Connecting with Courage: The role of courage in my journey with mental illness
@daniellegareau for The Maddie Project
Courage has never been an option in my battle with mental illness, it’s been a necessity for survival. Courage is doing something that scares you, and to be strong in the face of pain and grief to overcome it. When you’re battling a mental illness (depression and anxiety in my case), the options are either be courageous and fight for recovery, or let the illness win and accept whatever consequences come with that.
My battle with mental illness has been tough. My lows have been really low, my anxiety all-consuming, and often it seemed like it would just be easier to give up rather than keep living the way I was. I was ashamed about how I felt, I felt like there was something wrong with me and that I was damaged. I felt that there was no hope and no point fighting because it would always be a part of me. I felt like I was weak because I wasn’t trying “hard enough” to get better. I thought recovery was simple, that I would get therapy, take medication, and then everything would be better, and I would be cured same as if you treat any other medical condition. That wasn’t the case. It took horrific side effects and general ineffectiveness to learn that anti-depressants aren’t for me right now, it took countless therapists and therapeutic approaches to find something that worked for me, and I’ve had to work hard the entire way. None of it has been easy, but the thing is that nothing easy is worth having. I know how hard I have fought and how courageous I’ve had to be to get to where I am, and I’m proud.
Taking the first step to get help is terrifying, and recovery isn’t easy. There is a fear of judgement, of people not believing you or taking what you’re saying seriously, or recovery being too hard and not working after even after all the hard work. How you’re feeling with a mental illness can feel like it’s permanent and will never change even though that isn’t true. Treatment and recovery is difficult and scary, and it can feel like it’s never going to get better but doing nothing is infinitely worse in the long run. Just taking that first step shows immense courage, and that courage is key in the long run, because you can’t recover without it.
I’m proud of how far I’ve come since my initial diagnosis and beginning of treatment, and I have exhibited courage countless times along the way. I was able to graduate high school, which seemed impossible when my illness was at its worst. I was able to get into university, and also managed to handle the transition and address the issues that came up during it. I have been able to make friends and have relationships with people that don’t just see me as someone with mental illness or as someone broken and damaged, and who are there to support me in my low points. I am able to talk about my struggles and not feel ashamed but feel proud because of how far I have come, and I want to help others. None of this would have been possible without courage, and I never knew I had this much courage within me when I first started my journey.
If you had told me what my life would look like when I was 14, I would be shocked. I still am fighting every day, I still have my dark days but now I know how to weather the storm a lot better than I did when I started my journey. Mental illness is always going to be a part of me, but it doesn’t need to define or control me, and I won’t let it. Recovery is all about courage, and if you’re able to take that first step then you have all the courage you need inside of you to start the journey to recovery.
Help young women connect with courage by supporting The Maddie Project’s latest partnership with Outward Bound Canada; “Connecting with Courage”. Learn more here