Dealing With Painful Experiences
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
In recent years, I have experienced some rather painful times. I have survived earthquakes, which I am aware many fellow Christchurch dwellers have; I walked through the stress of supporting someone going through an emotional breakdown; I have suffered anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic attacks; I felt my heart completely break with a miscarriage. Sometimes the hurt and pain was so terrible that I didn’t know how to cope. Sometimes I felt like there was no one else who could sympathise. Surely, I was the only one going through this terrible pain! But what I have learnt is that everyone has their trials and pain. Everyone has scars from past experiences. No one is immune. Yet there tends to be an unspoken rule where we pretend everything is going well. You know the conversation –
“How are you?” A friend asks.
“I’m good, thanks,” you reply, with a smile on your face.
Yet deep inside you’re broken; you are so hurt, but you don’t feel like the other person will understand, or even care. So, you keep your mask on and pretend you are fine.
I saw people close to me struggle with what life was throwing at them yet trying very hard to hold it altogether. I began to see the frayed edges, the stress accumulating on their shoulders, the pain in their eyes. But they were walking through their pain alone. It wasn’t until much later that they shared, and I wondered how much they could’ve been supported and uplifted if they had just opened up earlier. On the other hand, some people I know hid the pain so well I had no idea until it was mentioned matter-of-factly much later. My heart broke for them knowing they were doing it alone. But I also wondered why they didn’t feel safe with me to let me in.
When I experienced my miscarriage at the start of this year, my husband and I had already announced our pregnancy, so I knew I had to tell people sooner or later about our loss. But that wasn’t what led me to share. My hurt was so deep and raw that I couldn’t keep it in. I needed the support of those around me. It was in that moment that I understood the pain others went through yet tried so hard to hide. I had hidden some of my pain and struggles in the past, yet this time I knew I couldn’t do that.
People were created to live in community; to share life with, and to love and support each other. We are not nomads wandering through life alone. We are not islands with no one around us. Everything we go through helps to shape the person we are. Every trial, hurt, loss, failure, or mistake is part of us. They are the scars from when we fell. But you don’t need to stay down, and you don’t need to hide them. They have a story to tell. Remember being told, ‘boys dig scars!’? Maybe there’s some deeper truth to that. When I see someone being real with what they are going through, I feel a sense of respect and closeness with that person. I respect them for being honest, for not hiding behind a façade. I feel close to them because they chose to share their hurt with me.
Their scars, your scars, and my scars are beautiful. We all have them, so let’s be brave and stop hiding them all the time. They are an amazing part of who you are. You wouldn’t be the same without them, and that can be a good thing. They can build strength, resilience, and compassion if we let them.
Another part of this journey of allowing others to see your scars is possibly one of the reasons why you go through these trials in the first place. What good can come from your pain? If we weren’t meant to walk this life alone, then surely our experiences weren’t meant to be kept to ourselves. Now that I know what it feels like to deal with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and panic attacks I have the understanding and ability to sympathise with others who are going through similar. I can better help and support them. I know what not to say or do, as well as things that can be beneficial to say. I completely understand not wanting to talk to people, so look at withdrawn people in a new light. I know the calm and strength they need to feel from someone close to them to help them get through it. After the heartache of losing an unborn child, my heart breaks for those going through it. I feel the depth of their pain and longing. I understand the need to recover physically, and the slow process of grief. I am aware that the gut-wrenching tears can appear at any moment, from the smallest of triggers. Crying is a part of the healing process. Anniversaries hold a different meaning. Nothing can compare to the loss of a child. I get that now!
When on the receiving end of this sympathy and support, my feelings and needs feel important. I feel important. Having a listening ear and supportive arms to hold me when it gets too much, is the difference between falling into despair and feeling like I can get through another day. Knowing that a close friend is willing to walk with me means I’m no longer alone. My heart has a space to rest, recover, and heal. Being aware that others have been through similar, means that others have gotten through it; that there is hope, and I'm not alone in this pain.
Maybe now when we go through one of life’s difficult trials, we can be more willing to open ourselves up and take the mask off. Could it be possible that the healing process goes more smoothly with people around to support us? Can you prevent someone from feeling like there’s no hope and giving up, by just sharing your story? Instead of pretending life is going well, we can be honest and real and reply, “actually, things are really hard for me at the moment,” and then see what happens...