ve been brave for wearing stripes.
I’ve been brave for having skin removal surgery.
I’ve been brave wearing “that color” or “that style”.
Why are these things brave?

I think that many people view behaviors that they wouldn’t exemplify as brave. They wouldn’t wear stripes or talk about mental health – so it must be brave. For me, I know it has nothing to do with things I wouldn’t do.

I think it has to do with things that leave me in awe.

I saw brave in my older sister who stepped between me and mom when I was in third grade. It was the first time my mom hit me, and it was the first time I realized that if my big sister was around I would be safe.

I saw brave when a friend told me she went back to therapy. She’s capable of problem-solving and she’s capable of making connections and then making a plan, but I also believe that this assistance will guide her to peak greatness. I believe that she will be able to grow more fully and asking for help and putting trust in someone else is brave.

I saw brave when a client told me she was leaving her corporate job to be a stay-at-home mom and teach her sons herself. This was a powerful declaration of “I can” from this client and my heart clapped and cheered for her because while I knew she was terrified inside, she was still taking this step.

I have felt brave when getting out of the shower on days I thought I couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes I stay in the shower longer because I’m thinking and when I’ve come to my conclusion I’ll feel ready to step and out go into the world. But on days when it’s bad, getting in to begin with is a project and the feeling of readiness to take on the world (as it feels) seems like a burden.

I have felt brave when I trust myself to be capable in the gym, as a coach, as a partner. I have more doubt than I want to admit, but writing it out makes me face it and makes me think about where it comes from.

I feel brave when being myself. Growing up, if I was bullied my dad always asked what I did wrong or what I did to draw the bully’s attention. It was never about the wrongness in their behavior but identifying that there must be something wrong with mine. I am not wrong and it took a long time to see that and to feel that.

When I was a kid, I think I just wanted to be happy. As an adult there has never been a point in my life where I have thought, I want to martyr for the cause.

I don’t want to be brave.

I just want people to look at me and see normal people can do extraordinary things when they work hard. That normal people change the world. That we can live our lives to the fullest without labels of our accomplishments.

❤ Cristina and Kara

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It’s Your Turn Series: Post 11 “Life in My Days: 22 Years of Mental Illness and Counting”

This is my friend Ahmad. He pretty much started this series. What I mean is it was his words that set something off in me that made me think about the larger problem at hand. Yes, I am working through my own anxiety, my own PTSD, and I have no issue talking about it. But, there’s a but. But what about those who don’t share their stories. They don’t have an outlet to do so. They don’t think someone will listen or understand or care. What about the others out there who are also suffering silently. Maybe they need a place for their voice. He doesn’t realize that he sparked that in me, but he did. I wanted his story too though. So Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, an Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He speaks and writes about Mental Health, Wellness, Support, and Social Justice. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on instagram and Facebook .


Ableism – are the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities.

Within our ableist society the definition of wellness is the absence of physical or mental disability. In that case, according to ableism, I have never been well. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Wellness is defined as “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So why do we continue to believe the first definition far more than the official?
The simple answer is that the world is not defined according to the WHO; it’s defined in the very fabrics of society, from the moment we’re born until the day we die, and even beyond. Ableism, like many other forms of oppression, is one of the foundations of our society.
I have suffered from mental illness since I was two, even before I was supposed to be cognitively conscious. It started with social anxiety and general anxiety, years later body dysmorphic disorder would reshape my image, major depression and a dissociative disorder took years out of my life, and finally PTSD redefined what a college experience should be like.
Throughout it all I have felt alone, invisible in a world moving too fast for me at times, and too slow in others. At times I have shut down, for years at a time, while other times I was able to function in slow motion, every breath seemingly my last, and I was able to graduate from an engineering school, co-found a non-profit, start my own site, write almost a dozen novels and so much more. Because of that, because of the diversity of my illnesses no one believed that anything was wrong until I was 20 years old. At 20, I spoke to my second grade teacher, and for the first time my pain was validated, my illness was validated, and I was validated. I was no longer the illness, the illness was a part of me yes, but I was not my illnesses.
Since then I have learned to take back control of my life. I do so through sharing my story, raising awareness about mental health, writing and blogging, taking time off, and just as importantly, exercising and focusing on my diet. Most assume the last is about self image, but the reality is that it’s far deeper than that. My body dysmorphia does not allow me to see what I truly look like, and no six pack can change that, but eating right and exercising gives me the energy I need to function, to sleep, and to monitor my illnesses like you would with diabetes or any other physical illness. It’s a matter of control, in a life where we have very little.
Today, I have productive days, I have mental health days, and I have days where I do not function. For me mental health days are days I take willingly, they are a time to reflect and rejuvenate so that I may have productive days. The days where I do not function are the ones beyond my control, and I barely exist, or exist far too much during them. The relationship between the mental health days and the non-functioning days is inverse, the more I have of one, the less I have the other. So in times of severe stress my mental health days will be far more than in less stressful times.
There’s a lot that goes into my wellness, some days it seems that it’s too much, but wellness is not a one time deal, wellness is a way of life. And believe it or not, I happen to like my way of life.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 8 “I Am Not What Happened To Me, I Am What I Choose To Become.”

