Friday, 8 November 2013

Screw your courage to the sticking-place

("Positively primeval." Image from

An aside: the title is part of a speech from Lady Macbeth – it also turns up in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in the song “Kill the Beast”. There you go, a completely irrelevant fact for you. You can't say I never tell you anything interesting (read "useless").

Courage and bravery are ideas I often see discussed and opined upon in the realm of chronic ill health. A few people have kindly told me they think the writing of this blog is brave, not only in openness about grim details on occasion but also in being willing to tackle difficult subjects, from time to time taking the road less traveled by in terms of approach to them.

It’s a concept I find horrendously awkward.

I don’t see myself as a particularly brave person by nature. I’m just a bit too quiet and mild-mannered for that, and for a practical example no matter what anyone tells me about “facing up to your fears” nothing under the sky would compel me to get close to large spiders. I’m not an unusual individual in character really and in writing this blog I’m not creating the textual equivalent of rolling high fortitude saves against life.   

In discussing this idea recently I countermanded it with the fact that I’m not always open about my health. There are plenty of occasions where I don’t talk about it when I perhaps should, times when I’ll smile and say everything’s fine when I actively want to scream, and rarer occasions where I’m faced with ignorance and I simply don’t have the energy to match it.

There’s problem number one – the idea that to be brave, you have to be the same all the time.

The second issue is the idea many are conditioned towards that bravery manifests in one set way. It’s bold and makes itself heard; it batters down any and all doors closed against the cause it champions. It never, ever pauses or falters.

In this guise therefore it is essentially a somewhat inhuman characteristic.

Within the sphere of chronic illness there are plenty of examples of different forms of bravery. It doesn’t have to be flashy or worthy of recognition and it could be entirely personal and appreciated by an audience of one.

Making it out of bed for the first time in a week after a flare up, facing numerous and sometimes fruitless hospital procedures, speaking about your health to someone new, agreeing to a trial a new medication – they’re all courageous acts in their own way. They might not gain the recognition they deserve for being so, but that makes it no less true.

(Poignant. Image from

The one characteristic of mine that I would allow is possibly a brave one is that I've never very often been afflicted by the need to belong to a group, and so I've always had the ability to stand aside from behaviours or ideas I believe to be morally wrong despite of what anyone might think of me because of this failure to conform. This I think has manifested in a tendency for some posts on this blog to be a little apart from the norm of what a reader would maybe expect from a blog about illness. 

I’m not here to tar all healthy people with the brush of ignorance, and I’m not writing from the position of believing all sufferers of chronic ill health behave impeccably and are always right in what they do and say. That would be an easy enough path to travel down, but it’s not the one for me.

I didn't start the blog because I thought it would be a brave thing to do – I started it because I thought I could help. I wanted to show the reality behind all the romanticised or conversely demonised notions about chronic illness and those who suffer with it. I hoped to show that it was normal to struggle and to have bad days, just as it was normal to have better ones.

In summary then I’m going to offer an unpopular idea about the concept of bravery within the realm of illness, because I don’t believe that the loud and brash archetype of courage is the correct yardstick to apply.

Perhaps courage lies in making peace with the situation; accepting that good days, bad days and everything in between are a part of being human.

Maybe the greatest bravery of all is in accepting that you can’t always win, and that in not winning it’s fine to pull off the Boots of Anti-Ignorance (+5 these days, because +3 wasn't quite enough!), hang up the Helm of Brave Face* and live to fight another day.

*In case you wondered, no, it’s unlikely I’ll run out of Dungeons and Dragons references any time soon. 

Whilst I’m talking about recognition, I’m incredibly honoured to say that The Retired Bridgeburner has been nominated in the WEGO Health Acitivist Awards! Nomination are to my knowledge still open and you can find out about the categories and when voting will begin on the link  here.

Wishing you all many spoons xxx


  1. Dungeons and Dragon references make me super happy. I think the best one was "textual equivalent of rolling high fortitude saves against life". That one made me smile.

    1. Woop woop! I'm always pleased when they're appreciated! :D cheers Cassandra xx