Courage, Dear Heart

William Tecumseh Sherman (a general in the American Civil War, among other things), described courage as “a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to endure it.”  I think that’s a good, if slightly narrow definition, as it takes courage to face hardship, humiliation and pain just as much as danger.  Either way, it’s a quality vital to the chronically ill.  It takes courage to live every day with discomfort and sickness.  That’s why it was my theme for February.  Below are all the quotes I’ve written in my journal this month.  My journal also helpfully inserted on of it’s own: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage” – Anais Nin.

I chose courage as the theme for February because I think we really start to need it now.  The first rush of hope that comes with the new year has faded and we are faced with the reality of life going on, as it does.  It can be a painful come-down from January, and I find myself needing a little bit of courage to push through it.

As with January and its theme of “hope“, I’ve tried for a range of quotes that capture a lot of different aspects of courage – what it means, how you get it, what it does, why it is important, and what things require it.

If you are wondering why the picture for this article is a handsome little black and white mouse on a luxurious red mouse-sofa, it is because that is my dear departed mouselet Napoleon, whose namesake was, whilst unfortunately French, undeniably brave.  My little mousey Napoleon was also extremely brave, and though trying to take on my rats (at least ten times his size, in one case) was a perfectly reasonable move.  He never actually managed to get them, and instead lived a life of luxury, got quite chubby, and died at the ripe old age of two and a half.  He was adorable and I loved him.

Anyway.  Courage.

  1. “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”  – Winston Churchill
  2. “It requires more courage to suffer than to die.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
  3. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu
  4. “Success is not final, fear is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
  5. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.   You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  6. “Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts.  That’s what little girls are made of.” – Bethany Hamilton
  7. “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
  8. “We don’t develop courage by being happy every day.  We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Barbara de Angelis
  9. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what is takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill
  10. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e e cummings
  11. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
  12. “Efforts and courage are not enough with purpose and direction.” – John F Kennedy
  13. “Courage is grace under pressure.” – Ernest Hemingway
  14. “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” – Robert Green Ingersoll
  15. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T. S. Eliot
  16. “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.  We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest.” – Maya Angelou
  17. “Have the courage to say no.  Have the courage to face the truth.  Do the right thing because it is right.  These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” – W. Clement Stone
  18. “From caring comes courage.” – Lao Tzu
  19. “Courage is contagious.  When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” – Billy Graham
  20. “The truth is: belonging starts with self-acceptance.  Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” – Brene Brown
  21. “It took me realising that a broken heart has never actually killed anyone to find the courage to ask for what I want, in just about ever situation.  That was part of my own growing up.” – Ginnifer Goodwin
  22. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C. S. Lewis
  23. “Amongst the qualities a hero should have, I would include determination, loyalty, courage, perseverance, patience, focus, intrepidity, and selflessness.” – Ricky Martin
  24. “I believe that my worth is not measured by what I do, by the honours that are bestowed upon me, or by material wealth that I might obtain.  Instead, I am measured by the courage I show while standing for my beliefs, by the dedication I exhibit to ensure my word is good, and the resolve I undertake to establish my actions and deeds as honourable.” – Burgess Owens
  25. “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.” – Nelson Mandela
  26. “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” – Brene Brown
  27. “God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.” – Chester W. Nimitz
  28. “Have courage and be kind.” – Cinderella

The hardest part about this list is keeping it to just 28.  There are so many things to be said on this theme.  Do you have a favourite?

Stay brave, my friends.  Come back next month for March’s theme: kindness.

Staying Strong

So far in this mini-series I’ve talked about staying grateful and staying generous when we are faced with challenges that make it very hard to do that.  Today I want to talk about how we stay strong.

I think this is probably the hardest thing of all.  I can generally find something I’m grateful for even in the midst of despair – usually especially in the midst of despair – such as love, or morphine.  I don’t find it hard to give my time and energy to people because I literally do it for a living.  However, I do find it hard to pull myself out of depressive slumps and keep going.  We don’t get to use little mantras like “this too shall pass”, because it probably won’t.  We might not be able to exercise to get those endorphins pumping.  So what can we do?  More specifically, given that I’m neither a motivational speaker or a counsellor, what works for me and might work for you?

1) Accepting the situation

And right away we’ve got the hardest thing on the list.  Accepting what the situation is rally hard for me, because it requires me to walk a weird line between hoping that things will get better but also not dwelling on the fact that they aren’t, whilst being clear with myself that they might not, but not despairing about that.  It’s like being in a washing machine sometimes.  It doesn’t mean fatalism or pessimism; it just means dealing with the hand we are dealt right now and learning to live with it.  That being said, I still advocate…

2) Working to change it

Accepting the situation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be working on getting better.  Keep checking with your specialist (or multiple specialists) about alternatives, clinical trials, advances, anything that will progress your ability to manage endometriosis.

