The last couple of months have been challenging because I live with chronic migraine. My health dictates what I can and cannot do.
I have to limit how much I work, my exposure to noise, light, stress, and wine (oh, sweet heavens not the wine, too!). But in the ways that it has limited me, it has taught me so very much.
What I have learned from my illness is that people are uncomfortable around hurting.
It is so anxiety producing that the first thing a person grasps is to try to fix the dysfunction.
We are not taught how to bear witness to suffering. We have not learned that our kind and loving presence is enough (it is). If we cannot fix it then we don't know what to do with ourselves.
It feels like actual help when we toss off a recommendation, “Have you had enough water?” or “Did you try X, Y, or Z?” What do I know, what have I experienced that might help? Surely more information is needed! Perhaps I hold the key to help this person! Our suggestions alleviate the anxiety we feel. The certainty of giving a suggestion feels so much better, doesn’t it? Wrapping up a problem with a bow feels so good! “Just try this one weird trick!”
But what I have learned is this: those who suffer are the experts in their own pain. Wide awake at 3 am on the 10th page of Google we pull together all the fragments and try to stitch together what makes sense. It is amazing how knowledgeable we become on the nature of our suffering whether that be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
You are an expert in your own pain.
And as an expert in your pain you probably know far more than those attempting to help. As an expert in your pain you require something other than a suggestion or recommendation. As the expert, you know exactly what you need.
What broken heads or hearts need is emotion, action, and presence. Perhaps a trip to the grocery store, or run a load of laundry, or swoop in with a diet-busting gallon sized container of chocolate-chocolate fudge. But first, the most important thing to say to your beloved one hurting is this:
How can I help?
This question changes the dynamic. We lay ourselves down as servants to the afflicted, we hold space for them. Leaving room for uncertainty, for endurance, for patience and for faith that cannot yet see relief is massively hard. And even if we do have a reason or cure, it does not always heal the wound, the heart, the spirit.
I do not believe in noble suffering. I am no martyr. Pain is ugly. Pain is hard. Pain challenges who we are. Pain can strip us of our humanity bit by bit. But, pain can be eased somewhat by asking four words: how can I help?
As a reader, I am no expert to your pain, you are. What I wish to be is a servant to what hurts, what feels broken, to hold that space to strengthen your resolve, your focus and to support your coping.
As Ram Dass famously said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
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