I used to be soooo brave

Way back in the summer of 1991, just turned 18, I headed off to live in a city 1,300km from my rural town of 300 people.

I took my bike, an old suitcase, a collection of tatty and unfashionable clothes and a few tools to reassemble said bike on arrival.  I swear, I went without an ounce of fear or apprehension.  I just knew great friends and great adventures were waiting for me and I couldn’t wait!

I used to be so brave…

I did public speaking for a living. Talking to groups from three to 300 hundred, on topics too broad to remember.  I even trained others in the art and science of this terrifying feat of talking to others from the front, on how to engage them in hard or boring topics, for up to eight hours at a time.

I used to be so brave…

I threw myself into new relationships, both platonic and romantic, with something approaching reckless abandon.

I used to be so brave…

My hobbies were rock climbing and anything involving speed or heights. I even jumped out of an airplane at 9,500 feet for fun.  I can still smell the elation.  That day I had found my calling.  I wanted nothing more than to do this over and over again.  I never did.

I used to be more than a bit naive

This bravery may have just been the sense of immortality and power that comes with a body that has not let you down a million times … yet.  That ignorance that comes from not having experienced the trauma of pain, terror and exhaustion that grinds you down and gets you stuck in cycle of fear of more pain, terror and exhaustion.

I no longer recognize myself

I am afraid to be anywhere that I can’t readily escape.  I am terrified of not able to access a toilet a toilet at short notice.  I am terrified of flying in case one of my several heart conditions kicks in and leaves me strapped in with the seat belt sign on needing to poop with my resting heart rate at 250 beats per minute.  And don’t even start me on public speaking.

I’m terrified of sick people, of bugs that might make me vomit or set back my healing journey.

It’s time to reshape what bravery means

I am sitting now in my adorable home away from home (I love you Airbnb).  A sweet, two bed cottage in Yorkshire, England.  To get here I took my many, many chronic illnesses from my home in Perth Western Australia, via two nights in Abu Dhabi.  Flying for 19 hours over three days.

A day after arriving I woke in the middle of a Supra Ventricular Tachycardia episode (my resting heart rate reaching 211 beats per minute).  I managed to stop with a valsalva maneuver (that simulates the vagus nerve).  Then I lay, feet up the wall, waiting for my heart to settle and my mind and body to bounce back.

I was about to spiral into the dark: oh no what if it keeps happening? What if I can’t stop it and need to get to the ER? What if? What if?

Then I caught myself mid flight: Wow I am so pleased that this did not happen on a 10 hour economy flight!

Getting here and managing all this took just as much (if not more) courage than jumping out of planes and other more overtly ‘brave’ activates of my youth.

I really want to know – how has the concept of bravery changed for you in living with chronic illness?

Go bravely in the directly of you dreams,

 

Yours as ever,

 

The WellbeingatWork(nearly)Dr.

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