“Be brave”. “Be strong”. Someone has said this to you before, I’m sure. I’ve heard it countless times. Even when I was in the hospital with Ari, I heard it over and over “be brave”, “stay strong for your baby”, “he will be ok”, “my baby was in the NICU too and he’s fine now”, “lots of babies go to the NICU, it’s no big deal”. However, bravery and strength isn’t always innate. It doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Person to person and situation to situation varies. In the moments in the NICU with Ari, I absolutely wasn’t brave... At first. I was scared. I avoided the NICU some days and I cringed at people telling me how to handle my son’s life threatening condition. What finally turned things around was my writing, but that’s just one coping skill.
So… how does one “be brave”? Is there like a course on bravery? Ha! Probably. But no, bravery actually takes practice like many other things. Let me be clear about one thing, bravery is not the absence of fear. It’s the exact opposite. Bravery is the presence of fear, but doing what your body needs to get through the fear. With that being said, bravery looks different for each individual. Sometimes bravery is facing a fire breathing rhinoceros, sometimes bravery is squeezing your stuffed animal in the doctor’s office and sometimes bravery is staying in bed because you know that your body needs rest.
Bravery is much about self awareness and self care; recognizing what your body needs in that moment to stay afloat through whatever fear you are facing. When Ari first went to the NICU and I was fresh from a c-section, everybody around me kept telling me to get up and go be with my baby. But I couldn’t. This was my 3rd csection and I knew that I needed to recover to be the strongest mom that I could be for my baby. At the time, I felt like a failure. I felt selfish for putting my needs before his. I felt like I wasn’t being brave and that I was a horrible mom. But something inside me kept telling me to give my body rest and I listened to that voice. When I did finally go to the NICU for the first time, I only stayed for a few minutes because it was too emotionally and physically challenging. Now looking back and with the reassurance of a friend (you know who you are), I know now that allowing my body rest was the bravest and strongest thing that I could do in that moment.
Remember I said bravery takes practice? Most adults need to practice self awareness and then turn that into effective self care, which allows you the space to be brave. It should come naturally, but it doesn’t. Knowing what your body needs at any given moment isn’t easy. It’s hard as hell. Most of us are pulled in many different directions, often forgetting to pull into ourselves. My day job alone requires me to be an instructional designer, a teacher, and a mental health counselor all at the same time. Three small people need me, a husband needs me, my siblings need me… I could go on and on. A lot of other people and things need us, resulting in us forgetting that we’re human beings first.
So let’s “be brave”! Start by taking deep breaths, at least 3 breaths, intentionally, each day. When you practice deep breathing while you’re calm and in control, it becomes easier to breathe when you’re scared, anxious, or feeling on the verge of being out of control. Deep breaths relaxes your brain and stimulates a calming response to be able to think clearer and respond externally more appropriately to your given situation. All good things. All good things. Once you have taken your deep breaths, put yourself in the “now”. What, at this moment, is going well? What is scaring me? Is my fear warranted? Sometimes our fear takes over and causes us to believe things that aren’t real. Recognize that and feel it but let those pass by. What is within my control? Grasp those controllable items and bring them to the forefront of your mind. That’s where you spend your energy. Focus on all of your senses. What do I see right now? What colors and shapes are present? What do I hear right now? What do I feel right now? Feel your hands, feel your arms, your skin, the chair you’re sitting on. What textures do you feel? And finally, what do I smell right now? You are now present in the moment. Everything pulling you away from your humanness is gone for these 5 minutes. Ask yourself, what do I need? What does my body need? Again, giving yourself these 5 minutes a day to be present to yourself when you’re calm and in control gives you the practice to be able to do this when you’re in a state of fear. You will build a toolbox of skills that work for you. Then with your toolbox and your practiced self awareness, you can clearly think about what you need to be brave in the moment of fear. Do you need rest? A self pep talk? To just jump in with both feet? To create a plan? Do you need a glass of wine? Kidding…. Maybe, not really. Ha!
So go ahead and practice bravery! You are brave! You are strong! You can do this!