What Courage Means for Someone With an Autoimmune Disease


“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”  ― Mary Anne Radmacher

For an act to be courageous, it must involve risk. But how do you define risk when it looks different for everyone?

With depression or an autoimmune disease, courage is getting out of bed in the morning. It’s going to work (albeit sobbing relentlessly on the 20-minute drive and for the first 10 minutes you are there). It’s attending a social event where you know there will be people, you know they will want to talk and you know you will have to engage in conversation about things that probably won’t interest you.

There is fear. There is risk. There is a voice in the back of your head saying, “You can’t do this. You don’t want to do this. You shouldn’t do this. Don’t do this. Don’t do this. Don’t do this.”

The fear is that you won’t be able to keep up. You’re the kind of exhausted that can’t be remedied by a good night’s sleep, which makes holding conversations somewhat challenging. You’re afraid to look incompetent because you’ve always prided yourself on your ability to keep it together. But you can’t avoid these things forever.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (otherwise known as the thyroid disease from hell) ensures that you’re constantly tired, always cold and have major brain fog with a side of chronic abdominal pain. Oh yeah, and something like self-induced guilt, but not quite depression – whatever that means.

There is little relief from avoiding social situations because the warring voices can never seem to agree. You should’ve gone. You should’ve gone. You should’ve sucked it up and gone to the party. For goodness’ sake, your mother was expecting you. Remember her? The woman who gave birth to you? The woman who attended every dance recital, every sporting event (even though you mostly sat on the bench), every Christmas program, every graduation? She would drive to the ends of the earth for you and you can’t even pull it together for two hours.

So you go to the party because the self-induced guilt is a worse contender than the fear of being social and the physical aches and pains you are enduring. You slap a smile on your face and count down the minutes until it’s socially acceptable to leave. You rifle through your internal rolodex of reasons why you need to leave right away. You try to remember which excuse you used last time, and pray to God no one catches on to you.

You leave feeling somewhat victorious, though. You pushed through your fears and were able to have fun. You even managed to stay longer than you expected.

This may not be the textbook definition of courageous, but you have to admit you are proud of yourself.

You have never jumped into a rushing river to save someone from drowning. You are not a brave fireman or a gallant knight. You will probably never volunteer to fight in a war. Maybe you’re afraid of dogs, even nice ones.

But you got out of bed this morning when your body was a bag of bricks and movement seemed nearly impossible. You put one foot in front of the other because you knew that if you stopped moving you’d probably never start again. You stepped out of your comfort zone no matter how challenging it was. You warred against those vicious inner voices trying to hold you down. You put yourself in a situation where you knew you’d be uncomfortable, and everything turned out alright. You are all right.

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