Behind the Bravado of My Chronic Illness and Disability


Is it the English stiff upper lip? Or my inane desire to make sure everyone else is happy? Or my addiction to making people laugh? (Ever the entertainer!) I’m unsure to be honest and I have decided that I could analyze ’til the cows came home and never come to a valid conclusion. I can, however, reveal what’s behind the bravado. Well, I’ll try.

I guess examples are a good way to start. I’m currently on holiday and it’s the first in a long long time. My body has changed since the last one and this has required some adjustments. Firstly, I hate the word adjustments — it fills me with sick disgust and in my mind should be replaced with the word “inconvenience.” That is how I perceive the adjustments — as an inconvenience to others. Enter the guilt!

Then comes the embarrassment, usually hand-in-hand with practicalities and logistics. Example — hiring a scooter to keep up with my lovely family. Cue the feeling of being stared at — this overweight Brit in a scooter. Then you have to negotiate high curbs and narrow passageways and forget looking around shops. Now, in order to tackle this embarrassment, the entertainer kicks in. I broadcast my position. Make people laugh with me at this ludicrous situation I find myself in. I’ll make a silly comparison to a TV character, post it on Facebook, feel elated that I’ve made people smile; the bravado working overtime!

Then, when the laughter fades I’m left with what’s behind the bravado. I’m hurting. I’m embarrassed. Ashamed of my body. Mortifyingly self-conscious. Noticing every glance and every comment — more often than not probably imagined in my head. Sad that I can’t keep up. That I can’t stroll hand in hand with my wife along the beach because of scooters and walking sticks. Devastated that I am the way I am. Guilty of the impact my body has on others, particularly those I love. I could go on — spiral as my head does. I won’t — not now.

Bravado. In Buddhist terms (and I am no expert) I guess you could class it as the “second arrow.” The first arrow is suffering – something everyone experiences. The second arrow is how much we resist, block out or drown in our suffering. The wise man doesn’t analyze. The wise man doesn’t distract themselves. The wise man doesn’t wallow. The wise man accepts and experiences the first arrow, allowing the second arrow to be placed back in it’s quiver. If only I were wise. If only I weren’t slain by a thousand second arrows.

That. That is what’s behind the bravado. Some of it, at least. I am working on it. I am questioning, reflecting and trying to accept things as they are. One day I’ll drop the bravado. One day.

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