11/365 – Strength of mind

Mental toughness is difficult to define but easy to spot. It’s what helps people not to feel like the world’s victim when things don’t go their way. It’s what makes people rise to ‘unbelievable’ challenges and helps others keep fighting when life seems intent on destroying their sanity. If you have MG, you need bags of mental strength to keep battling against an unpredictable and out of control body.

Last night I went to see Unbroken and was deeply moved by it. The film, directed by Angelina Jolie, is a true story about Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini who gets taken prisoner in WW2 by Japan and is systematically terrorised by the camp leader. He survived the experience by never giving up hope and shows remarkable courage and mental strength throughout the horrific ordeal. Discussing the film afterwards, it was mooted that the cruelty shown by the leader on Louis left viewers feeling depressed more than hopeful. However, I strongly disagree.

Once he recovered from the inevitable post traumatic stress, Louis forgave the Japanese soldiers who had inflicted the cruel acts on him and he revisited the camps where he had been held along with the wardens who had oversaw the brutality against him. He even invited his tormentor, but the leader did not accept the invitation.

To me, that level of forgiveness and courage takes a huge amount of mental strength and is inspiring rather than depressing. He overcame things that would have been impossible for others and he still had room in his heart to let love in. Of the two men, it was very clear to me who was mentally strong and who was mentally weak.

Although in my younger years I doubted my own mental strength, I know better now. Or perhaps I am
just stronger now – what doesn’t kill you etc etc. Either way, every time
I don’t let my double vision stop me, every time I push myself to work out so I keep my fitness levels up, every time I smile for the camera and every time I publish a photo on this blog is an act of mental strength. Last year, I completed 120kms of the Camino de Santiago (a pilgrimage trek in Spain) in 5 days, ran a half marathon and cycled around 45 miles for Myaware – those events all took mental strength. But, mental strength can’t always be about big successes – it’s built and maintained by rising to meet every day and giving it your best. Today is a good day as my eyes are almost normal and I feel strong. For the challenges that will undoubtedly come this year, I will be using Louis’ example of never giving up.

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