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Youth Mental Health Day 2023 – Bravery by Jaden

19 September 2023

Trigger warning: the content of this blog contains references to suicide, self-harm and eating disorders

We’ve all heard that typical icebreaker question— “what one word would you use to describe yourself?”

I was asked it the other day at my cousin’s wedding, after being directed a few indiscreet glances of bewilderment towards my arm, which I had desperately tried to scrawl with makeup concealer. I suppose it didn’t cover the scars as much as I thought it would. I ignored the looks, because I’m relatively used to them now. Instead, I simply answered the question:

“The one word I would use to describe myself is brave.”

My struggles with mental health began at a young age, when I found myself embraced in the arms of crippling illnesses that I truly thought were on my side—my “friends,” as I used to think of them. Only later did I realise that my eating disorder, my depression, and my anxiety were nothing more than ravaging beasts intent on tearing my life and relationships away from me.

As I spiraled further into my struggles, I remember how time dilated, and everything felt sluggish. Every movement; every word; every gesture I made; was obscured by a cloak of deception that I’m “fine, really,” and “I don’t need help.” I believed, so firmly, that with this cloak draped around me, I was being “brave.” But really, I was just a confused child with monsters in her head that were steadily fastening their grips on her. And I told no one, because I wanted to be “brave.”

And it’s not like I wasn’t being brave. Every second that I stayed on this Earth was me being brave. All the times I woke up in the morning, showered, ate—that was me being incredibly brave, even though I didn’t see it at the time. I thought I was pathetic. What kind of person can’t even get out of bed? What kind of messed up person wants to hurt themselves? Now, I look back at that young girl with a softened gaze, knowing that it was because of something that was completely out of her control. Mental illness is never our fault, and I wish I had realised that sooner. It would have saved me countless sleepless nights of blaming myself for the way my brain screamed at me each time I wanted to do “normal” kid things. Berating me each time I considered my future. And cursing me when I thought about staying alive.

I look back on those times today and experience a myriad of emotions that I can’t quite explain the purpose of. There’s the sadness and pity, of course. But there’s also that aching, bittersweet nostalgia when I think of the paradoxical comfort, I felt amidst all that agony. It’s so incredibly easy to say to someone struggling with mental illness: “Don’t you hate being like this? Why don’t you just try to get better?” Yet, it’s never as straightforward as that. I was in immense pain, so much so, that it was far easier to spiral downwards than it was to put in the effort to get back on my feet. So, I remained trapped for what felt like an eternity.

And in that, there was an inherent bravery. Anyone grappling with the all-encompassing clutches of mental illness bears an innate mantle of courage.

But that’s not why I describe myself as brave. I reserve that word for the moment I realised that bravery wasn’t about toughing it out and gaslighting myself into being “fine.” Rather, I think my bravest moment was acknowledging that I had lost control and reaching out for help. I think it was learning to not blame myself for something I didn’t ask for. It was realising that recovery will never be a linear journey that travels in a neat little diagonal line upwards. My bravery lied in letting my mental and physical wounds heal, without feeling the need to reopen them. It was recognizing that I didn’t need to prove my struggles to anyone, because they are valid in their mere existence. And that’s why I call myself brave.

But that’s not quite the answer my distant relatives were looking for, so I told them it was because I stubbed my toe once and didn’t cry. After all, I no longer have the need for others to acknowledge a kind of bravery they would never understand.

About the author:

Hello, my name is Jaden! I’m 17 years old and I’m originally from India but based in the UAE. My mental health is something that I have struggled with for a long time, and as I slowly find myself getting back up on my feet, I’m incredibly passionate about using my past as an anchor to hopefully help and support others going through the same thing. I’m currently in my last year of high school and planning to pursue either educational psychology or English language in university. I’m an aspiring author and hope to someday make a difference in this world. I love reading, writing, playing the piano, and my dogs!
I wrote this post for Youth Mental Health Day, which serves as a poignant reminder of the pressing need to address the mental well-being of our younger generation, in a world where the pressures and complexities of modern life can take a toll on young minds. This day emphasizes the significance of open dialogue, support networks, and accessible resources. By acknowledging the unique challenges that youth face and fostering an environment of understanding, we take a crucial step towards nurturing a mentally resilient and empowered generation.

Jaden’s social media:

Twitter, Instagram, TikTok