“Melanie” 8×10, oil on canvas. $215.00 Buy Now
I am impressed by the theme already emerging in these thirty days– that bravery is often born of weakness. It’s more about doing a task anyway than ever having been perfectly prepared or capable at the start.
Today’s inspiration is from Melanie whose story I found so moving, I had to go back to an image I’d visited in one of my earlier 30 in 30 challenges in September of 2014 (See it here). I love this image of the egret because It’s broken (the strokes, the colors) and powerful. I wasn’t trying to recreate the same painting so much as use to communicate similar emotions. Melanie writes about a bravery I cannot imagine. She doesn’t sugar coat. She doesn’t puff up. She doesn’t back down. Here’s what she wrote:
As I read your Day 3 story, I realized two things – one, that I need to step back and give someone I know with mental illness space to walk their path, even as they are crashing into me on that path, and two, that I wanted to tell you a story.
I’m not even sure where to begin. I have done a lot of “brave” things. I’ve been a Peace Corps volunteer. I released a fellow student from a psychological experiment in a college class, even when I feared that I might be forced to take that person’s place. I paddle bayous and swamps with alligators and snakes. I work in habitat and bird conservation, and have been advocating for the birds injured in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster for more than 6 years now. Most of those activities make me feel alive, at peace, not brave.
If bravery only counts when choice is involved, then this story is not necessarily about bravery. Because, like birds oiled in that disaster, I don’t have a choice. I was diagnosed a year ago with my fourth chronic illness or condition. The previous diagnoses were in 2014, 2013, and a couple of decades ago. I have celiac disease, a genetic mutation that can cause pain, exhaustion, and depression, fibromyalgia, and chronic Lyme disease. The final diagnosis, the Lyme disease, explains everything about my experiences of exhaustion, brain fog, memory problems, chronic hives, neuropathy, and unrelenting pain. A year into treatment, my doctor sees incremental progress, but I am still accumulating symptoms and have several stages of treatment ahead of me. I struggle with the uncertainty of how long I’ll be sick, how much better I will get, if at all, and knowing that each new stage brings with it new reactions to the medications, the Lyme, or both. With each diagnosis, I was sure treatment would bring relief from symptoms I’ve lived with since I was a child. “Hope” is the thing with feathers…and never stops at all.
I stand my ground every morning when I get up and go to work for plovers, terns, and skimmers. I stand my ground every time I take a new medication, because I am sensitive to many and am at high risk for allergic reactions. When I am in pain, I still smile at the stories my friends tell. When all I can think about is sleep, I honor my commitment to work. When I have hives, I get dressed and go out into the world and help families who lost everything to the flood – because I did not. When raindrops make my hands spark like an electric shock, I put on gloves, pick up my binoculars, and focus on the birds I love to watch. When I am lonely, I build a fire and invite people to the old ritual of staring into the flames and sharing the evening. When I am overwhelmed, I write. As my world has gotten more constricted lately, I have grumbled, I have whined, and I have cried many tears. But I stand my holy ground, helping neighbors, playing with friends, caring for my aging mom, and loving on my little cats. And I am teaching myself to reach out, deliberately, to ask for help and support. And, as much as I’ve always had to rely on myself, for me, perhaps that is actually brave.