Courage is always required to move forward in life. I often think about courage and how hard it can be just to do ordinary things for those of us who suffer from PTSD, anxieties, depression and other traumas. But then I think, hang on a minute! Maybe that’s the problem. Thinking about things being difficult makes them look bigger.
There’s an old fable about a group of travellers on a long, long road. One day, they meet an ogre on the trail. It is roaring at them and generally kicking up and they are all petrified. Full of fear, none of the travellers will dare approach the ogre (well you wouldn’t would you) and yet somehow they need to get past him to continue their journey. And then suddenly, hooray, out of the mist rides a Knight in Shining Armour, his shield all emblazoned with deposed ogres and defeated orcs. ‘Good Sir’, chorus the travellers, ‘please depose this ogre for us, we will pay you well and then allow us to be on our way.’
But the Knight is in a bad mood. His team lost the match, his partner shouted at him that morning, he’s tired and emotional, he’s really not feeling it. ‘Another time guys’ he says unsympathetically riding off into the distance. In the fable the travellers do eventually pluck up the courage to move closer to the ogre. Yet mysteriously as they do it grows smaller, roars less, squeaks more!
Well we get it. Fear only makes the problem bigger whereas facing up to the problem makes it shrink. No-one else can do it for you. Mmmm! Sometimes that’s true. Things in our heads make us fear and fearing the fear makes it worse. But in my personal experience things are not always that straightforward. An ogre is a fixed and known (!) quantity. Whereas modern society seems to have multiple and complex dangers so that it is not always possible to know where the ogre is or how to stand up to it. Nor does it ever take the same shape or form. Ogres are streamed to our screens daily; trolls don’t even need to bother to get out of bed . And we get by with a little help from our friends.
Sometimes you creep past the ogre and breathe a sigh of relief only to find its cousin or sister in law waiting round the next corner – or a hologram of its Aunty! It makes no difference if we are anxious and scared whether it’s a chimera or a great green yelling beast, the body still goes into the same fight or flight response, tells us to get the hell out of there, starts a whole pattern of responses that the medical profession still barely understands nor do we who experience them but which seem to date back to our experiences as cavemen. What would the average caveman do when faced with rush hour on the tube the brain asks itself? Go into blind panic? Job done, says the brain. When in doubt says the brain, panic. When depressed says the brain, be listless and zombie like with muscles that can’t hold up a pea pod, because if you’re doing nothing but being flopped out on the bed then I guess you’re safe from the lions and tigers and bears (oh my) and then I don’t have to work what to do with you.
I look back to before I got ill and think that I lived in an ogre free zone. It isn’t true of course – that is just rose coloured spectacles with a bit of youthful bravado thrown in for good measure. There are always difficulties and problems to be overcome so there’s no point thinking that if I can just get round that particular corner I’ll be fine, which I admit I often find myself thinking, because as soon as I’m fine something else pops up which says ‘not yet, you’re not’. Hoping for a problem free life is not realistic. What I need is resilience and the ability to stay rooted amidst all the stuff and value the good bits, try not to let them get overwhelmed by the bad bits.
Resilience comes from living and struggling and coping with problems! It doesn’t come from sitting on a desert island being the beneficiary of the fruit of the desert island tree much as that idea seems attractive. One who has never suffered from depression or anxiety or other mental illness cannot understand the lives of those who do. One who has never suffered from those things cannot help another sufferer.