The Definition of Brave

definition-of-brave

We think that by bearing our truths and sharing our stories, we’ll be faced with disapproval, ignorance, judgement, indifference even. We fear a painful backlash if we are to open up about the ways our brains are unique.

Some people would say the definition of brave is fourteen individuals standing up on stage in front of a sold-out audience of almost 400 to talk about what life feels like when one has been dealt the mental illness card. It’s knowing the entire performance is being videotaped so that it will be shareable to the world later. There is the potential it will reach thousands of people. Maybe millions.

It’s pacing backstage, outside a tiny dressing room, as we hear our anthem belted out with such beauty and soul that it’s impossible not to lip sync to calm our nerves.

It’s voices shaking, mouths dry as toast, weight shifting as we sit in a chair waiting for our turn to be introduced. It’s a deep breath sucked in and sighed out nervously before beginning to speak. It’s making eye contact with the audience members we can see outside of the tight spotlight shining directly on the space within our arms’ reach.

The definition of brave is not letting the cry pierce the surface when reminiscing about all the pain and suffering we endured, even though verbalizing the memories is like rubbing salt into a wound with tiny cracks in the scab that has yet to crust over completely. Brave is letting the feelings and emotions catch in bated breath for a second. Or a few seconds. Then continuing to finish the story. No one said it was going to be easy.

Brave is not giving up on sharing our story even though it hurts like hell.

What we’ve been through has taught us intense empathy, and for that we wouldn’t trade our conditions for that of a healthy, non-mentally-ill person. We are the lucky ones. Our determination to get well and stay well earns us the title of fighter on the outside. On the inside, it’s more like embracer.

We tell our stories as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how we work hard to stick to our treatment plans each day in order not to fall backwards. The days and weeks and months and years may put distance between our horrible sadness, our frantic madness, the chaos and confusion in our minds. Those are the moments we only keep in our memory for the reminders of what it felt like so we never let ourselves return there.

We are brave not because it’s a walk in the park to relive those moments, but because we know that by sharing our stories there’s a chance that one day, someone who is looking for a sign that things will get better, might find our stories. They will listen to us speak our raw truths and though our voices may shake, and tears may fall, they’ll see us rise above. We’ve been able to overcome mental illness. We chose life and we choose to be brave and continue to share our stories in hopes that we’ll inspire others to share theirs, too.

We share our pain because it only takes one person saying, ‘Thank you,’ to make us realize why. Why we chose to be brave in the first place. Why we chose to bare our souls and hold up our hearts for those before us to drink them in. Why we chose to walk off that stage with no regrets.

We are brave to demonstrate to others the power of sharing their stories. How powerful and healing it could be for more people to share their personal journeys of living with mental illness. The definition of brave shouldn’t have to describe talking openly about mental health disorders. It’s more accurately courage: the ability to do something that frightens one.

Because although we may be scared, and we may feel as though we will face danger or endure pain from sharing our stories, the reality was that when This Is My Brave took to the stage, the theater was filled with nothing but love, encouragement, understanding, acceptance and appreciation for what we did. Which is exactly why I’m excited to continue this journey.

Someday, in the very near future I hope, we will live in a world where we won’t have to call it brave to talk openly about living with mental illness. We’ll simply call it talking.

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You Can Find Your Brave *

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Dear Anonymous,

A year ago I was you. I was writing about my life via my blog but was too afraid to use my real name for fear of being looked at and treated differently by people in my life, in my community. What I didn’t know was that once I did reveal my true identity to the world, how nothing would change, but in fact, things would actually become much more real. In an intensely positive way.

The shame that is attached to being diagnosed with mental illness is physically heavy. It’s a weight that is dumped on a person’s shoulders the moment they hear the words clinical depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or any one of the many different mental health disorders. It makes us feel like outcasts, unworthy of love and respect, when in reality there are millions of Americans living with the same conditions we are.

The problem is, many of us are scared to talk about it, which makes living with a mental illness feel even more shameful. Because shame breeds on secrecy and silence, the longer we remain anonymous and hidden, the more power we hand to our shame.

“Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” – Brene Brown

I’m writing you this letter because I want to see you rise above the shame. I want to invite you to join our movement. I want to see you find your brave. The world is waiting. Now is the time.

It’s incredibly hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To open up about the times of our lives that we’ve shoved to the back corner of the closet and piled stuff on top of so we could forget. But the memories remain, and the longer they stay secret, the more damage they do.

I found that the more I write about the lowest, darkest points in my life, the less power they have over me. The control shifts from those haunting memories to my tender heart and it feels good to have the upper hand. My initial fears of living the rest of my life with a brain illness have all but melted away. They’re still there, as they’ll always be there, but they’re more like raindrops of a quickly-passing storm rather than the thunderous, torrential downpour they were when I was first diagnosed.

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”            – Brene Brown

Even more than writing about my experience, talking about what I’ve gone through has been a life-changing experience. I’ve learned that by accepting my past and embracing my imperfections, by talking to people about my condition, I am helping others find the courage to talk openly about their struggles, too.

We all have struggles. We all have things we’re afraid to talk about. But if we weren’t put on this Earth to help others in life, tell me – why are we here?

I believe we can all find the courage to share our stories. Maybe it starts by telling a few close friends. Maybe you find a support group in your local area specifically targeted towards your condition and you go and share part of your story. Maybe you decide to write a blog and connect with other writers online.

Or maybe you decide to show the world your vulnerability in a new and different way. You’re an artist, and so you dream up and write down the thoughts that are floating around in your head. And they come out as a song or an essay or a poem, so lyrical and beautiful and heartfelt and emotional. For the world to know the true you, the whole you. Because every piece of us is something to be celebrated.

Join me in twelve days for This Is My Brave. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, act fast because they are running out. Click here to get yours now. If you can’t make it to the show, but want to support our efforts, consider making a donation to our newly-formed non-profit to help us get up and running, or buy a BRAVE bracelet to show your dedication to our mission. Let’s tell the world our stories and kick the shame that is stigma to the curb.

Everyone is capable of finding their brave.

With love and encouragement,

Jenn

*This letter originally appeared on thisismybrave.com.

A Different Path

A-Different-PathPhoto Credit: Zach Dischner via Compfight cc

Some may say I took the easy path to becoming a writer. The cowardly path. I was too scared to follow my dreams as an undergrad, so I took the safe route. I found a job, got married young, started a family five years later and now that I have the stability of a loving, supportive husband who has a stable job that pays well, I have the ability to be an artist. I’m not arguing this because it’s true.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary at times. We settled in an area of the country where it’s very difficult to make ends meet on one income. Artists don’t become artists for the money. They do it because there is an innate drive living inside their hearts which compels them to keep creating and sharing their work. The hope is that one day, the compensation will follow. All things considered, my husband and I are more savers than we are spenders. Our idea of a splurge is taking a couples vacation to Mexico for our 10-year anniversary. Lucky for us both sets of parents jump at the chance to watch their grandkids for a week.

So yes, I feel very fortunate to be able to write and stay home with my kids while they’re young. I see each day just how fast this time is passing. Which is funny because I’m simultaneously sad about their “baby” years almost being over and {maybe a little too} eager for their school years to begin. I anticipate long, quiet stretches of six hours a day where I can devote some serious time to our newly-formed non-profit and all the exciting projects my partner and I keep dreaming up. And then there’s the memoir that’s relentlessly floating around in my mind. I want to plan and write and get it all out on paper so that I can re-work, re-write and re-organize the thoughts from my early struggles with my illness, still so vivid in my subconscious.

These days I see clearly the path which I’ve found myself peddling on, a steady pace keeping me in shape for the hills ahead. This path is one on which I eventually tell my whole story, hopefully encouraging people from all walks of life to be brave and stand up for what they believe in but are too afraid to say out loud.

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Planting seeds

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After Friday’s meeting about This Is My Brave, I felt like a kid during the December count-down to Christmas. Only I don’t want to count down, I just want to get to the big celebration already.

I haven’t stopped thinking about the outcome of the meeting all weekend. I’m giddy with the anticipation of what could happen and at the same time I find myself asking how I got so damn lucky for this all to be happening and how long is it actually going to take?

The truth is, [Read more…]