I have seen many brave things, either personally or on the news. I’ve even done a few myself. Having a chronic illness is not one of them!
I hear it all the time, and I’m guessing you do, too. It’s some version of “You’re so brave to deal with all of that!” or “She’s so brave to be in that wheelchair.” Oh really?!?
The last time I checked, bravery had to do with making a choice. You make a choice to put someone else’s safety above your own. You make a choice to do something scary. That’s brave. Depending on the situation, it might even be admirable.
But I didn’t make a choice to have chronic illnesses. Most people don’t. They don’t make a choice to use a wheelchair or walk with a limp or lose their vision. These are the realities of our lives and we deal with them the best we can, but we don’t chose them.
The argument then is that I’m brave for the way I handle it all. Again, I must ask: oh really?!?
What are my options? Yes, there are other ways I could handle this. And let me tell you, it wouldn’t make a difference. I’ve been called brave for putting on a smile and pretending I’m fine. I’ve been called brave for crumbling and saying that I feel like I can barely manage it. I’ve been called brave when I look completely healthy. I’ve been called brave when I’m in a wheelchair and the pain shows clearly on my face. It doesn’t matter how I handle my illnesses and their symptoms, at some point someone uses the B word.
You might wonder why I care. And the truth is that mostly I don’t. Most days I don’t even think about it. But in the moment when someone calls me brave, I bristle. When I see someone else called brave for simply being, I bristle. It bothers me because I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I don’t want to be thought of as special or different. I want to be seen and recognized for who I really am and for what I really deal with.
This shit is hard! And I’m not special. I have to deal with it the same way anyone else would. Saying I’m brave implies that I have some special skills or personality trait that makes it easier for me to handle everything. “What a difficult thing to deal with, but she’s so brave, look how well she’s handling it!” No, I am not handling it in any special way because I’m brave. I’m handling it the best I can because that’s all any of us can do. Because that’s what I’m sure you, dear speaker, would do if you were also in my situation.
I look around the room at my many friends with chronic illness. Some have had dozens of surgeries. Are they brave because they had dozens of surgeries they never wanted? Some have kids. Are they brave because they had kids? Some weren’t able to have kids. Are they brave because they weren’t able to have kids? Some have jobs. Are they brave because they have jobs? Some can’t work. Are they brave because they can’t work?
Or are they all just doing the best they can?
Because really, what’s the alternative?
But the worst part of all is that sometimes, in a small part of me I don’t like to admit to, I feel proud when someone calls me brave. Because in that one small way, it’s a tiny bit of recognition of just how hard I work to get through each day. And maybe that means I’m a bit brave after all?
How do you feel when someone calls you or someone else with chronic illness “brave”? Do you like it? Does it bother you? Please comment below!