On the Other Side of It
On and off through my life, there've been periods where my pain levels were so high they coloured everything, lent a patina to everything I said, everything I did, sometimes a smudgy grey film, at other times, a blinding scream and when you're inside of that, there is no stepping to the side to get perspective. There is just somehow getting through it and it can be the loneliest feeling in the world. The people who love you will try to support you, will try to listen as you talk about the pain - because it's hard to talk about anything else - but it is one of those moments I spoke of in my last post where you are completely alone, as alone as we are in death. Your loved ones can stand by, can hold your hand, but ultimately, it’s not an experience that can be shared. There is only you and the pain and whether you get through it with your sanity intact and sometimes, that's doubtful.
A long time after my big flare - sometimes, I think I should capitalize that, it's become such a reference point for so much of what I have learned and lord knows, I link to it often enough - I posted about the experience and about getting my life back and Steph left a comment saying that it was hard to watch.
And this is how self-absorbed you become in that place. It had never occurred to me that this hard time of mine had been hard on others, too. Well, that's not entirely true - of course I knew that the people who cared about me wanted more than anything to take the pain away, because they said so. They told me they wished they could take the pain and carry it for me, even for a day - to which I usually replied that so did I - but the pain was so loud that I couldn't see their experience.
They gave me love, they helped me with practical things, they listened to me talk about the pain a lot, because when you're in that place, talking about it helps, somehow reduces the misery and mystery of it as little. Sharing makes it easier, give you the illusion that for those minutes where someone listens to you or holds you, you are not alone, that they do indeed carry it a little and it is only after that you realize again that no one can. That the only people who truly understand are people who have been in this much pain, that these are the people with whom you can be truly honest, truly show the darkness, because people who are not in pain can get scared by how black it gets and because you love them, you want to shield them from the full experience. But people who’ve been there? Who are there? They know and it doesn't frighten them.
I'm thinking of this for two reasons. One was a post on HealthCentral from someone in such deep despair that death seemed a viable option. She's better now, in large part because she went off the medication that seem to cause this depression, but also because she could be completely honest on the site in a way she couldn't with her loved ones, because they couldn't truly understand. But most of all, I am thinking of this because of a post Beth wrote on Monday about her pain, her experience with the pain and how deep into primal it can go. And it doesn't frighten me to read about her pain – I can hack hearing about pain and besides, if she can live through it, I can certainly hear it - but it frightens me for her and I find myself on the other side of it, knowing how the people in my life felt. Knowing the helplessness, the deep desire to take her pain, if even for a day, because sometimes, a breather can get you a little ahead in the coping. And it feels like such a little thing, such a trite cliché to tell my friend that I wish I could take the pain for her and carry it for a while, because I can't. I would, in a heartbeat, but I can't and seeing a person I love forced to be alone in a place of torture when I am (metaphorically) standing right next to her, willing to help, wanting more than anything to help, wanting to wrap myself around her, somehow absorbing the pain through physical contact, but unable to bridge the gap and be of use, unable to give her room to breathe. Being able to do nothing but bear witness, to tell her that I am here and what the hell good is that?
Steph was right.