MS, Chronic Illness and Strength: When Courage Is Silent
Courage is a recurring theme in my column. Many of us are familiar with the cowardly lion from the Wizard Of Oz. The lion itself is an animal known for its strength, beauty and valor. Thus, to think of a lion as a coward appears to be a contradiction in itself.
There is often a propensity to believe that fear is the antithesis of courage. This is untrue. Chronic illness and life itself have taught me that fear is a natural human response. It is a legitimate reaction. I recount the times I was told to be strong and/or brave, and I remember the anguish I felt if I was afraid.
“Strong” is regarded as a destination and if we fall short of this arrival, there must be something wrong with us. Society contributes to the disillusion by discouraging any display of fear and emotion. Emotionally honest people often are deemed as weak and incompetent. I’ve come to the realization that words intended to encourage also can have adverse effects. The expectation to “remain strong” at all times can put one under intense pressure, and is an impossible feat.
The reality is that even the strongest among us have weak moments, hours and days. We waiver between courage and fear. What we often are unaware of are the silent battles we face and fight everyday. Courage isn’t always bold; it can be hidden in the crevices of our mind, where we subconsciously make the decision to fight instead of flee. It is the little voice within that says we can make it when outside forces cause us to query if we will. It is in reminding ourselves that even in moments of weakness, we have courage.
I can be extremely hard on myself. MS and chronic illness have summoned my vigilance in such a way that I am always on high alert. I have to consciously remind my spirit that I am entitled to weak moments without guilt or shame. I am allowed to be afraid. You are, too. It is my belief that I display courage each time I don’t allow my fear to engulf or stunt me. My courage lies in continuing the journey. It lies in the simple act of wiping the tears I cry in private. It is the hope that flickers when the light is hard to see.
The cowardly lion eventually found courage within the depths of his being, and he was brave despite all that he feared. This, too, is where our courage resides. Courage comes from within and we all possess it. The mere act of admitting our fears and flaws are acts of courage, and we choose it more often than we know.
MS will continue to muster your courage. The intent of this week’s column is to remind you that strength is not measured by what you appear to be on the outside and how well you appear to hold it together. There is courage in falling apart, picking up the pieces and knowing that you will continue to fight the good fight.
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