I am not a daring person. I am scared of most things, and wary of everything else. I have friends who skydive and voluntarily engage in other adrenaline-inducing adventures.
I avoid adrenaline at all costs. Since I do not enjoy leaving the house after five o’clock in the evening, this is easily achievable.
These days, my only adrenaline comes from coaching 6th grade volleyball, and it comes in small, manageable doses.
I’ve always been risk-adverse in every aspect of my life; hence, I do not have many anecdotes about my own bravery.
Part of this avoidant nature is, understandably, an aversion to confrontation. Even when I’m being harmed in some way, I typically do not say anything. Which is another reason for my lack of stories about bravery.
Surely, in my twenty-six years of existence I’ve done at least one brave thing.
Yes, I suppose I’ve done a few things that can be considered brave, and all of them have to do with having a mental illness. Though, I see them as necessary to survival rather than instances of bravery.
The most basic act of telling other people you have a mental illness is risky. I have discovered it is an excellent litmus test for friendships.
A few months after my psychotic break, I was well enough to drive myself places, and I tried to connect with several friends with whom I went to high school. I made some pretty good friends through sports, and I wanted to reconnect with some of the underclassmen. Most of my friends were away at college, so I couldn’t see many of them.
I vividly remember going to Starbucks with someone I played volleyball and softball with. By that time, all my Facebook friends probably knew that I had to come home from college and that I was recovering from some mysterious illness.
I told the girl I met the nitty-gritty details of my illness, and I haven’t seen her since. She stopped replying to my texts, and she fell off the face of the earth. I wasn’t incredibly close to her, but it still hurt when I realized I’d been dropped.
The loss of a different friend was much more painful. She was two grades below me, and we became close my junior year. She was a star athlete; she was on the varsity volleyball and basketball teams as a freshman. She was also a track prodigy.
I think she had her tonsils out the summer before my senior year, and I wanted to go see her. I bought her a Build-a-Bear and dressed him up as Buzz Lightyear because Toy Story was one of her favorite movies.
She loved it.
We hung out and ate a ton of ice cream (I got us Sonic Blizzards). I tried to make her feel better without making her laugh too much.
Our friendship grew during my senior year. We went over to each other’s houses, and we hung out together before home games. I gave her rides home from practices and games.
We talked about staying friends even after I went to college. We promised to stay in touch no matter what.
At one point (possibly the summer after I graduated), she went to a church camp, and she sent me the sweetest letter about being friends.
I don’t remember very much about the summer before I went to college. The last part of my senior year was incredibly trying due to an incident I’m not ready to make public, and I was still reeling psychologically. This friend knew about it, but she didn’t seem desirous of discontinuing our friendship because of it, for which I was grateful.
The only thing I remember about that summer is exercising three or four hours a day and eating nothing but grapes and carrots and only drinking chocolate milk and water. I went down to an emaciated 125 pounds. I don’t even remember what I looked like because that summer is such a blur.
Come August, I had my wisdom teeth out, and then I left for college. Less than a week later, I was back home after going nearly 80 hours without sleep. I was shortly thereafter diagnosed as bipolar.
I was stuck at home for several weeks because I was not mentally well enough to be around people who didn’t understand the details of the situation. The best way to control that was to keep me at home. Several coaches and friends from church came to see me during the worst of it.
But those are stories for another time.
As far as I know, the friend I’ve been writing about never came to see me. I have no idea if we corresponded during this time. Technology wasn’t my friend, and I asked my parents to keep my phone away from me for the most part.
I do remember going over to her house once I could drive again. I remember talking to her mom and telling her mom about my illness, but I do not remember seeing my friend. I met her mom for coffee soon after that, but I never saw my friend again.
The loss of her friendship still aches; I’m tearing up thinking about it (the only reason I’m not crying is because the song Come On, Eileen is playing and you can’t cry during that song).
I don’t think about it too much anymore, but when I do, it’s almost intolerably painful.
What did I do to deserve such treatment? It wasn’t like I waited for her to initiate everything. By no means. She never responded to my texts. In the years immediately following my diagnosis, I tried several times to reach out over Facebook Messenger to no avail.
Part of me wonders if I said or did something to scare her away. I just do not know what could possibly justify such cruel treatment. Even if I did say something inappropriate or off-putting, it was months before I was completely in my right mind again.
But maybe I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Maybe her behavior can be attributed to ignorance of mental illnesses, possibly even fear.
I never got one word of explanation. She just disappeared and willfully ignored me.
These stories, of course, do not elucidate my bravery, and it’s a display of cowardice on their part.
In contrast, what happened in the years following could be considered courageous.
Instead of becoming jaded against people, I grew to be quite open about my illness. I stopped caring if telling a person meant no longer seeing them, because I realized it was a good litmus test; if they couldn’t be friends with me after I told them about such an integral part of my life, they weren’t worth knowing anyway.
The examples I related above still hurt because those people knew me before my diagnosis, and they seemed to like me prior to the label of bipolar.
They didn’t give me a chance, and I don’t have time or energy for people who are shallow, judgmental, and vapid.
Ironically, I’m now a significantly healthier version of myself. I’m a much better friend, and my mood swings are not so devastating. I am more aware of other people’s feelings and how my actions affect others.
I am more introspective, and I’ve labored to understand my mind and body. The exertion to do so has resulted in healing and more command of my emotions. Minor setbacks no longer send me into hysterics.
Bravery, then, isn’t necessarily the incessant pursuit of adventure.
Courage sometimes is the effort and yearning to become better than you were the day before.