I have never thought of myself as a particularly courageous person. On the contrary, given the staggering number of painfully weird and/or wholly irrational fears I harbor (returning items without a receipt! making an unprotected left turn! answering the telephone!), I’ve always thought of myself as a big, fat scaredy cat.
But for some reason, the subject of courage, mine in particular!, has come up in a couple of times lately, which has forced me to take a look at it.
Now, I know full well how people toss around the "c" word regarding survivors. I didn’t have cancer or survive a heinous car accident or crawl my way out of the rubble of 9/11 with an injured co-worker on my back. But I did have what they call an acute onset of Crohn’s disease almost 3 years ago and from the looks of me just before, during and after my hospitalization (skeletal! ashen! wild-eyed!) I can see why people thought I was going to die. And don’t get me wrong, I was very, very sick: my doctor will happily confirm that right before he lays into me for going off my medication again.
However…"courageous"? I don’t think so. The night before my sister tricked me into going to the emergency room, I actually lowered myself into a tub of icy water to bring my 104.4ºF fever down to a manageable 102º. That, my friends, is the act of a crazy person, not a brave one.
Of course, once I’d had my epiphany and calmed down enough to assess the situation, I did take certain steps that even I marvel at in retrospect. When given the option of staying in the safe, air-conditioned arms of the Cedars Sinai IBD wing or returning to my sweaty apartment to see if I could put on the weight they’d been unable to pack onto me, I elected to go home and put myself on a diet that (a) excluded 75% of the food that had previously made up my diet and (b) required me to cook everything from scratch (remember: skeletal! ashen! wild-eyed!) Which is still slightly insane, but does show a wee bit of, you’ll forgive the pun, intestinal fortitude.
Having scaled that small, 2-lb. hill (confession to Dr. Wolfe: I lined my pockets with coins and pebbles to trick the scale, and you, into giving me one more week), subsequent challenges seemed slightly less daunting. I "came out" to everyone I knew, updating them via email about my disgusting, poopy disease and, scarier yet, asking for help with everything from grocery shopping to taking my trash out. I started walking, first to the bottom of the stairs, then to the end of the driveway, eventually a full, two-mile walk. Scariest of all, I called my agent and told him I was taking three months off to recuperate, regardless of whether I felt up to pushing myself back to work sooner.
Then, when I was able to get out and about again, I actually did…with a vengeance. I went to events solo. I started checking the "40 & over" box on audition sign-in sheets in front of god (a.k.a. the casting director) and everyone. I posted a profile online (and another…and another…) and actually emailed them as much (or more) than they did me.
And here’s the goddam thing of it: I did all these things, yes, but the fear was still there. Still is. Seriously. I can (usually) ask the "stupid" question or introduce myself to a stranger at a party or check the old lady box, but I’m still afraid I’ll be laughed at, given the cold shoulder and never work again. I’m afraid to post blog entries, I’m afraid to bid out a job at what it’s really worth, I’m afraid to reveal my deep, personal self even to loved ones. I just, to paraphrase the cheesy book title that’s become an overused catchphrase, suck it up and do it anyway.
It may never get less scary to do some things and it will probably always be scary to undertake others. But I stand on the other side of years and years of useless, stultifying fear screaming this truth to you, regardless of whether or not you choose to embrace it or merely laugh at me and walk away:
It is worth it to try.
If it opens one door, if it makes one thing possible, even if it only teaches you something about yourself…
It is worth it to try.
Trust me on this.
Or don’t…and do it anyway.