The Unseen Courageous

By Kelly Wester

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Every now and then, I cling onto quotes, and this seems to be the most recent one that speaks to me. Typically when I hear people speak of courage, they are talking about the person in school who stood up to a bully verbally or physically, the person standing on the stage performing in front of a large audience, or even the hero who charged into a traumatic situation to save another. What is less frequently spoken about or acknowledged is the person who fights, quietly, every day. If we consider the definition of courage—“The ability to do something that frightens one”—the person who fights every day is truly a brave individual.

I am not someone who has self-injured, nor have I been suicidal, but I am someone with the privilege of hearing from others who are or have been there. I have had the ability to work for over a decade as a counselor and researcher of adolescents and young adults who are engaging in self-injurious behaviors, are experiencing suicidal ideations, or have attempted suicide. When working with these adolescents and young adults, I hear accounts of hurt, pain, hopelessness, fear, and devastation. I gain metaphorical pictures of blackness, bottomless pits, isolation, and fiery disasters. These tend to be the words, pictures, and descriptions my clients have provided. While I sit there with them in their pain and despair, listening to their stories, there is something else I hear beyond the reality of their experience. With each person I have counseled and had the honor of listening to, there is a story of strength, resilience, hope, and courage. Typically these are not the words my clients would use to describe it, but this is what I hear.

I realize now that I have been privileged to work with some of the most courageous individuals—individuals who must fight to survive another day, to see even a glimmer of their dreams. Individuals who battle to find someone to listen, to understand, to care, even when they struggle to communicate or reach out for support. These brave warriors are often isolated by family members or bullied by peers who say cruel and horrible things. They are usually survivors of abuse or trauma, waging their own internal wars. They may not feel courageous or resilient at times (or even most of the time); they tend to feel beaten down, ignored, and alone. But I am in awe of the strength each of these individuals possesses.

As a counselor, I am in no way perfect; I do not always have the ability to fully help every client who comes to my office. (This is why I tell anyone I first meet to “shop around” and find a counselor or professional who is a good fit.) But my goal as a mental health counselor is solely to provide a safe space, to hear the fear and anguish someone has felt. In the process, I hope to reflect even a portion of the strength I see in them.

As you can tell, I’ve learned a lot from my clients. Here are just a few of the most important lessons:

  • Just listen. Be an open ear, with an open heart, and hear their story. Hear what is being said verbally, but also what is not spoken, what might lie underneath or unshared.
  • Create a safe space. The adolescents and young adults I work with are judged in multiple contexts of their lives or silenced in various arenas. Therefore, to have one space, even if only for a moment each week, where they are able to be themselves and not feel judged is a victory.
  • Highlight the small successes. It is daunting for someone to see or imagine walking in the sunshine when they feel like they are alone in a bottomless pit. Helping individuals recognize how to take small steps, one foot at a time, feels more feasible than focusing on the final, overarching goal.
  • Recognize our humanity. Be aware of the emotions, the experiences, the mistakes, and the triumphs. Hear, see, and acknowledge all of these things, as they are the essence of life, and they bind us together.

So here is my salute to the heroes, the brave, those who battle every day, sometimes only to say, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” Thank you for sharing your stories, your experiences, your pain, and your resilience. Keep trying, keep searching, and keep being courageous.

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Comments (7)

  1. meowx

    aw. this is so nice. i love it.

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  2. Alicia

    Your first person who has said what I believe. Client is first. I will do all to help and admit and encourage if it doesn’t help I want who is best for them

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  3. Alicia

    There is much we don’t see and much others don’t see. There are different types of courage. I believe when seen the person should be told about something positive about themselves they didn’t see. Trials can aid or hinder courage but aiding hope when it’s real can lead to better things

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  4. Megan

    Thank you for this post. I struggle everyday as I work to overcome my PTSD. There are days I have to make a deal with myself just to get out of bed and other days where I’m not sure how much longer I can take it. Reading this blog makes me feel heard in a time when I cannot seem to find my voice. It reminds me that this battle I am going through isn’t for nothing and the fact that I still fight means something. Thank you for your words.

    Reply  |  
  5. Emily

    Thank you for this! It was lovely to read about how it feels from someone on the other side of all if this- someone who helps people like me daily. I salute you too- the open ear to listen when we need you, the heart that helps to understand whatever we say- thank you!! 🙂

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  6. Ana

    As someone who struggles everyday to overcome self harm, suicidal ideation, and flashbacks it is uplifting to hear this because I work so hard each day to overcome what I’ve been through. So this is just a quick thank you for recognizing how hard people who struggle with these things work. Everyday is a battle, and we are working so hard to win it.

    Reply  |  
  7. Kai

    I tell myself everyday that I’m a warrior. I battle with insecurities and ungratefulness. Up until now, I still do but I became stronger. Thank you to everyone who never givea up on believing in every person. =)

    Reply  |  
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