Until very recently, I never saw myself as a brave person. I wasn’t even sure I knew how a brave person would act.
But when I was in the process of drafting the initial posts for blog, I decided to reach out to my former minister. I mentioned him in an earlier post as the minister who came to visit me when I was in the hospital for my initial pacemaker implantation. He was also there after I had my defibrillator upgrade (to be covered in a future post). In addition to seeking spiritual advice from him, I sought his counsel a number of times when I needed someone to listen to a problem that was causing me anxiety. He always made me see that my faith made me emotionally stronger than I ever imagined.
My former minister referred me to the therapist I have been seeing for quite a while now. (That referral has been a Godsend and will be discussed in a later post). But he and his family moved in September 2014 to a new posting, and it had been a while since I had given him an update on my heart health. So I reached out to him to share the good news that while the heart was still weak and the function low, it had returned to a normal size.
He was so happy to hear the news, and he told me that it was inspiring how I faced all this with such courage. That statement stopped me in my tracks. I look back on the past three years and I could see that I acted with anxiety, impatience, and perhaps even anger. Where were there any times that I acted with courage?
In fact, during the last three years I have experienced more fear than the entire 56 other years of my life. But somehow each day I continue to get up and try to win the battle against heart failure, and to conquer the anxiety issues that once again seemed to rule my life. This includes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that resurfaced (and that will also be discussed in a later post). But I never put my daily efforts into the context of having courage. I chalked it up to just being either oblivious, or disciplined or even cranky. But then I found a quote from Nelson Mandela: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
And so while I had never thought of myself as brave or courageous, heart failure had been frightening. To have a number of blackouts out of the blue; or to be short of breath walking up just a few stairs when you used to bound up ten flights at a time; or to get dizzy sitting on the couch watching television, or to have electronic devices inside you to guard against cardiac arrest; these are all events that can scare the daylights out of you. But regardless of the fear, the simple fact was that I was going to get up every day and try to be the best person that I could still be, and hopefully at the same time, look heart failure in the eye and overcome it. I may not ever get to that goal, but hopefully my effort to accept and deal with congestive heart failure will make me a better person.
I think my minister’s use of the word courage is interesting for another reason. In researching the meaning of the word courage, I found that it originally came from the Latin word “cor’ for heart. Author Brene Brown says:
“In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this association fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as "ordinary courage.”
I have given much thought over the last few years to my faith in God. I now admit openly that God has been at my side guiding me throughout this whole journey. When I have come to him in times of panic, and occasionally anger, God has calmed me and focused me. I would not have gotten as far with my treatment without his hand in mine. So now each time I meet another bump in the road, I size up the uncertainty with all the courage I can muster and resolutely choose to continue to place my hand in in the hand of God. I allow him to take me where I need to go, whatever fate that may be.
As I indicated before in this blog, admitting my faith takes courage because there are those out there who would scorn me as weak and delusional for my beliefs. “Your God doesn’t seem to have given you power, influence and control” they seem to say. And my response to that is: “Who cares?” I am not looking for those things anymore. I’m looking for the calm center that is found in God’s world.
In addition to admitting my faith, I have learned the courage to try to admit when I am wrong, to try to decline to be defensive when confronted with my errors, and to try to just say “I am sorry, or I made a mistake, or I didn’t think of it that way.” This is a huge step to celebrating yourself as a resilient person of courage.
As a coincidence, after I began to write this post, my therapist recommended that I read the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, quoted above. The quote above is one that struck me, so I have purchased the book and am starting to read it. And now that I continue to turn Ms. Brown’s quote over in my mind, I find that the act of publishing this blog is also an act of courage. Revealing both what happened and how I reacted has been intimidating at times. But throughout my career, and since I retired, it has become important to help others who may have some of the issues I experienced. If I leave this bottled inside me, how can it benefit anyone? And to keep it inside and not share, makes my heart heavier than any of the heart failure issues I have experienced. Maybe that is why my doctors and therapists encouraged me to blog, because of the therapeutic value.
I also have to get over feeling like I do not have courage because I cry too much. Because I have come to see that courage, compassion, tolerance and a myriad of other positive gifts are all heartfelt. Tears may just be the way the heart chooses to reflect those wonderful gifts.
As an attorney for many years, I learned the power of words and evidence. Looking at my actions over the last three years, and carefully studying the word “courage”, I think the evidence supports that I not only know what courage is, but that I have demonstrated it.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.