Expressing Pain

My post on Halloween prompted the following response from a fellow blogger, WritingMS: “Why are we humans so compelled to claim the goodness of our lives, in order to try and justify our expression of sorrow or pain? I think it must be our western culture and our adherence to the ‘stiff upper lip” approach. Yes, balance is always healthy……….BUT……expressing pain is not necessarily unbalanced, Laurel. Let’s all just take a communal deep breath and say “My life is good. I have many blessings. AND I have pain. Deep, devastating, gut-wrenching pain. And here, in this forum, I am going to talk about my pain, my sorrow, my confusion. And I will do it unapologetically.” There, how’s that for a disclaimer?Laurel, you know that I am in the same tippy-boat as you are and that this disclaimer is as much for me as it is for you. But how about if we give it a shot??”

The timing of this comment is particularly pertinent in light of a recent email conversation with a friend, who, in response to my expression of pain and anger that friends may have been reading my blog (and I of course have no way of knowing which friends they may be) and yet not been in touch for months, wrote “I have some how taken away from your blog the idea that you were doing OK. It seemed like you were coping.”

This had led to much introspection on my part. There are many things to consider, such as, am I coping? The answer, of course, is yes, though I am not entirely sure I know what ‘not coping’ would entail. I suspect it would involve following some of my (at times overwhelming) impulses to simply run away (though where would I go?), or hide under the duvet and cry all day. Life drags me forward – there are children to love, feed and dress, money to be earned to pay the rent, meals to be cooked and eaten. More than this, I have not stopped appreciating beauty, or joy – in fact, my awareness remains if anything slightly heightened.

None of this, however, takes away from that fact that for months, my husband Clive and I have felt stretched past breaking point. Constantly on the edge of snapping, feeling like the smallest thing will tip us from just-about-barely-managing to simply falling apart, yet each month the pressures only grow. Still we hold on, stubbornly, because we have to. We are coping – but always only just, and sometimes (because of another loss, or another night spent tossing with nightmares, or just because the kids woke up every hour during the night and we still have to be up not long after 6am for work), a little less than that. Being on a different continent to any family support, and having few friends close by, means a very distant support network that is of no practical (though huge emotional) value.

The next topic for consideration is that raised by WritingMS – why do I put a bright spin on things so often, not just in my blog, but in my conversations too? There are numerous factors to take into account here. Firstly I have allowed, to some extent, the pressure to always ‘look on the bright side’ (as people never tire of saying) to influence me, because I know that if I say I’m having a hard time, people’s responses will inevitably be to remember to be grateful for what I have, or look for the silver lining. By doing that myself, I am pre-empting their response, and feel more empowered (and besides, that way I don’t have to simper ‘I’ll try, thank you’ to their well-intentioned but oft-heard advice). I have also for many years worked very hard to always remember the positives in my life, to counteract the intensely negative outlook of my teenage years. It has been an active and conscious process, which has in many ways been a huge benefit to me.

One outcome, however, has clearly been that I have failed to convey the depth of my sorrow, anger, and despair. Another may be that I haven’t given myself enough room to simply be miserable (although not sharing the misery as fully as I had intended doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there). Either way, a new door has been opened, through which I am tentatively poking my head occasionally to get a different perspective on myself. We’ll see how the journey goes from here…

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15 thoughts on “Expressing Pain

  1. …sigh! That’s better.
    The truth is that nothing necessarily helps in any kind of a way that one could predict. Sometimes literally stamping your foot, raising your fists in the air and shouting “Everything Sucks!” is just about the most productive thing you can do. Sometimes it flips into the comical and that helps too. You don’t need to know what you’re doing at the time or why, if it’s loyal to your feelings, then you’ll be lightened. Surely? Or perhaps it’s that nothing helps. And everything helps.
    Your writing is beautiful, your thinking is beautiful, your ways are beautiful. It all helps.
    Well done and thank you.

  2. Hi Laurel,
    Thanks for this post. I, too, have blogged about grief and have been interested in observing the infrequent responses and usual silence from friends. I think people are uncomfortable with deep, raw, pain. And, of course, it’s complex, worth exploring here the way you have so sensitively. I choose to think that showing our vulnerability — opting to be present to the “and-ness” — of life…. Beauty and Pain, etc.,… allows others to move towards similar authentic ways of being.

    I’ve often been in awe of those who grieve whilst parenting (especially young) children. It must be unbearable. I’m so sorry that your mother died. So sudden, unexpected, unfair, awful. Thank you for writing about your experiences. You are heard.
    ~Ruth

    1. Dear Ruth, thank you so much for stopping by, and sharing your thoughts, compassion and experiences. Your blog looks like it will be interesting to explore. I certainly agree that many people are uncomfortable with pain, and it’s expression – I suppose this is simply a fact that needs to be accepted, so that it may not be so unexpected and hurtful, but rather worked with gently. We all need emotional education 🙂

  3. I, too, found WritingMS’ comment interesting and thought-provoking and thought her disclaimer absolutely spot on. I hope you continue to share your experiences as you poke your head through the door and maybe walk through. You do write beautifully and have much of value to say.

  4. It’s a curious thing that people – often ones friends – emotionally move away when one needs them most. I’ve experienced a few relatives do the same, over the years.

    I’d never, I hope, be one to say to a person who is grieving, that they should pick themselves up and look on the bright side. There are always times when the grieving lessens just a touch to let other things through, but generally it’s a hard ride. (I lost my mother over twenty years ago and still remember the pain. Doubt I’ll ever forget.) All you can do is travel your own path in whatever way is right for you.

    1. Yes – I have observed before that neediness in any form seems to send people running, and it is when one displays confidence and self-reliance that they gather round. One of the little ironies of humanity.

      Thank you for the support.

  5. I have found that expressing the depths of grief can make people around me uncomfortable. I have held back much of my grief to friends out of fear of being misunderstood, but at times, I find myself sobbing in crowds. It’s strange. I don’t have much to say except I understand on many levels.

    I like this quote:

    “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” -William Shakespeare, Macbeth

    1. Always a new reason to love Shakespeare. Thank you for sharing that.

      I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you continue to find new ways to give your grief words.

    2. It is a beautiful quote which I came across for the first time not too long ago; thank you so much for sharing it. It is interesting how one can express emotion much more freely with strangers sometimes! I hope you have found, or can find, understanding and support around you (or online). Thank you for reading, and sharing, and empathising.

  6. Back again after a few days without internet and I was glad to find a little of your thoughts here. When I try to work out who has been really available for me when I felt like I needed them, I come up against a very short list. Sometimes I wonder if that is a reflection of me – whether I am not that worthwhile as a friend – but reading of how many people go through the same experieince of being left so alone is reassuring. Now even months later, it is consistently strangers or new friends who offer comfort whereas old friends have long forgotten that they were trying to remember to be supportive..
    In the last week I have had some days that also left me wanting an out whilst also knowing there is no emergency exit button. I keep trying to give myself permission to think, to question, to unpack but also to fall apart with no spin or gloss because sometimes I really need to.

    1. Hello dear, sorry it has taken me a few days to catch up on comments! It is so reassuring to see our experiences mirrored in others, and take some of the pressure and blame off ourselves. It has been interesting how you and I have gone through various phases of acceptance and anger at feeling let down by friends, shifting with time, then repeating. Hugs xx

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