How Big Is Your Brave?

Young woman in a challenging yoga pose with her hands on the ground and legs off the ground, straight out to each side. Quotation under her says Maybe there's a way out of the cate where you live. Maybe one of these days you can let the light in. Show me how big your brave is. Brave, Sara Bereilles

Everybody has a brave inside them. It might be teeny tiny. It might be hiding behind your pancreas. It could be taking up the whole of your spleen, or half your femur.

But here’s the thing: no matter how big your brave is, it’s sufficient for whatever you need it to be. From trying a new hairdo to experimenting with eye shadow, from eating a new vegetable to tackling the rice cooker, from starting a new job to ending a marriage, your brave is up to the task. It is enough. You are enough.

First, let’s get some definitions out of the way. Bravery is not the opposite of fear. Bravery can’t exist without fear. If you’re not afraid of killing the spider all by yourself, then killing the spider all by yourself isn’t brave. It’s just, y’know, killing a spider.

But when you’re terrified of the monstrous eight-legged beasts that live in your room, biding their time until they’re certain your guard is down, so they can attack en masse and eat your face, and you kill the spider all by yourself, that’s brave. (I’ve heard. From a friend. Honest.)

Brave versus courageous. They’re kinda sorta in the same realm, but if you trace the etymology, you get that courage is more of a state of being, while brave is a state of doing. You’re courageous when you step up and say, “Yes, I will join the Marine Corps.” You’re brave when you’re deployed to Yemen or Somalia, and you carry out your mission despite numerous factions trying to kidnap, maim, or kill you to further their cause.

You can also think of it like the difference between tidy and clean. You’re tidy when Marie Kondo is in your head, your mind is orderly, and your home reflects that. You’re clean when you took a shower, loaded the dishwasher, bathed the ferret, polished the silver, did 7 loads of laundry, mopped the walls, and washed every light bulb in the house.

An ornate chandelier, fully lit
“♪♫ I’m gonna clean all the chandeliers… all the chandelee-EE-EERS…♫♪”

There’s also a difference between the things you think you’ll need to find your brave to do and the things you actually need your brave to do. When I was younger, I thought I was going to need my brave to move from my small hometown to New York City and work on Wall Street. I fell in love with economics when my Daddy Gob gave me a college-level economics textbook for my birthday. My 9th birthday, as I recall. (Hate on me, hater.)

Instead, my first really big brave was asking for help to leave the abusive man I’d dropped out of college to move across the country to marry. (Bipolar disorder is fun!) He was a convicted felon, on probation, with two ex-wives and four kids under his belt. But wait, there’s more! Three of his kids were older than me. The fourth was a whole 19 months younger than I was. HIs oldest grandchild was only five years younger than me. Because he was ten years older than my dad. (Bipolar disorder is really fun!)

Qyotation - You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you. Mary Tyler Moore

Which brings me to my last definition: how big a brave has to be before you can call it a brave. Ever hear the line about how if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell a mountain to scooch over, and it will? That’s all the bigger your brave has to be for you to tear down the world and remake it in your image. (Seriously.)

Do you know how big a mustard seed is? Look at the head of a pin. Or hunt down a neighborhood feral cat and examine its fleas. That’s how big a mustard seed is, just one or two millimeters in diameter. Around one sixteenth of an inch That’s all the brave you need.

Mangy-looking multi-colored cat laying on concrete, eyes slitted, glaring at the camera
Jimbo’s drunk again. That’d be a good time to go flea-gigging. It’s like gigging frogs, just with a teeny tiny trident. It’s ok; Jimbo’s a real affable drunk.

Since you’re really smart (because you wouldn’t be here reading if you weren’t), I don’t need to go into all the really obvious brave things you could do. Ok, just a quick list to make sure we’re in the same place. Running out into traffic to save a confused blind man who’s gotten turned around somehow and is about to be smooshed by a city bus.

Rescuing a child in the path of a runaway horse. Joining in the fight on the side of the ninjas in an epic pirate-ninja battle over control of Cave Run Lake. Jumping on a landmine to save your platoon. (All of which are ways in which I’ve injured myself, btw. Honest. No tripping over my own shadow here.)

So those are some of the big obvious braves out there. But the smaller braves are more important. I mean, really, how often do you have to save hundreds of children from the Nazis?

The smaller braves are also the braves that we face every single day. Some of y’all might not even think of these things as being brave, while some of you will be nodding your head at every one. Wherever on that spectrum you fall, you should still know the kind of brave your friends, relatives, or favorite mindset and motivation coach are displaying every single day.

Quotation - "What's the bravest thing you ever did?" He spat in the road a bloody phlegm. "Getting up this morning," he said." Cormac McCarthy, The Road

People who have only had wonderful things happen to them have a harder time understanding how “get up” is brave. So here’s analogy number 374 for the day.

Imagine that when you wake up tomorrow morning, somebody has wrapped you in heavy iron chains, with hundreds of pounds of weights hanging off various body parts. Imagine that these chains are imbued with magic that makes you not care, not want to care, not be able to think about anything in the realm of caring about anything at all ever again for the rest of your life.

Then you realize that you’re bound and weighed down and don’t care, and your heart rate goes up by 50% or more, you hyperventilate, and you start shaking, which is SUPER fun with all those weights on you. And you can’t stop. Any of it. At all.

But the electricity is going to be shut off next Thursday, and the water the Monday after that. All that’s left in the pantry is a couple cans of fruit cocktail, a sleeve of crackers, and some mini peanut butter cups. So you have to get up. You have to go to work. You have to provide for you and your family. So you get up. You go to work. You provide. Even in the face of the chains and the weights and the magic and the panic, you get up. Because that’s how big your brave is. It is enough. You are enough.

