In November, I abseiled down a 12-storey building. In the wind and the rain (and some welcome sunshine towards the end, too). Why? To raise money for charity. But there’s another reason too.
You might be reading this because you know me and what comes next will come as no surprise. Or you might be reading this because you know me and what comes next still comes as a total surprise. Or maybe you’ve never actually met me, in which case surprise probably won’t even come into the equation. Either way, my second why is this: I wanted to be brave.
Seems simple, doesn’t it? Being brave. I’ve never had a problem with it in the past – have travelled and moved halfway across the world solo, have the very words inked into my skin. And yet… Yet lately, I haven’t been feeling all that brave. It probably has something to do with this thing I have called depression.
Yup. Depression. Mental illness, the black dog, low mood, dark cloud – whatever you want to call it, it’s been a big ol’ cloud in my sky for many months now. It’s stolen so many things from me: the ease with which I always lost myself and found comfort in a book; sleep; my general sass and the ability to not catastrophize every unanswered text from friends who of course don’t answer because they must hate me; appetite; the ability to look in the mirror without loathing what I see; being okay with being alone; the freedom to go out of the house and be around people and busyness and not panic and lose the physical ability to just breathe. And the guts to be brave – it took that too.
I used to see myself as brave. Granted, I haven’t climbed Mount Everest or eaten scorpions on a stick in some far-flung place. But I still felt brave or, at the very least, not afraid. But then things changed and my mind starting playing mean tricks on me and all I felt was afraid. Every. Single. Day.Afraid to try anything, afraid to be alone, afraid to be honest, afraid to say anything at all, afraid I was too lost to find my way back, afraid to simply keep on going. In all that time, I didn’t feel brave at all.
So in November, I did something brave. I got strapped into a harness and a man tightened a helmet on my ‘diddy’ (his words, not mine!) head. I put my foot over the top of a roof and dangled there while I was told which ropes to hold and which hand to use and where to place my feet. And I made my way down to the ground. Before the man who had given me my instructions disappeared from view, he said this:
It’s just walking. Just one foot after the other.
And while I walked down that building (and then, if I’m being honest, dangled some of the way!) I realised something that I should have probably realised a long time ago: I am already brave… because I kept on walking.
Maybe I didn’t leave the house some days, but I still made it through those days. Maybe I cried, but I still smiled too. Maybe I paused for a little way, but I picked my feet up again. And even though the darkness got so complete sometimes that I could barely see my hand in front of my face, it didn’t win. I might have trudged or misstepped a few times, my pace might have slowed and still be slow, but somehow I managed – I am managing – to just keep on walking. And maybe that’s really all being brave is about: one foot in front of the other and then repeat.
I’m not the only one who’s ever had depression. I’m not the only one who has ever been afraid. And I’m definitely not the only one who is brave. Brave looks different for all of us – those with perfectly wired brains and those whose brains, like mine right now, might need a bit of readjustment and patience. Either way, just keep walking. Those steps don’t have to be down the side of a really tall building even if today, for me, they were. Wherever the steps are, and however slow, be proud of them: that is your brave.