When I first presented to my General Practitioner to report my concerns about my mental health it took a huge amount of courage. I had been taught as a child in my claustrophobic and toxic household to never express health concerns. The answer invariably was ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’. Above all it was impressed on me that I should never ask for help – for any reason. So I spent years trying my best to cope with worsening bipolar symptoms on my own – keeping a lid on things. When I finally couldn’t cope any more I was terrified about asking for help – huge courage was required.
If patience is required when you live with a mental illness, then courage is the other requisite.
Variously, if you’re living with a mental illness, you need the courage to take the first step; to open yourself to someone you barely know (ie to trust); to express yourself in spite of your fear of being misunderstood; to communicate with friends and loved ones in spite of your fear of your relationships changing forever; to accommodate change (sometimes life-changing change); to face the fear of stepping outside if anxiety has you in its grip, but doing it anyway; to face down voices and hallucinations should you find yourself psychotic; to deal with stigma without letting it derail you; to deal with a world where shapes shift and nothing can be held onto; to find your voice and negotiate for what you need with your psychiatry team; to make progress even when that is terrifying; to learn to cope with the dark places without running away; to apply for jobs even as you fear for your future; to love even though you feel broken inside; to keep dancing in the real world even while the internal world is so exhausting you; to raise kids even while you struggle to get out of bed; to leave behind people and things that are damaging to you; to negotiate healthy relationships while you doubt you have anything to offer; to hold onto those 6 raging horses when you’re in the grip of mania and keep your feet on the ground; to let people in to help and care for you without becoming dependent; to communicate your position without resorting to self-indulgence; to deal with the bills even when you can’t deal with your mind; to negotiate the stress of hospital wards while keeping your humanity; to face your past, if that needs facing; to make amends to people if you’ve hurt them; to speak out for your community of like-minded souls….
I suspect the list is endless. You don’t have to have a mental illness to require courage in life. Everyone has a a stone in their boot. I think the greatest courage required is the courage to grow.