 When I emailed with Sarah, she told me that she had pushed aside her anxiety out of how I might sound to someone else. She’s not the only one. There are so many people that have experienced various traumas, almost all of which are out their control, but yet they take on shame. We are not the problem. It is not our fault. Sarah’s story hit me in the stomach. As children we don’t understand our surroundings and the experiences are created for us. People don’t realize that when children experience violence, that they will become adults who remember and react to violence.

I can not remember a time in my life where I did not have anxiety. My home life was a war zone in my eyes. I was the third of four girls. My mother was a full-time single parent and my dad was as drunk as he could be on a daily basis. We never knew when he would come in smelling of whiskey and ready to yell at my mother. He never was physically abusive, but we watched him verbally abuse my mother for years. We tried to protect her, but four little girls can only do so much.
This home life caused me to be a little girl that was terrified of everything. I would cry as soon as the fire drill went off in class, I would have to held aside to walk with the teacher because the anxiety over took everything I had. I wasn’t afraid of the loud noise or the chance of a fire, I was upset by an unplanned commotion. It reminded me of home and how happiness could be burst like a bubble. My eldest sibling poked fun at me for my anxiety and called me names like cry baby and scaredy cat. As a little girl those names hurt and when you can’t describe why you are so shaken with fear, you then yourself brush it off that you are just being a baby. I can recognize now that I had anxiety issues as a child, and a 2nd grade teacher even wrote to my mother suggesting that I see a child psychiatrist, something my mother felt was not needed, or she just didn’t have the time for. I got better with my anxiety at school but at home it always remained alert.
As I entered middle school my father was sent to prison. He ended up in and out of jail most my teenage life. It was always weird to me because he would get sober there, come out and I would have to get to know a different person. Just for him to turn around and within months to maybe a year be back in jail. We wouldn’t have contact with him other than a shared phone call on the holidays or letters he wrote. I held a lot of resentment towards him. My mother saved us all by staying strong but we watched her suffer a lot. Once my father was out of the picture, my eldest sister took the role of verbal abuser. I watched her treat my mother and siblings like we were garbage, say horrible things to us and insult anything we did.  It didn’t help that we were all chubby in my family. I think my mother felt if we were fed well we were being taken care of. My older siblings had a bigger weight issue than myself and my younger sibling but we all suffered and struggle with it. I can’t even get into all the problems we had though my teenage years. We dealt with suicide threats, cutting, bulimia, anorexia and extreme low self esteem at times. I had thought we had the worst behind us as we all started to become adults. The worst was yet to come.
My sister who shared the middle spot with me was starting to show symptoms of a mental illness. In the next two years we would be on a roller coaster from hell of never knowing if the police or someone would call saying she got in trouble or was sent back to the psych ward. We tried to help her in every way we could. It became more difficult to help because she kept getting into trouble with the law and taking things out of our hands and hers. In May 2014 I came home and saw police cars and ambulances all parked in front of my house. I remember leaving my car parked in the middle of the road as I ran to the door. No officer would let me in, they said they didn’t want me to see her that way and that she was gone. My father was the only one there. He was the man who helped her buy a gun, she convinced him that it was hobby. I was there alone waiting for my mother to get home from work. I had to break the worst news to all my family. I was numb. For the year following I would have breakdowns and depression that I just couldn’t control. My boyfriend (now husband) would try to comfort me but we both knew that neither of us knew what to do.
 Since then my life has continued on but with different struggles. My oldest sister is an alcoholic and my younger sister is basically one foot out the door of never talking to anyone in my family again. It will be five years this May since my sister passed. I always say to my husband, I don’t even know what part of my life has caused me more pain. And I don’t think I ever will. What I have come to realize that helps me is that I can’t control what caused the pain but I can control how I deal with it. I get anxiety and depression to this day and I feel horrible when I think I am not being the partner my husband deserves because I mentally and emotionally am not there. I continue on and refuse to give up.
I believe I need to be strong for my family and try to help keep together what little bits we have left. I do not want to give up. My sister wouldn’t have wanted me to give up. Before she was sick she was every one’s cheerleader. She was brilliant and beautiful and I do not want to let her down. I know she is my little extra push when getting out of bed is the hardest thing for me to do. I have learned from being skinny to being over weight, the scale number never matters. I always want to think it does because it is the only thing I can control. Bad things , anxiety, and depression have all happened to me at all different weights. What I want is to be healthy now and listen to my body and not with a diet. I want to be healthy to keep my mind healthy not look skinny.
I am going to be 31 this Jan, and I want to get it my best yet because I believe I deserve it. Thank you for giving people, including myself, this outlet to express their story. You are an amazing , strong and very intelligent woman. I know I will continue to look forward to your many adventures, stories and personal shares.  I wish you nothing but the best on your journey.

If you or someone you know is at risk for hurting themselves or others please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255