How to define courage

When one’s maximum attempt at defying fear doesn’t meet another’s minimum functional baseline? Can courage be quantified, measured and evaluated? This subjective state definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation and expectations quickly clash. Through trial and error, I discovered that my relationship with courage might be stronger than I thought.

Like many, I underestimate myself on a lot of levels. I grew up in a middle-class family, didn’t suffer sexual abuse nor excessive corporal punishment. My parents had good jobs and taught me good work ethics and skills. I’ve always managed to get by, even if my jobs didn’t pay much. I feel grateful for not having suffered as much as a large percentage of the population and see myself as privileged in multiple ways. Though I can stand up to fear and stair straight in its dark beady eyes shaking but fighting back with every fibre of my being. Where did I acquire this level of confidence, considering that my life seems trauma-free?

Challenges and hardship also have been part of my life at a very deep level. Prevalent mental illness on both sides of my family predisposed me to depression and I learned to cope well. Having been raised not to complain and to “suck it up” no matter what, I developed one of the hardest-to-diagnose forms of mental disorder: high functioning depression, more precisely dysthymia. As a child, my physical needs were well met, but my parents struggled with their psychological issues and marriage. It left them with very little emotional energy to give to their kids. Neglected exist in many forms, even in nice neighbourhoods.

My environment strongly discouraging me from pursuing art studies, I was left wondering for gigs and jobs I detested from my late teens to my early thirties. Always just having just enough to survive before the next cycle of depression and unemployment hit. I’m not even going to enter the disastrous topic of my love life. However, I luckily did not fall victim to physical violence even if my taste in men is questionable. My low self-esteem found ingenious perversive ways to mutate over the years, driving behaviours seemingly confident on the outside. Till now, the only thing that got me out of bed day after day was sheer fear and survival. A daily cocktail of cortisol, adrenaline and negative self-talk would push me to try harder and harder till I burned out and had to rest due to chronic fatigue in 2020. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for me as it forced me to stop and take account of how run down my metabolism had become.

No matter how small I felt inside, what I didn’t realize at the time is that each minute I would show up for my obligations, professional or personal, I was building character and resilience. It didn’t matter that my heart wasn’t into it or if I downright sucked at what I was attempting; little by little, I grew stronger. Being raised in a high conflict environment made me dysfunctional with my intimate interpersonal relationship at many levels, but it also made me fearless of difficult conversations. I’ve under-performed at every subject in primary school except fine arts and got fired from most of my jobs in my twenties yet, I kept cultivating an insatiable curiosity regardless of my performance. Even if my marketable skills are common and poorly paid in the working world, I created a business for myself that now pays me more per hour than I could ever imagine.

Don’t get me wrong, every day is still a battle, but I now see how strong I’ve become and how quickly I get back on my feet. Some define it as courage, in my case, I just thought it was life. Nobody is perfect, and regardless of my parent’s mistakes, they passed down to me the grit of my ancestors who survived at the cusp of the Canadian Arctic Circle. I see that my childhood suffering prepared me for the discomfort of growth and the endurance necessary to reach for my dreams. I definitely have more losses than wins on my scoreboard when it comes to a lot of my past goals, nevertheless, it doesn’t stop me. I’ve been accompanied by crippling fear for as long as I can remember, and I have woken up every morning, doing just a little more than the previous day.

My experiences forged my personality, but it also hardened my responses. I often can’t comprehend the avoidant behaviours of my peers. It has affected my ability to relate and show empathy on certain topics. I’m working on it. The internal journey I’ve undertaken with therapy has allowed me to open up and be more present to vulnerability, my own and others. Though in the past months, I’ve been confronted with a dilemma; am I being insensitive or is someone transgressing my core values? While attempting to strike a balance between my self-respect and the respect of other’s limits, I’m stuck in an ethical conundrum. Of my own doing, I shamelessly admit. I’ve learned that self-sacrifice teaches others not to consider our needs more often than ever. It’s misleading and it teaches our entourage that we are acceptant of more than what we can tolerate. Assertiveness takes years to perfect and to deliver it with kindness is an art.

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Judith's Squirrels

Judith's Squirrels

Daily diary of a student entering university at forty. Just writing for me. Kaizenka, ex-nomade, foodie, and health nerd.