On Being Brave.
Last week, at the ACT1 Diabetes support group for women in Manhattan, the topic of being brave briefly came up in conversation at dinner. One girl said was recalling an incident where someone had exclaimed, “Oh I could never do that!” when she tested blood sugar and of course she responded, “You would if your life depended on it.”
Back when I was in therapy (I went a tiny bit nuts in college… though, honestly, didn’t we all?), I was complaining-slash-explaining to my therapist, Scott, everything I had to do in my day-to-day life with diabetes. Not just the blood sugar tests and wearing the insulin pump and the counting carbs, but the other things that made up my life: the speaking, the educating, the feeling like I was on a pedestal because of my diabetes advocacy.
Scott told me that he thought I was brave.
I laughed. I was not brave.
And it wasn’t the first – nor the last – time someone had told me that they thought I was brave. It was difficult at the time to imagine myself as being brave in anything. Being in therapy, I felt weak and at my all-time low. I hadn’t even been managing my diabetes particularly well for most of college, having knocked down my daily average of blood sugar tests to just a handful and my meal boluses happened eventually but not necessarily when they were supposed to happen. When I did test my blood sugar or take my insulin, it didn’t seem to be this great act of courage. I was doing what I needed to do to survive. To make it to the next day, to make something of my future. There didn’t seem to be anything brave in doing what I had to do. Managing my diabetes, to whatever degree of success I could manage, didn’t seem like an act of bravery, it felt like an act of necessity.
But bravery – and its synonym courage – means overcoming hardship or difficulty, and in some ways, I do think I’m brave. Not in the fighting dragons with plastic swords kind of brave, but the kind of brave that helps me make lemonade out of lemons. Bravery is an attitude, not an action. Bravery is not testing your blood sugar; bravery is not letting it dictate how you feel about yourself, to not let it convince you that you are a failure, and to decide to do it again. The hardship in my life isn’t the day-to-day managing of my diabetes, but the strength to not let it destroy my character and my hope for my future. Because it is so easy to let something like a chronic illness completely overwhelm who you are. Bravery to stay true to yourself. But to me, there is no choice in managing diabetes.
I’ve always thought of bravery as someone who does something they don’t need to do but wants to despite how dangerous it is because it’s the right thing to do. Running into a burning building to save a baby. Travel thousands of miles from friends and family to fight in a war. Heck, I even consider people who participate in the Olympics to be brave because they sure as hell don’t need to fly down a mountain at ninety miles an hour but they do it anyway!
Sometimes I am not brave. I am scared. I am anxious and worried. Sometimes I am ambivalent. Sometimes I go through the motions. Sometimes I do not face danger or hardship. I skip testing my blood sugar. I forget to take my insulin. I walk out of the house without grabbing another juice box. Perhaps the reason why I am reluctant to consider myself brave is because it is another designation, another label, another expectation that I have to live up to. If I acknowledged that I am indeed brave, that means I cannot be weak. And to not ever be weak is not something I’m sure I can do.
But these are just my thoughts, reactions to be called brave. I’m certainly not married to my idea of what bravery is, and it changes every time I think about it! So I want to know, what do you think? Do you consider yourself brave for managing your diabetes? If you don’t have diabetes, do you think I’m brave? Why or why not?