3) Having a purpose

Setting goals is one thing that makes me keep going.  I will not give in because I haven’t done X, Y or Z yet.  Sometimes they are long-term things, like making it through a year of work and going up a pay grade, or growing this blog to 100 followers with a giveaway to celebrate (let me know in the comments in that is something you’d like).  Sometimes it is smaller things, like to give this new medication a go, or to make it to the next long weekend and reassess.  As long as I have a reason to keep pushing through, it makes it a little easier.  Right now I’ve got my eyes on two weeks hence, when I’ll meet with Dr Edi-Osagie again to see if the Zoladex is working and determine whether surgery is the next step.  Having something in the future that I am focused on makes it easier to push through the present, which is mostly a weird stabbing pain in my…bladder?  Uterus?  Can’t really tell.

4) Staying as positive as possible

As I said in my last two posts, being happy makes it easier to deal with the bad stuff.  Training your brain into a more positive mindset isn’t a foolproof, 100% guarantee that you’ll always be happy, but it helps.

5) Treating myself well

Whether it is looking after myself physically by taking my medication and vitamins, keeping myself mentally healthy by being kind and forgiving to myself, or just plain spoiling myself on occasion, I find it much easier to make it through a week when I’m doing those things than when I’m not.  My journey’s hard enough; no point making it harder.

6) Keeping occupied

When you are stuck at home just doing one thing all the time it becomes really easy not to do anything at all.  I try to switch it up as often as possible.  Rather than watch several episodes of a show back-to-back I’ll go outside for 10 minutes after one, or get on the floor to hug my dog, or go and write something on my blog.  Mind games like Sudoku or logic puzzles are good to keep the old brain-motor running as it should.  Having an app to switch to for a little while, or a book, or doing some journalling or doodling is great.  The more you do the harder it is to sink into a depressive state (and the more you sink into a depressive state, the harder you will find it to switch up activities).  If I binge-watch a series, no matter how excellent, I won’t stop, and I’ll hate myself for it, and that will make me feel useless, and then I’ll be useless.  Breaking it up with other activities makes me feel more productive and active.

7) Asking for help

I’ve already talked about how I couldn’t have made it through the past few years without a support network.  Sometimes, I’m not feeling so strong.  Either I have no hope for the future, or feel like I can’t bear up under the pain any more, or simply need help taking the load off for a bit so I can get into a healthier mindset without the stress of undone tasks.  Asking friends and family to pitch in with some emotional support or practical help lets me do that.

8) Letting my worries out

Whether by writing them down, talking them over or praying them away, analysing my fears lets me take control over them and prevent them from controlling me.  If I know what my fear is I can step on it by asking, “So what?”  That’s kind of how this blog started.  I was telling myself, “I’m going to get fired because of my health.  I’ll lose my entire career and never be a lawyer ever again.”  Then I said to myself, “So what if that happens?  What will I do?”  “Ella,” I said, “I’ll start a blog.  That way I’ll have something to keep me busy and maybe one day I can even use it as a business.”  (There was a bit more emotional drama in between those sentences, but you get the gist).

Of course, this doesn’t always work.  Sometimes there is no solution to the worry so I’ll focus instead on letting it go, only to find it comes buzzing back in like that annoying little fly you’re sure you saw fly out of the window a minute ago.  Trying is important, though.

9) Staying hopeful (but not too hopeful)

If you pin all your hopes on a particularly solution, you will be crushingly devastated when it fails.  However, a bit of cautious optimism lets you aim for the faint light at the end of the tunnel, and means you aren’t absolutely broken when you find out it was a vital part of the tunnel infrastructure catching fire instead.  A little bit of hope makes it easier to get through the bad stuff because there is the possibility it might get better.

10) Preparing

Even if I don’t go out, I make sure to do certain things as if I will.  Every day I wash my face, brush my hair and clean my teeth.  It’s not much and it is something most people take for granted, I suspect.  However, those three little things make me feel more human, give me a small sense of purpose and achievement, and ensure that I don’t look and smell in the event that someone knocks on the door.  Even if I’m in my pjs, it gives me a small sense of self-possession I would otherwise lack, and it’s that small sense that helps me feel like I’m more competent, more confident, and therefore stronger.

 

What do you do to get through the really tough bits?  Any mantras or quotes that help you?  Let me know in the comments.