Calculator balanced on one edge. On top is a spoon, carefully balanced with a potato stuck on the handle end and a stack of coins stacked in the bowl.
I prefer to use the popular South African “amazambane ngesipuni” budgeting method. You have to make sure you have the right size potato and a precisely weighted spoon to make it work. Plastic spoons and potato salad do not work.

There are times when brave shows up in everyday activities. Let’s talk about doctors. Doctors’ offices are scary. They’re full of sick people, for one. And there are people hiding in the back with needles the size of smoothie straws, ready to stab you until your veins are annihilated and you’ve been drained dry and the cheerful, perky vampire recommends that you drink three or four bottles of Gatorade to get your electrolytes back.

There’s a scale back there. (I weigh 2** pounds, and that’s all anybody needs to know, thankyouverymuch.)

And then there are the doctors. They know there’s something wrong with you. YOU know there’s something wrong with you. But nobody can figure out what the thing is that’s wrong with you. It’s either “oh, wow, that’s really weird,” or “but why can’t you…?” or “what the hell…?”

But the doctor doesn’t know. So she orders more tests. Scans and probes and needles and electrical impulses and “drink this” x-rays and referrals to other doctors who will also diagnose you with “oh, wow, that’s really weird.” (Seriously, I’ve lost count of how many of my 27ish doctors have said that to me.)

Quotation - There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself., or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. But sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. That is the sort of bravery I must have now. - Veronica Roth, Allegiant

I think one of my biggest struggles with my Brave is using it to reach out a helping hand to another person. The act of saying, let me help you, is huge. It’s daunting. Some days, it’s even terrifying.

However, it’s also the most rewarding, the most fulfilling, and the most helpful not only to the other person, but also to myself. As the song goes, hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.
I learned some time ago that helping others is an amazing way to also help myself. Between the bipolar and the panic disorders, and the obsessive compulsive disorder, I can get wrapped up into an anxiety death spiral pretty quickly. Trust me, not fun, not pretty, you don’t want to see it any more than I want to be in it.

Huge tornado in the distance past a field of grass, against a sunset
Anxiety Death Spiral — actual size

But when that’s where my brain is going, I start reaching out to offer help to other people. I’m in an accountability group from a business membership site I belong to, so I’ll reach out a hand to the women I am probably closest to in my life. If they’re all doing good, which they usually are, because they’re freaking awesome, I’ll head to and start working as a listener.

7 cups is a peer-to-peer support site for people dealing with mental illness, stress, life, who just need somebody to talk to, listen to, be heard, make longer posts, joining a group discussion, or have a one-on-one conversation with somebody who has been trained as an active listener.

I started as a member on the website, and loved it so much that Within a couple of weeks, I went through the training and became a listener. It’s awesome for a few reasons. It’s not just that I’m helping somebody else. It’s not even that I’m helping somebody else who is like me, or has a brain like mine, or who has similar physical and mental diagnosis.

It’s that I’m making a difference. and it’s that my brave is big enough for me to make that difference.

Quotation - It is not what they take away from you that counts. It is what you do with what you have left. - Hubert H. Humphrey

Maybe helping somebody with mental illness, or stress, or life, or whatever day-to-day factors are fucking somebody up isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re a random acts of kindness kind of person. One of the biggest things I miss from being physically disabled is being able to perform those random acts of kindness as much as I used to.

But I can do little things like send flowers to somebody I picked out of the phone book. Or use an anonymized email account to send encouragement to a friend one day. Or hop on Reddit and encourage someone, or tell them their post was really insightful. Or hit up and answer some questions.

Maybe you could sneak out and mow and elderly neighbor’s lawn. Maybe you could shovel the snow out of somebody’s driveway, or clear it off of somebody’s car. Not even necessarily one of your neighbors. Leave a little early for work, find a car that hasn’t had the snow cleared off of it, pull over do the thing, and go back to going to work.

A snow covered street at night, rows of cars on both sides
Or you could get your workout in…

Maybe you could try out a new local restaurant, instead of going to Burger King for the 47th time this month. No judgement; if I could be at Qdoba, Panera, and the Chinese buffet down the street three meals a day, I probably would. That’s probably why I weigh 2** pounds. Minor Details. The point is, find a way to do something nice for somebody else. Because that takes some Brave as well.

Here’s another way you can give your brave a workout, with potential ramifications that could resonate throughout somebody’s life. And it’s going to sound really stupid, and I’m okay with you thinking that it sounds really stupid, if you’ll give it a try.

If you’re not going to try it, then you don’t get to think it sounds stupid. Them’s the rules around here.
Say hi. Hello. How’s it going? Make a connection with another human being. You never know what kind of impact that could be. There have been stories all over the place of people who were planning to commit suicide, but didn’t because someone said hi, or helped them carry something, or smiled at them.

Quotation - One Hello? can change a life. One hello? can save a life. Liza M. Wiemer, Hello?

If you say hi, you might be just brightening someone’s day for a few minutes, or you might be finding your new spouse. Second spouse, third spouse, each spouse, I’m not judging.

And if you think age makes a difference, I got married for the first time at 18, and I have a great aunt who got married for the first time at 83. So age doesn’t matter. Just go say hi.

In line at Burger King. In line at the grocery store. Smile at the clerk at the gas station and ask how her day is going. Make a genuine human connection. It’ll make you feel better.

Long line of people waiting to enter a stone building
“Excuse me, is this the line for Burger King?”

When you’re depressed, smiling at somebody will lift your mood. When you’re having anxiety, making small talk with someone can calm your brain down. If you’re just stressed out beyond all imagination, having a conversation with anybody can help bring your stress levels back down to earth. And you never know what kind of impact you’re having on the other person as well.

Maybe, just maybe, as you stretch your brave out to talk to them, you’re helping their brave grow a little bit, too.