Bravery vs. Courage

This week I’m doing something that I chose, know is the right thing to do, and am seriously scared.  How can all of that go together?  How can there be fear in doing what I know is best?  In short, because I’m not in control of the outcome.

I’m being interviewed for a feature in a local magazine where I will publicly share my story of postpartum depression.  Y’all it’s going out into the world and there might be people who think I’m a wimp, should have pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and all around don’t believe I could have possibly had voices in my head.  Up to this point, I’ve been more guarded with whom I have shared my experience.  It is scorching to hear:

“Mothers have been having babies for hundreds years and they all got through it. Why didn’t you?”  (That one isn’t even true!)

“I loved having babies.  You should have enjoyed it more.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have had a baby if you didn’t want to go through that.”

A couple of people have told me I’m brave, but you know what?  I’m not!  I pretty much want to crap my pants.  That’s like the exact opposite of brave.  Brave is where you are bigger than your fears and more powerful than any pain that could come your way.  Yep.  That’s not me.  My mind races with all of the negative consequences that could result from taking my experience from a private one to a public one.  I have a vivid imagination, too!

Why don’t I just bail?  That’s not exactly me.  Once I give my word to do something, I try to move mountains in the face of adversity to make it happen.  In this case, there is no heavy lifting.  I am just telling my truth.  Hopefully my story will make one other woman feel less alone.  Best case scenario, I give someone hope that the darkness in which they writhe will end and the suffering will eventually wane.  Maybe my courage will cause someone else to tell her story.

I’m sharing the darkest days of my life this week for my daughter.  That someday when (if) she has babies of her own, postpartum depression will be accepted by society in the same way cancer is… a disease that ravages the body, mind, and soul, but with treatment can be eliminated.  Perhaps in 30 years, doctors and nurses will be more consistently screening for symptoms, so that Littles or her friends aren’t isolated in shame.  She and her fellow mommas will have things to say to each other if they suffer, like those who rallied around me:

“This isn’t your fault.”

“You’re a great mom.”

“You will get better.”

“You aren’t alone.”

“Your baby/family/friends need you.  You are irreplaceable.”

“It is tough, but the fight will be worth it.”

“You are surrounded in love.”

“You don’t have to be brave.”

While I feel small right now, I’m digging deep to find my courage fueled by the desire to help others and maybe even be a single drop in the bucket of something that can change the world.  I may not be brave, but my courage if fierce.

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5 thoughts on “Bravery vs. Courage

