Courage is to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” – Brené Brown
Sometimes life asks a lot more than what you think you have to give, and so far it has demanded courage of me. I wouldn’t have got through these past few months without it, but acknowledging it as my word for 2013 has kept me focused. I know I’m a strong person but embracing courage has given me a quiet kind of strength to keep going when I didn’t think I could, a courage that comes from within, rather than me using the strength of others to pull me through.
There is a balance in writing such a personal blog, and I often wonder if I step over that line between sharing what perhaps should be kept private and intimate, and sharing what is personal yet hopefully empowering to others. I guess you could say that is partly why I haven’t written in so long, unsure if what I had to share was too personal. Yet ultimately I wear my heart on my sleeve, it’s how I’ve always been so here I am digging into my courage and pouring my heart out on this blog. These past four months have been so up and down, it has been more like taking a ride on a centrifuge than a roller-coaster. I have been through such an extraordinary range of experiences and emotions which don’t fall into a neat little blog post, but I suppose that’s the way life is; at times you feel like you can’t quite catch your breath from the sorrow or joy of it all.
Life will throw you a curveball when you least expect it, sometimes it might even throw you three or four. In November last year it feel like I was hit with a thousand balls at once. My father made two serious suicide attempts. To say I have a complicated and strained relationship with him is somewhat of an understatement, but I would never want him to suffer. Knowing he was in such a dark place in his life where he felt the only option was to kill himself, was incredibly painful to bear and understand. What made this curveball so difficult to handle was that my husband and I were due to go travelling around South East Asia for two months in December. This was our dream trip that we had been planning and saving for, for over a year.
As awful and self-centred as this might sound, I felt angry. Angry with my father for doing something so selfish, to cause so much pain, to so many people. Angry that I was being put in a position where I felt I had to choose, between my dreams and my father. I agonised about whether we should still go away or cancel our trip. Amazingly every member of my family felt we should go travelling, including my father. As strange as it might sound it took a lot of courage to make the decision to go away. Going was the harder choice, putting my needs and dreams first is not something I feel comfortable doing, l felt as guilty as hell and like the shittiest daughter in the world.
As planned, one week before Christmas my husband and I left London for Bangkok on the first leg of our amazing Asian Odyssey. I felt utterly bereft with guilt, yet I strongly believed it was the ‘right thing’ to do. It was the right thing for me personally, and for my husband and I as a married couple. I had promised my husband that if we were going to go away, then I had to be present to the experience, not absent-minded with anxiety everyday wondering ‘what if’ about my father. The first few days were surreal and it did take a little while to adjust from the craziness and intense emotions of grief, sorrow and despair at home, to embracing the peace, joy and exhilaration of our trip.
Our Asian Odyssey was so much more than I can put into words (though I may try in a future blog post). Spending twenty four hours a day for seven weeks with my husband was such an unexpected joy. I don’t think we argued once. We reconnected on so many levels and have a bank of shared experiences and memories that were so profoundly moving, that I want to do it all again, a hundred times over. When I recall our trip my heart literally feels like it is exploding with love and joy, it was such a precious and incredible experience that we will both treasure for the rest of our lives. I am beyond grateful that I took the harder but more courageous option of going away. I honestly think I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if we hadn’t.
Two days following our return home in February, I flew out to Germany to have surgical treatment for my lipoedema. In hindsight it might have been better to have taken a week between flying home and undertaking surgery, simply to bask in that wonderful post-holiday bliss. Instead I was thrown head-first into a far more traumatic experience than I had ever imagined. The option of surgery was not available when I was first diagnosed in 2002, and although not a cure, it is the only long-term treatment as it prevents the disease from advancing, alleviates much of the pain and improves overall quality of life. The procedure involved me having 13 litres of painful fibrous tissue and fluid removed from my legs and arms in eight separate surgeries over a period of two months. I was unlucky and had a number of complications from adverse reactions to the medication, to a thrombosis in my leg. The pain was beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life and no matter how much I thought I was prepared for this, I wasn’t.
So here I am a few weeks on from the surgery, recovering well with the exception of a rather inconvenient DVT and daily heparin injections. The excruciating pain is starting to become a distant memory, the bruises and scars almost gone and I’m beginning to see the benefits of the treatment, although it will take closer to six months before I am fully healed. Perhaps not surprisingly I feel emotionally and physically drained, kind of like someone has just dragged me out of the washing machine. I think this feeling is heightened by the fact that I am currently not working as I gave up my job so that we could go travelling and for me to have the surgery. I was also scheduled to have a breast reduction operation next week, but courtesy of my thrombosis this has been postponed which was an unexpected and rather disheartening blow. Whilst some days I feel great and upbeat, other days I feel completely without purpose and I find my head in a bucket of ice-cream. Ah yes the food. That demon is still there and certainly likes to roar into the forefront when the going gets tough. Yet I know I can deal with this, my sugary little gremlins trying to lull me to the dark side of momentary happiness, where all pain is temporarily forgotten. That is a lie. Life will not be better if I soothe it with sugar and carbs.
There have been days when I haven’t felt strong, when I haven’t felt full of courage, when I’ve just wanted to run and hide and bury my head in the sand and wallow in chocolate. Then there’s been days when my grit and pure determination has carried me through. That’s why I don’t think courage is something you either have or don’t have. I think it is a skill. A skill that can be learnt like any other, and the more we practice the skills of courage, compassion and gratitude, the more masterful we can become at them.
An act of courage will be different for each of us, but as long as we act from our heart, then we become more skilled in cultivating courage.