For those struggling with mental illness like anxiety, it can be hard to face your fears. In fact, many of your fears might seem irrational to those on the outside looking in. Maybe your panic attacks and anxiety have led you to fear certain places or situations. While they may seem irrational to others, they are very real to those experiencing these fears. This causes a shift in defining courage as well.
I have recently been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and I was struck by a quote of his.
"When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God's eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C."
While a fear of cats is just an example, I believe this can be applied to a number of irrational fears those with anxiety deal with all the time. While the typical definition of courage refers to brave acts in war or sacrificing yourself for another, perhaps courage is more relative than we think.
Perhaps bravery is more centered on the sacrifice the individual is making rather than the act itself.
I think it is important to demonstrate bravery in your life, and while many people who struggle with anxiety feel like they could never do anything very brave, it is vital that they remember that taking a step, however small, outside of their comfort zone is still an act of courage.
Lewis continues his message later on in the book.
"When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God's eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend."
Similar in meaning, Lewis reiterates this point. Stepping out to do what is right in the midst of your anxiety is brave. As much as anxiety might get us down, we should not allow it to hold us back. You are bigger and braver than your mental illness.
This is not to say you shouldn't practice self-care. Taking a break when you need one, and listening to what your body is telling you is important. You should not have to live with a heightened sense of anxiety at all times, but you should be able to step out in bravery every once in a while or when necessary.
It's easy to get stuck in a cycle of self-pity and cynicism, but it is important to remember that bravery is relative. Your "brave" might not look like someone else's but that doesn't make it any less meaningful. Acts of bravery and stepping out or your comfort zone grow your character as a person, which Lewis explains further in his book.
So if you are feeling downtrodden and discouraged, like you are incapable of doing anything brave, think about something small you could do to practice courage in your life. You can be brave, maybe not by your own strength, but by the strength of God.