Sit in the Suck
Last year ended and this year began…crappy. From Christmas on someone has been sick in our home and for the last 12 days it has been me. And not like runny nose, cough, push through sick, but an excruciating and debilitating ear infection that landed me flat on my back for a good 10 days and had me going from urgent cares, to doctors, to the ER seeking relief.. and it sucked.
The other night as I held a warm pack to my ear and tried to distract myself as I counted down the minutes till my next Ibuprofen popping session, I inevitably found myself scrolling social media. Most people were sharing happy, festive photos with their able bodies out skiing, hiking, or vacationing somewhere warm. This only slightly annoyed me as it also helped to remind me that my body would again work one day and I could have fun too.
Then there were also posts of friends spending the holidays in the hospital with their babies. Two people I follow lost their spouses in the same week having had winter illnesses be the end to their long, hard fought battles. One friend was processing his wife not being alive to enjoy the holidays with him and his kids, and another friend was sharing her journey through the loss of her newborn baby. Another was shaving her head after being diagnosed with cancer.
“My God,” I thought. “It is so hard. It is all so freaking hard. Being a human is so freaking hard.” I was inspired by these people sharing their realities instead of only the picture perfect images we are used to seeing. I even considered posting a picture of myself to offer camaraderie to anyone also lying in bed sick while it felt like the world was going on without them, but I couldn’t find a good enough filter. Just kidding, kind of.
I recently heard the term “toxic positivity.” It’s the idea, common especially amongst Americans, that we have to be positive, optimistic, soldiering on, nose to the grindstone, keep your chin up, tally ho! type individuals. I don’t know if “tally ho!” Is actually fitting there, but you get the idea. We have to find the meaning, and come out a better person from our struggles right? We have to keep a good attitude, keep the faith, and never get down hearted right? But what if we just survive and that is enough?
I have felt no purpose to some of the pain I have experienced in my life. For instance this sickness didn’t help me to appreciate my health more, I have learned that enough times already. It didn’t make me more sympathetic to those with chronic pain as I already gained that sympathy watching my mother suffer. I didn’t learn how strong I was or feel proud of how I handled severe pain, it just sucked. And as I am finally getting better the only thing I’m thankful for is that it is almost over. Not that happened, not for anything I learned, just that it’s freaking over.
Now I know some of this contradicts previous writings as I am someone who has found meaning in the hardships of my life, but I guess I just want to allow permission to myself and anyone reading this, if you aren’t gaining a lesson right now, if you’re are just surviving some shit—that’s ok too. It is enough to just survive. Sometimes it is too much to seek the meaning, hold the smile, find the reasoning, and fight the good fight. Sometimes it’s just hard, and the lessons are not worth the loss.
I believe hardships in our lives do make us who we are and that those of us who have been through some big ones are part of a group that allows you to understand and relate to the pain of others in a new way. I also know most of us would leave the group and the lessons behind if we could regain what we’ve lost. Hard is hard and you do not need to show me how good you are at handling it. Nor how positive you can stay, or even how hopeful.
You are allowed to sit in the suck and feel the feels exactly as they come. Then maybe if you do, when you come out they won’t follow you, at least not so closely. And let us remember this when someone is showing us their hard and in that moment they don’t feel strong. Let us be safe places that do not brush aside the real hurt because it makes us uncomfortable and then offer well-meaning, but often unhelpful phrases like, “it will all be okay,” or “everything happens for a reason.” Let us sit with them in the suck for a moment and allow their pain to be seen. When they’re ready to keep going, they will, because that's what us humans do.