The loneliness is thick. It wraps around you and somehow holds you still. The silence is heavy. People don’t know what to say or what to do. They can’t imagine being in your situation, so they go quiet.
Your situation…the sucker punch to the gut. Out of nowhere. One day everything was moving at the normal, hectic pace and the next thing you know, you hear words that change everything.
A diagnosis. A life-altering event. News about a loved one that truly takes your breath away — in a bad way. A sucker punch to the gut.
What do you do? Fall head first into the rabbit hole of fears and anxiety? Get to your knees and pray? Come out swinging, filled with rage? All three?
Part of me turned off in the beginning. The feelings part…and my brain went into overdrive. Learn everything. Read everything. Question everything. But don’t feel. If I start to feel, I will head into that rabbit hole and I can’t let him see. Be strong for him. Learn with him. Be there for him.
I didn’t do the rage thing. Just not in me.
But I did drop to my knees and prayed for help, continually asking for strength and clarity. I remember attending Mass one Sunday when I was feeling so overwhelmed it was hard to breathe. I cannot tell you a single word that was spoken, a single hymn that was sung. I went through the motions but for the entire service, I said, “Help me," over and over again in my head.
Our life has changed.
Recently, a dear friend said to me, “I feel like the hammer could drop at any minute…because we haven’t gone through a really hard time in our life yet.”
Now that we are quickly approaching our fifties, this struck me as an odd thing to say. I’ve known him for well over 20 years and I can tell you, he and his family have had their fair share of challenges.
But he has forgotten. His lens is so focused on my family’s experience, that he has forgotten that he’s made it through his own hard times. He is looking at his life at this moment in time, and comparing it to mine, thinking “my life hasn’t had a challenge like theirs”. But it is not true.
All of us have trials in our life; a sucker punch moment, or two… or three. Some of us feel like the sucker punches come on a weekly basis. Yet many people look at my family situation and put a heavier weight on what we are going through, than the challenges they are facing or have faced in the past. They feel like they can’t relate to us. They think we are so much stronger, or more resilient than they are. They are wrong.
Just sitting here thinking about my family and friends, I can list some of their challenges:
A child with cancer…A sibling with cancer…A parent with cancer…Dementia…Autism
Depression…Alcoholism…Anxiety…Life altering food allergies…Stroke…Heart disease…Loss of a parent…Caring for parents who are physically or mentally declining…
This is life. Real life. There are challenges with any one of these diagnoses and the individuals facing these hardships show strength and resiliency every day. Each and every day.
No, you do not know what I am going through. And I don’t know what you’ve endured, but we are not different. I think, instead of watching from afar, through a hyper-focused lens of each other’s difficulties, we should go through this messy, scary, ever-changing life together. With each other, and alongside one another. Knowing that life could, and does, “Drop the hammer” at any time.
I often hear from friends, “I shouldn’t be complaining about [insert problem] to you, because it’s nothing like what you are going through”. This is heartbreaking, and makes me feel even more alone. Please, please do not belittle your challenges for my benefit. What is happening in your life is important. Your feelings and your experiences are important, simply because you are important and I care about what is happening to you. There is no comparison.
Let me say that again. There should be no comparison because we should not compare.
So many of us feel a sense of disloyalty if we share the challenges we are facing with others. We want to shield ourselves and our loved ones from judgement by keeping private matters, private. But are we doing this out of a sense of loyalty or pride? Are we choosing to keep that heavy weight on our shoulders for those we are caring for, or for ourselves? Doesn’t that weight seem to get heavier with each and every day?
I understand you may not want the entire world to know what you are dealing with (so don’t start a blog about your life), but I think all of us need to surround ourselves with people who unconditionally support us. People you trust and love and who trust and love you. People who will not judge you. Be open with those people. Share your life with them.
Some may think “Oh well, misery loves company," but I hate that saying. It’s not like we are going to sit around moaning about the challenges of our life. No! We are shedding light on what our life is really like. It’s not misery we are sharing….it’s unburdening. It’s shattering the Facebook perfectionism of the family unit and realizing there is no comparison in any of our journeys and there never should be.
Instead of comparing, let’s share.
Share the struggles.
Share the challenges.
Share in order to find our strength, our resiliency.
By sharing, the weight you are carrying may lessen. You may begin to realize that although the details of our situations are different, our feelings are very much the same.
The heartache. The exhaustion. The worry. The exasperation. The sucker punch to the gut.
There is so much loneliness in a diagnosis, any diagnosis. There is a singularity in your experience that makes you feel adrift, alone. Even those of us with the same diagnoses, have differences. But I believe if you share those parts of your life, you will find similarities with others and camaraderie.
And as you share with each other, listen. Be in that moment for each other. Then, you should hold on to your friend’s burden for a few minutes. Don’t let it weigh you down, but feel it for them, just for a bit. Then, let it go. Let it go with a prayer or a hope for your friend. Help each other unburden.
There is no reason why my son got sick with a virus and ended up with three life-long diseases. But dealing with life’s sucker punches has strengthened me, time after time. I am not more resilient than anyone else. I do not have super strength.
Instead, I’ve chosen to share my challenges and my fears. The weight on my shoulders feels a bit lighter each time I unburden myself. And as I listen to my friends’ struggles, I see similarities in what we are all experiencing. Selfishly, I don’t feel so alone.
I will never understand why our life changed. Instead of constantly questioning it, I try to accept it. All of it. And I have decided to unburden myself. After all, this is my messy, scary and ever-changing life and I have some amazing people who are willing to share it with me.