  1. Hello…Ruth? Many of our personal triumphs are won because somebody went before us and showed us who, what, where, when, why and how. From your written communication, it doesn’t appear that you would have any trouble telling your story; however, this, too, is not always accurate because there’s a stranger asking questions and, even harder, your answers: your secrets; your sorrow; your guilt; your shame. You certainly ‘are’ courageous for sharing your ‘lived’ experience with PPD. I’m sorry that you had to endure that, and I do know a little bit about how you feel, although not from personal experience. My youngest son has bipolar disorder with psychosis: paranoia, delusions and auditory hallucinations. He had his psychotic break 12 years ago, when he seemed but just a child and now he is a man of 30. A man for whom I have such respect. We are overwhelmed by our fall (I have bipolar disorder without psychosis)–which was not of our choosing–but are so frightened to tell others about it. Look closely within yourself. When we have this fear, we’re missing something. We’re forgetting about the grace with which we have risen above our circumstance. That–is triumph! My son has relapsed 19 times, each time culminating in a hospitalization, generally involuntary and involving the police. And this last time, he was hospitalized 8 separate times, but released, deliberately (as are all persons with psychosis as an extreme, untreated symptom. Those hospitalizations spanned 2.5 years during which time he only became more sick because he was not fully stabilized on any of the 8 hospitalizations. Finally, when he became a danger to himself and others, I was forced to file an order of protection against him just to keep him and other people safe. He, too, hears voices. And he was denied treatment for so long that, even now, he sometimes speaks in more of a whisper than a strong voice. Why? Because he spent those years yelling back at his voices, trying to fight them off and rapidly losing the battle. After 5.5 months in jail because there were no psychiatric beds open, my Senator helped get him transferred to a hospital (for the criminally insane–the ”only” bed open. His stay in the hospital lasted for 7.5 months. He had been without treatment so long that at his last court appearance, he was catatonic–a direct result of severe, persistent symptoms combined with denied treatment. My son has bipolar disorder–a brain disease that society has just begun to learn about and accept. But adding psychosis to the mix is too much for the average person to comprehend. I had a quick but poignant conversation with a man the other day who was reading about the gentleman who tossed his 4 year old daughter, Phoebe, from a bridge. As you probably know, she drowned. My friend was furious. “He should get the death penalty; he should be taken out and shot. I said, NO! That father was psychotic and he was no doubt unmedicated and denied treatment–the same way Senator Deeds’ son, Gus, was denied treatment. Now, he’s dead, by his own hand. People have to learn that psychosis runs along its own continuum from mild to severe. And severe psychosis (what) is nothing to play around with. It occurs primarily in the amygdala, a butterfly shaped area in the brain that is the seat of our emotions and also our tendency toward self-preservation, our fight or flight response. Now add paranoia and you have the perfect psychotic storm. Memory is affected. Perception is affected. Mood is affected. Thought processes are affected: (where). It is only common sense to deduce that ”behavior” is bound to be affected as well (why). So, bipolar disorder is becoming common place and non-threatening to people. But post partum depression (or any psychotic disorder) is not looked upon in the most charitable sense–at all. It’s because people just don’t ”get it.” The average Joe (or Josette) can’t imagine ‘not’ feeling ecstatic to be a new parent. They can’t imagine what mother (who) would have thoughts of harming herself or her child. They don’t understand having impulsive thoughts or behaviors that, because your brain is dysfunctional during PPD, might cause such thoughts and behaviors. I’ve had 2 heart attacks, and I remember thinking 12 years ago that when my son went to the doctor and the doctor asked him what was wrong, he could answer, “I’m having a brain attack”. When that father dropped his daughter from the bridge, he was having a brain attack. When that fella in New York pushed Kendra Webdale onto the subway platform, he was in the throes of a brain attack. And what’s more frightening, people who suffer from persistent symptoms that do not pass, every hospital in the nation is denying access to medical care. No funds were provided for them when SAMHSA laid out its plans on how to allocate money, they didn’t include programs for the severely ill because ”psychotic people do not generally seek help of their own volition. Even SAMHSA, the governing body over substance abuse and mental health treatment, does NOT GET IT! But you…you ‘get it.’ And you know the injustice and the inaccuracies of ”other people’s” opinions of your ‘lived experience.’ Assumption will never replace truth. And without truth…none of these disorders, diseases and conditions of the brain will never be understood. So, you have risen from the abyss, and naturally you have reached a point at which you feel compelled to share your story, your truth. Don’t be afraid, love. You are an Instrument of Change! And nobody knows your truth like you do. I look forward to hearing the results of your interview experience. ~~Best wishes. Donna #TreatmentBeforeTragedy.

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  2. This is brave. Because everything in us tells us to not make ourselves vulnerable. But it is just this, when we are at our strongest. This isn’t weakness. To stand up and tell our story so we can help others, is courageous and with risk. We just have to push through to the other side, to see it so beautifully from the new vantage point. Here’s to you, a trailblazer, lighting the way for others. I am so proud.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your story with a broader audience, and for sharing your deliberations in doing so with us. While this feels like a huge step now, with risks you’re wondering whether are worth taking, could it instead be seen as a progression of steps you’ve been making for years now. You started telling your story to a few, and then a few more, and now a few more. When viewed in this context, is it still as scary? Even if it is, does it matter? Because you’re fierce and are going to do it anyway. And it’s going to help many.

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    • Drew, very good point for Ruth to think about…that she’s already been making this progression. She’s ready. 😀 YaY!!! Go, Ruth…Go, Ruth…

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