For today’s Shattering Stigmas post, I have my friend Sierra sharing a post about grief, depression and courage. This is a great post and I hope you all enjoy it. I hope you also check out Shattering Stigmas co-hosts, Shannon, Mari and Taylor’s blogs as they’re sharing amazing posts to help shatter stigma too.
CW/TW: Depression, mention of suicide, mention of self-harm (not done)
Our culture has an intriguing obsession with the concept of courage.
I, on the other hand, never have.
It always bothered me growing up that the heroes of our favorite stories had to be courageous in order to actually be the hero. Harry had to be a Gryffindor, defined by his bravery, in order to take down Voldemort. Tris had to join the reckless, brave kids of Dauntless to forge a new path for herself. And Katniss had to literally stick her neck out to take her sister’s place in the games.
What about the Dracos and Cedrics of the world? The Gales and the Calebs? Were they not brave, too, or do we simply negate their experiences because they weren’t the ones facing Voldemort down with the wand? (Sorry, Cedric, bad example.)
I have puzzled over bravery for many years. What it looks like beyond the obvious, what it does, how people come by it. It was only recently that my brain was so consumed by mental illness, though, that the concept really began to take shape.
When I graduated from college in the summer of 2012, I began a pretty steady descent into depression. My dad had died when I was 14 and I never properly mourned the loss. We knew his death was coming. We accepted it. And I had swim practice to get to. Dad leaving was just a fact of life and we made peace with that early on. That peace disappeared almost as soon as I came home from school at the age of 23.
I don’t know what it was that made it all come into focus suddenly, but I crashed very hard. I didn’t handle the feelings I was experiencing well and my attempts to reach out always seemed to fail. People were busy. I wasn’t clear enough on what I needed. And I just spiraled.
As the grief grew without aid into depression, the depression shaped itself into far worse forms. The kind of monsters and terrors I had never imagined possible for me. I lived in a constant state of some kind of pain – mental, physical, emotional. All areas of my life were affected. When I was awake, I wanted to be asleep. When I went to bed finally, I couldn’t fall asleep. I was so sorrowful, I lashed out at those closest to me for no reason other than I had no other way to express what I was feeling. I hurt my loved ones. I hurt myself. I wanted, quite frankly, to die and never come back. That would be easier, yes?
After the medication failed and a bad discussion with a professional passed, I sank to my lowest point yet. That’s cutting out of a lot of the details in between, but suffice it to say I was at a pretty serious breaking point. I can remember being in the car driving home from work. Driving’s always the worst. Too much time to think and the music on the radio can always be connected to some kind of trauma to dwell on. And I’m sucker for sinking straight into those emotions like jelly.
I was in the car and I remember thinking, this is it. If I don’t find a way out now, I’m going somewhere dangerous. The most dangerous. Up until that point, I’d never made an actual plan. And self-harm never appealed to me. If I kept up, though, well… I was pretty sure I’d be doing some Google searches that might pull up crisis numbers in response.
It’s not easy to make that decision. And I didn’t make it right then and there in the car. That day. Driving home from work. All I knew was that I didn’t really want to die. Not in the deepest, darkest parts of my heart. It took several weeks to fully accept that conclusion and convince myself to act on it.
I can’t quite say what magic combination of things got me to try again, but I did. And hal-le-freaking-lujah, I’m so glad I did. Somehow, the same medication dose from the first attempt worked the second time around and I made a great turn for the better. I’ve been on meds ever since and I feel so fortunate that I gave it another shot. I’m almost thirty now and my brain is thriving like it never was before. When I think about where I might have gone had I not gotten this second chance, I’m terrified. I want to forget that awful place I was and never go back to it.
What does this have to do with courage?
One of the books I read during the time I was debating whether or not to give the meds another shot was Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. If you haven’t read it and you’re okay with some pretty crazy bodily horror, you need to read this book. It’s feminist and kickass and has all this positive sexual, diversity rep going on and GAH. I could gush all day.
But basically, the book is about this group of girls who team up to defeat a literal monster in the woods who eats women. There’s a scene toward the end of the book just before one of the big confrontations – the climax – where the girls are about to make the jump into chaos. And one of the many moths that have been helping them along the way whispers to one of the trio, who is riddled with fear: Courage, dear heart.
That line stuck out to me. It’s so simple, and yet, when I read it, I knew.
Sometimes the simplest actions mean the most. Are soldiers heroes? Absolutely. Are first responders, doctors, teachers, and the like all heroes? You bet ya.
But you know what, so was Draco, the kid who had the world of death placed squarely on his shoulders to the point that it broke him, but he fought anyway. And so was Cedric, the kid who just wanted to prove his skills in a lifesize Battleship game just to end up looking death squarely in the face and saying no. And so was Caleb, who went to study science with Erudite rather jump off rooftops with Dauntless.
And so was I. And every person like me who has ever had to sit there in the car driving home from work one day, just wanting to get home and drink some iced tea while watching a baseball game instead of crying because death is knocking on the door. And we had to tell ourselves, yeah, I think I wanna stick around some more. It’s an act of courage, and it doesn’t take a hero to make it. Villains and mundanes count to.
That quote from Sawkill Girls is now tattooed on my ribs along with three little moths for the three big women who brought down their own monsters. It’s amazing when I’m having a rough moment of any kind and I take one look at that tattoo that I sometimes forget is there and instantly feel better.
Courage, dear heart. You can do this, too.
I’m 29 and a SoCal native. When I’m not obsessively reading, you can find me watching baseball (Go Angels!) and running outside around the neighborhood. But most days I’m reading or baking bread or snoozing with my six cats. Or all three!