The Battles You’ve Fought

by Gurpreet Sihat

My sister and I have started re-watching Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing together. By together, I mean we hit the play button at the same time – her in Vancouver, me in London – and spend the next 45 minutes sending each other laughing emojis… and crying emojis. A LOT of crying emojis. They’re not all sad tears. Some are angry tears – at how little the world has changed, at how small-minded some people can be, at politicians (really, that doesn’t need to be explained). But, often, they’re tears because you can see how the world has changed and is changing, even in the smallest ways; because you’re reminded that we are many and they – the ‘they’ with hate in their hearts – are few; because you feel seen. They’re tears of recognition, of gratitude, and of hope. 

I find it easy to be optimistic – to see the silver linings in situations, to see how beautiful life can be, to see a brighter future – for the world around me, for others. Just not for myself. For myself, I’m the biggest pessimist you’ve ever met. I struggle to see my own value, my own accomplishments, my own bright future.

A storyline crops up in the first season of The West Wing where one of the main characters is about to go through a terribly public ordeal that will likely reflect badly on the presidency. The President, Jed Bartlet (played by an incredible Martin Sheen), says ten words that really stuck with me while watching that first season: 

“Don’t you ever forget the battles you’ve fought… and won.” 

We seem to see ourselves by where we are right now in life. Or, rather, what we haven’t achieved by this part in our life. By whether we’re earning that six-figure salary, married with children, own a property that’s just been perfectly renovated, travelling to exotic locations on a whim, have friends we can see every other day. When do we ever value ourselves on the things we’ve survived? Regardless of where that leaves us now?

I keep thinking about the abusive relationships I no longer live with, the jobs I would slave away at without so much as a decent paycheque, the fact that the number of friends I have living in the UK is down to three because I mustered up the strength to walk away from the ones not serving me. I think about how my mum would likely have needed to be taught how to speak again had I not been freelancing from home and caught her Bell’s Palsy early, how I’ve had the ability to drop everything when tragedy strikes to look after those who needed it, how I’ve been able to keep my friends and family, abroad and otherwise alone, company on video calls throughout the pandemic. I think about all those people at the start of this all, who were filled with anxiety and fear and needed someone to talk to, how friends I hadn’t spoken to since I was eleven years old suddenly messaged me needing an understanding ear. 

All of these are battles. Some small, some large. Some new, some old. Battles all the same. And I’m still standing. 

After all the death, the heartbreak, the disappointment. After all the fear and anxiety, the suicide attempts and inability to get out of bed, the panic attacks and hyperventilation so bad I almost fall out of the window in my rush to open it for some fresh air. After the jobs that lead to nowhere, the friendships that lead to shattered confidences, the voices that promise you’ll die alone, forgotten, and unloved. 

Sometimes it feels like I haven’t moved. Like I’m still where I was in high school, and other people are the ones who have walked away. But I keep thinking of what President Bartlet said: 

“Don’t you ever forget the battles you’ve fought… and won.” 

I’m not here because I’m standing still. I’m here because I’ve fought the battles… and won.

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