Last night, it was Friday night in my part of the world, and by 8pm I was in bed wishing for sleep. It had been a hard fibromyalgia day that started with fatigue after a Thursday with too much packed into it (when will I learn?). That fatigue had progressed into pain as the day went on. While I wanted to stay up later, I had simply had enough of pain, and being alone with it. There is nothing more lonely than being in pain, alone.
I didn’t need anyone to save me from my pain. That would have been nice but I knew it was never going to happen. If they were willing to get me chilled water when I wanted it (I hate room temperature water) that would have been lovely, as getting up and struggling to the kitchen was growing in difficulty. But actually I simply needed someone there who knew I was in pain. And I needed to know that they knew I was in pain.
What I didn’t need is someone to tell me to “get over it“, or “it’s not that bad” or even “everything will be alright tomorrow“. I, like probably most of us, have had those lines thrown at me in the past, and really, none of it helps. In my moments (and longer) of pain I don’t need advice. What I need is compassion and empathy. The person who is able to be with me quietly, resisting the urge to throw me advice or platitudes is the person I want with me.
What I have been talking about so far is chronic physical pain. For me last night, my muscles and joints ached and my skin felt like it was on fire. The bedding resting on my skin was so uncomfortable that I ended up sleeping without it. It’s standard fibro pain. I seriously felt like no one in the world knew how much pain I as in, and how sick of it I was. I felt very lonely. I needed to know that someone else knew, even if they couldn’t remove it.
But this doesn’t just apply to physical pain. It applies just as much to emotional and mental pain. I spent years insisting that I wanted to be alone, but once I was, I couldn’t bear it. Do you know that feeling? Pushing people away, yet really wanting someone to hear and understand… without advice.
Many times in my life I have heard “you made your bed, now lie in it“. Does that sound familiar? It seems that I had made things as they were and I only had myself to blame. Even if that were true, it doesn’t take away my need for care and empathy.
Regularly when I was depressed I believed that I couldn’t bear to be around people. The worst thing was a room full of people, because I would believe that no one knew I was in pain and no one cared. Sometimes I even needed the evidence of a physical scar so that perhaps someone would get the degree of pain I was in. Actually I suspect that sometimes no one did understand or care, because so often people don’t stop to think how those around them feel. But I would go home, and be alone, only to have never felt so alone in my life.
Of course I made that bed for myself too. I convinced myself that I didn’t need anyone and I particularly didn’t need to be in a relationship with anyone. I could even say convincingly that I was happy to be single.
Actually I think that I talked myself into that. I convinced myself that I was better to let no one come near me. When so-called friends judged me once too many times, I convinced myself that I didn’t need them either. All I believed I needed was my cat. The good thing was that she would never hurt me, and if I didn’t let anyone else in, then neither would they.
I’ve changed. I’m not so adamant of my ‘need’ for alone-ness. What’s more I am now prepared to take a few risks in terms of letting people get near. Maybe if I let the right people in, then I am not so alone when I am in pain. I want to be connected to other human beings.
To have someone understand that I am in pain, either physically or mentally, now means the world to me. It’s not that I need sympathy, and I know no one can remove my pain, but simply I am not as alone in the world when someone makes the effort to hear it, and when I let them.
“Few things a doctor does are more important than relieving pain. . . pain is soul destroying. No patient should have to endure intense pain unnecessarily. The quality of mercy is essential to the practice of medicine; here, of all places, it should not be strained.”
― Marcia Angell