On Suffering Alone

Today I came across this blog post:  Don’t Struggle Alone.

Now, I’m struggling to find words that summarize my response to a post that seems to want to give a universal message without considering universal experience.   Part of me reacts with condescension:  “You’ve been sick for two months?   Oh honey, please wait until you have over a decade disability and chronic pain under your belt before you try to tell people how much great insight you’ve learned from this ‘season.'”  The other part of me wants to laugh:  “All your many friends are super eager to ‘walk’ with you through your struggle?  Wow, what’s it like to HAVE friends?”

I know that both these responses expose my own prejudices.   I know that my experience with suffering isn’t any more universal than hers.   Yet I can’t kick the feeling that such blithely cheery posts undermine the very real isolation that things like chronic pain and infertility bring with them.

As I’ve mentioned before, it felt like my support network evaporated when I was diagnosed with infertility.   Suddenly, I was struggling very much on my own to find doctors and options that were both helpful and within my belief system.  It’s still an ongoing struggle.   But no one wanted to share it with me.   Family I had relied on my whole life were exasperated by any mention on illness or bad health, telling me that I just needed to “drink more water” or “try harder” to get out of depression.   The few budding friendships I’d made in this new city shriveled up and disappeared as I found previous activities to be more and more difficult with pain.   People at church stopped praying for me, as my “immediate” problem became a “chronic” one.   No one remembered that I was still suffering.   The isolation and the loneliness bred depression which, coupled with my natural introversion, sank me deeper into alone-ness.

Even after a year of being treated for severe depression, that alone-ness remains.   In my experience, human beings – even Christians who pride themselves on their desire to “care for others” – aren’t emotionally equipped to deal with long-term problems.   We are all willing to help people through short-term problems: moving, a new baby, a brief hospital stay, a major injury, etc.  But after about three months, we lose interest in the problems of other people.   We assume that everything is “fixed”, that problems have easy solutions, that a person in chronic pain has learned to deal with it.   We stop caring.

People cared in the short-term when I lost my hearing.   I experienced an outpouring of love, support, generosity, and compassion.    After a few months, however, I was left alone.   Then I was diagnosed with endometriosis and infertility.   No one came running back.   It seemed like I’d used up my compassion-quota among people I knew.   How could I expect more support, especially long-term emotional support, when they’d had enough?   I found it extraordinarily difficult to make new friends.   Who wants to start a new relationship with someone who is already a burden?   Best leave her alone, to suffer alone.   And infertility…the epitome of loneliness, to have an empty womb.

In theological terms, I know I am not alone.   God is with me; and in so far as my suffering is united to the suffering of Jesus, I know it is not purpose-less.   I am suffering in communion with Christ and His saints.   My character is being refined, and His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

In practical terms, though, I am wrestling with this deep jealousy of people like that blogger who “know” what it’s like to have a community of support.   I’m jealous of the extroverts who remain popular even when they’re sick, who can garner love and compassion without any effort.   I’m jealous of the people who suffer and are cared for, who have doctors who acknowledge their suffering, families who rally around them, communities and churches who care deeply for their well-being.   I’d love to be one of them, to feel like I have people in my life who love my husband and myself despite our neediness right now.   I’d love to NOT struggle alone; but sometimes we are not given that choice.


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