I have read and talked to others a great deal about courage over the years, especially in relationship to disability. Disabled people are often called brave for simply existing, let alone achieving things or making changes in our lives. We answer this misplaced compliment with the fact that faced with these limitations, you just get on with it. You have very little choice. Mik Scarlet wrote about this most recently in the context of the way disability is represented on television (his two other 'Lectures' on this are well worth a read).
But this year, I have been properly brave and learnt a few new things about bravery. The first is that once you are brave about one thing, further acts of courage become a lot easier. The most difficult thing I had to do, I did in March.
I allowed someone else to read my novel. There has been no occasion in my life so far where I have had to place such profound trust in someone. And honestly, this was the bravest thing I had to do. This may seem rather silly, given that I wrote the novel to be read and it would have been a ridiculous thing not to show it to anyone. But I was so disheartened about it all and I had no evidence that it wasn't a complete pile of pants. As soon as life calms down enough to look into agents and publishers, letting others read it will be a doddle in comparison.
The second lesson is that whilst we have very limited choices about whether to do the brave thing or not, there still is some choice. I have long thought this with disability - we don't deserve medals for carrying on and living our lives, but occasionally you meet someone who did give up. Some people experience loss, whether it comes in the shape of disability, bereavement, divorce or financial disaster and they simply become their own tragedy and get stuck as victims. It almost always requires some courage to get over things and move on. Sometimes, because people and their experiences are complicated, it requires a lot of courage, even where we have everything to gain by it and even though it's still inappropriate to be considered heroic just for making the right choice.
In April, I brought my marriage to an end. On many levels, I had no sensible choice at all and I faced very little temptation to do otherwise. But it was still a choice which required significant courage - hopefully far more than most break-ups require. I also had choices about how I went about things. I went to great lengths to behave honourably and kindly. And that was brave.
The third thing I learnt is that acts of courage require faith. There are some things you have to believe in, in the absence of evidence, especially when it comes to your own capabilities and the intentions of other people. You have to be able to make promises to yourself and others, and to believe the promises of others if you trust them.
At the beginning of this year, I had become very cynical about others and I had no faith whatsoever in my own resilience. I felt I would be flattened under the weight of any further crises, and that I couldn't believe anything another person said, especially about their feelings. But I learnt. I learnt very quickly and realised both my own strength and the strength that others were prepared to lend me. I am an extremely capable person when it comes down to it.
So what else did I do this year?
- I ran Blogging Against Disablism Day again this May, despite everything that was happening at that point. I was sleeping on a sofa, living in a house with the person I was separated from, dealing with no end of tension whilst trying to organise myself and the few worldly possessions I was keeping in order to move out. But my friend suggested that achieving continuity with BADD would be useful when everything else was in such flux. And it was. So a special thank you to everyone reading this who participated.
- I repeatedly placed myself upon the hospitality of others. In one context, I was paying rent and utility bills, but neither my friends-cum-landlords nor myself ever shook off the sense that I was a guest there (which was a problem, but one unwittingly created). Beforehand, I had imagined myself enormously burdensome because of my illness and difficult to live with because of ideas about who I was. Yet, since May, I have variously lived with seven different people, five dogs and two cats and I have received no complaints. I have broken two mugs, but I replaced them both with nicer ones. And I have a much better gauge of how much help I actually need against what I am able to contribute.
- I told a friend I was in love with them. That was brave. And worth it.
- I moved to another country. Well, almost another country. I moved to a part of Wales where Welsh is spoken more than English, and I knew no Welsh. Unfortunately, I didn't stay long enough to learn Welsh and make new friends locally. But I planned to and that was brave. And I'm still going to learn Welsh because I think it sounds great.
- I took on responsibilities, despite my sense of profound incompetence and dependence. There were days when someone relied on me for their oxygen supply. On the same days, I looked after three dogs, despite being totally intimidated by them (Border Collies do look at you funny – even dog people agree with me on this). I have now totally overcome my uneasiness around dogs.
- I placed myself in a great number of different social situations which involved some social risk. It's been so rare for me to get out of the house and deal with any face-to-face social contact, that this stuff has made me very nervous. I sat down to dinner surrounded by strangers, more than once. I joined a brand new family, very strange and different from my own.
- I moved to live with my parents, eleven years after I moved out, the second house move within six months. This required a lot of faith, both in my folks and myself, that we could avoid the nightmare I'd always feared it would be. So far, so good.
- I have tried a great number of new things. Foods I have never eaten before and things I thought I didn't like. I have experimented bravely with clothes. I have made all sorts of decisions which bore no relation to the approval of anyone. I'm not sure I've ever managed that before in my whole life.
- I have opened up to friends and family more than I ever have before. I have begun to talk about some of the worst experiences of my life, things I have worked very hard to hide from the world. This is brave.
Before I go, more reading for you: Ira provides by far the best festive post this year, God Bless Us Everyone on Tiny Tim and disability. And disabled bloggers in the UK need to know about One Month Before Heartbreak.