Being tough

I firmly believe the toughest battles we’ll ever face in life will be fought in our own heads. Nearly everything else in life can be escaped, ignored, or put off, but our own mind is inescapable. When things are going well it’s a great place to be. But when life gets tough and pressures add up it’s far too easy to get stuck in an endless loop that drags us farther and farther down. Breaking that cycle can be difficult.

People telling us to “be tough” doesn’t really help. Being tough was how we avoided getting into that cycle in the first place. If we’re there it’s because we failed at being tough enough. And because we don’t want to disappoint the people telling us to be tough we just put on the mask and go on as if we’re not slowly killing ourselves inside. At that point “being tough” would be reaching out to someone and admitting we need help. That’s too often tougher than most of us can manage.

I bring this up not because I’m in that place right now. I’ve been there, certainly, but on the whole I’m doing just fine. But at work this morning I found out about a local police officer who evidently was in that place. Earlier this week he disappeared on his way to work, and was found this morning in the next state, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. No one saw any warning signs. He was being tough, but not tough enough.

And that reminded me of a young man I knew in Boise. By appearances he had a great life. His wife is a lovely person. His kids are great kids. But he still went to the local Wal-mart, bought a gun, went outside and shot himself. He, too, was tough enough not to let it show. That’s the wrong kind of tough. I helped his family pack up to move back to where their family lived. They were incredibly tough, too. But people knew they needed help. They got it then, and I hope they continue to get it where they are now.

But this morning I also read this article about a woman who was hit in a store parking lot and nearly killed. Seven weeks later she is still struggling with the changes in her own brain as a result. That in itself would be difficult. I’m glad she’s choosing to be tough and let others know what’s going on in her head.

The accident also left her afraid of returning to the store where she was hit. She decided it was time to be tough–for her kids–and go back. She took her kids with her so they could see. She was able to do it, partly because of the encouragement of her children. I’m hoping the lesson they learned was not that “mommy was tough”, but “mommy was tough enough to realize she needed our help”.

There’s nobody so tough they don’t need anybody.

But there are people who are tough enough to recognize that by doing the most difficult thing of admitting they need help they are actually making it easier on themselves in the long run, not to mention easier for others. One such person is Robison Wells. I’ve posted about him before. I’ve since then been able to see him handle it in person. He was on several panels at LTUE last month. He was a great contributor: funny, relevant, insightful. Then in the middle of one panel he suddenly apologized, informed us he has a mental illness, and that he really needed to leave the room just then. And he left. I don’t know what would have happened had he tried to “tough it out” for fear of embarassing himself or making us uncomfortable. But he took, for some, the tougher route and didn’t try to hide it. I admire his courage.

Everyone deals with something, I suspect. Someone close to me once admitted to a serious fear of enclosed spaces. As we were about to start on a project that involved someone working in an enclosed space I gladly agreed to be the one to do it. I don’t like enclosed spaces, but as long as I feel comfortable about my ability to get back out of them they don’t bother me.

But I can certainly empathize. Several years ago I took a first aid course at work. The teacher, a paramedic, brought slides of some of the more gruesome accidents he’s dealt with. I was watching, then suddenly started feeling dizzy, so I pushed my chair back and put my head down on my knees. That’s usually enough. Then I awoke on the floor with paramedics surrounding me.

I wasn’t a squeamish person. I am now. Even writing about this is giving me a great deal of anxiety. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m still not a squeamish person. What I am is traumatized by the experience of losing consciousness–losing control over myself and being dependent on others help me avoid injury. When people start talking about gruesome things I experience anxiety that I might faint again. It feels a lot like feeling ready to faint, which in turn increases my anxiety.

The thing is, I haven’t fainted since then. It’s all in my head. It’s going to take some time, but I can recover from this. I few years ago I had a blood test and started feeling faint–or anxious. I told the phlebotomist, and she made some adjustments and we got through it. Last fall I had blood drawn again. I couldn’t watch, but I got through it. I’m making progress. There are times when people talk about stuff and I realize later that it didn’t bother me because I had forgotten that it should bother me.

Mine seems to be going away. Many people will never get better. It’s tough to let people know you have a problem and that you need help. My hat is off to those people who are tough enough to do so. Real courage is getting help.

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One Response to Being tough

  1. Wayne Chilcott says:

    Being tough, talk to sick children in hospital fighting for there lives. They are not being tough, they are just getting on with what needs to be done. We as adults use the smallest thing of annoyance to make some small trivial thing a world wide disaster for ourselves. All strength comes from within, but it dose not hurt to ask for help or to talk about it. Great read Thom.

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