I’ve had several people now tell me they think I’m brave.
Most recently, a professor and mentor who was also somewhat of a surrogate maternal figure when I was in college.
I never honestly know how to feel about such pronouncements, and my initial emotional response is that of denial mixed with gratitude.
Objectively, to a certain extent, I suppose these people are correct in their assertions.
Through a certain lens, I’m sure some my actions (moving halfway across the country to Texas, quitting a well-paying but unsatisfying job, starting my own business, removing hurtful people from my life, living as openly queer, kinky, and poly) do appear brave.
But I think I inwardly balk a bit upon hearing it because to me, these actions were also quite simply necessary.
The Oxford dictionary defines bravery as “being ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.”
So, part of the problem may be that I see courage and bravery as two different things. And I do try to be courageous, in as much as that means being afraid but doing what is necessary anyway, and not allowing our fear to control us.
As far as the first definition goes, however, much of what others seem to perceive as bravery on my part I think of as the avoidance of pain– moving to a position of greater tolerability and ease – rather than the endurance of it.
Since moving to Austin, I have begun to understand with increasing clarity which situations are unsustainable regarding my continued mental health, and then, to the best of my ability, I choose to move in a more healthy direction.
I didn’t not kill myself when I was 20 to be miserable, stuck in a job I hate. I didn’t not kill myself when I was 20 to live a life of lies, secrecy, and shame.
If bravery is choosing life, then I suppose I am brave.
Objectively, yes, I have taken risks. Risks others would perhaps not take in my place. But the alternative, to me, was death.
And I say that unfacetiously.
I feel sometimes that life is different for those of us who have survived suicide attempts.
When I say I chose life, I mean it.
For most people, life is the default setting. It’s something that happened to them, and that they likely take for granted for the most part.
But for me, there was a very clear, definitive moment when I could have died, and instead, I chose life.
And when I chose life, I embraced it.
I will not live a half-life of misery and regret, or what was the point of choosing life at all?
If I’m going to live, then I will live as well as I can, and with as much joy and peace as I can muster.
Which means not working an office job. Not working 50-hours a week. Surrounding myself with intelligent, open-minded, open-hearted people with my best interests in mind. Eating herbs from my garden. Travelling. Reading books. Writing. Drinking tea. Eating chocolate. Petting my cat. Feeling the sun on my face. Getting enough sleep. Cooking delicious food. And maybe other things I haven’t discovered yet.
Some people have a higher tolerance for misery than me. I think that’s what it boils down to. But stress and negativity feed my depression and so they have to go. Because if they don’t, I will.
The world that is worth living in is a world of positivity and hope. That’s the world I try to live in. A world where anything can happen, and that means good things sometimes, too. (My Master’s thesis was about utopian community-building for a reason).
Anyone who reads this blog knows I don’t always live there. I get overwhelmed and discouraged. I throw myself pity parties. But I also try to surround myself with people who inspire hope and belief in me, and I try to change my life when I sense it’s getting too difficult to live well. I try to hold onto those moments where I said, “yes” to life and to keep saying, “yes” as often as I can.
My therapist said it seems like I choose health, and I’d like to think that’s true.
Sometimes it takes time to figure out how to change the difficult, unsatisfying, and stressful parts of our lives. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do. But sometimes, there’s something.
When I notice that I’m on a path which will only slowly spiral downward back towards death, I choose life. I move to a different road.*
And I don’t always know what will happen or if it will turn out well.
But I do know where doing nothing will lead.
So I leap.
And if that makes me brave, then so be it.
* There’s that Maya Angelou quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We’re all making decisions with the best information we have at the time. When I get more or different information, it’s time to see if I can choose better.