A lot of people call me brave or inspirational. They see me give a talk or post on social media and shower me with compliments. And it makes me exceptionally uncomfortable.
For a long time, I thought this discomfort came from low self-esteem. From the lingering effects of trauma that tell me I am a bad person and will never be good for anything. But I now realise this particular discomfort comes from somewhere else.
I do not like being called ‘brave’ because I honestly don’t feel like I am doing anything courageous. For me, if I did not talk about mental illness my brain would explode. Bravery, I feel, comes from doing something scary. And I do not feel scared to share about my experience of mental illness publicly. It is second nature to me, part and parcel to daily living and work. It would be more difficult for me to not talk about mental illness than it is for me to talk about it. I would feel silenced and tied up. Talking about it is freeing for me.
And as much as I talk about my mental illness to help others it also a very self-driven act. I wouldn’t call it selfish exactly, but it comes from a place of wanting to heal myself. If I help others in the process, then that’s great. But when I first started blogging it was largely motivated by wanting to keep myself accountable to my own journey. And getting my thoughts out of my head and on to paper (metaphorically) so that they did not drive me so crazy. Does that make me brave? I don’t think so.
I could be completely off the mark here. Honestly, I’m just trying to figure out why people keep calling me ‘brave’ for what I feel is quite a neutral act: talking about myself and my experiences. But I feel as though the notion of bravery is influenced by what others think is scary. As I mentioned earlier, I do not feel scared to share my experiences. But perhaps others think they would be? Or that I should be?
For instance, I’ve had a lot of people tell me ‘Oh, you’re so brave. I couldn’t do what you do’. I feel that these statements imply something more insidious: that people are impressed I don’t feel shame about my mental illness. I wonder if those people who think I am brave are the same people who feel deeply ashamed about their own mental illness. Or worse yet, are these people who think I am brave people without mental illness who feel a sense of pity for me and would feel ashamed to be me?
I think before you consider calling someone ‘brave’ for speaking up about their experience you should consider what is motivating your compliment. Because in my experience, you are just calling me brave for living my life on my own terms. And I’m sorry but I am not brave for simply existing in a mentally ill mind. I’m just me.
I’m not saving the world here. I’m not a firefighter running into houses to save a child’s cat. I’m just blogging, chatting and trying to make a difference. The difference I desire to make does not come about by grand, brave gestures. But by small acts of defiance.
This is not to imply that small people can not be brave. You don’t have to be a firefighter to be brave. For instance, one of my favourite literary characters is Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings universe. He is small but he is brave and he changes the course of history.
But as much as I admire him, I am no Samwise Gamgee.