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We Shouldn't Have to Experience Each Other's Pain to Be Supportive

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As a child we imagine how our life will be when we grow up. We have our visions, dreams, hopes, and goals. We are determined to make something of ourselves. Determined to not let the ugly parts of life’s experiences stifle us. Determined to be more than the scars on our skin. Determined to be bigger than our fears. But then sometimes life happens in a way we weren’t prepared to handle. Whether it happened at such a young age that you really can’t ever get over it, or as you grew you faced different experiences that shaped your inner person, these experiences may have shaped you  for good as you were determined to not repeat the cycle.

But there are some experiences that, no matter how far you think you’ve run away from them, you turn around to see the shadows of the past lurking right behind you. Sometimes you’ve been so strong for so long that when you finally let your guard down to the raw and real emotions that you’ve ignored for so long, you find yourself completely weak and now shaken by the reality of what life has done to you. Suddenly you don’t recognize yourself anymore. What happened to the person you fought for years to be? No one told you facing your demons head-on would be so hard. That’s because they aren’t their demons. They simply don’t know how it feels.

There are those who think they have the slightest understanding of how you feel. They imagine themselves in your shoes and think they could do it better. They would be stronger, they wouldn’t break. But they don’t feel your frayed edges coming undone. They wouldn’t complain, but they don’t know how long you’ve been silently strong for. They only see the outside that you’ve allowed them to see when there is so much more below the surface that they can’t see. They have no idea how long you’ve suppressed these emotions that have left you numb for half your life. Now that you’ve decided to feel all the feels you’ve been shaken to your core. No, they can’t understand it, it’s not their emotions to feel. Whatever happened to you is your experience alone and until it happens to them, they won’t ever understand it and you have to be OK with that. Look away, refocus your thoughts, take a break, take a deep breath, whatever you have to do be OK with others not getting it.

arm with words till it happens to you written in black ink

Whether you are struggling with emotional anguish, mental illness, chronic illness, or trying to heal from trauma of the past, if they aren’t wearing your shoes, they aren’t going to understand the blisters those shoes have caused. And you don’t want them to feel the pain from those same blisters, so it’s really OK that they aren’t in your shoes. Their shoes are probably tight enough and you just can’t see it. As I’ve walked along this road showing my bruises from the past, I have come to learn that even I can’t understand what someone else’s pain is like. I thought I could relate to them on a level not many could. But in the end, their pain is theirs alone and not mine. I can try with all my might to understand how they feel, but in the end I may only understand a fraction of how they feel. And even if I think their situation is worse than mine, or vice versa, really what does that even mean? It means nothing. It means my pain hurts just as bad as their pain hurts them. In the end, instead of comparing our pain and experiences in life as worse or better than one another, why not put that aside and just be there for each other?

The last few weeks have proved to be eye-opening to me in ways that words cannot properly describe. I thought emotional pain would break me. I questioned how would it be possible for me to continue to be strong enough for someone else. I nearly cracked. I envisioned my body like a weak tree that’s died from a harsh winter. How much force could I withstand before I fell to pieces? I shed more tears behind closed doors than anyone could possibly know. Then I realized my pain will always be there until it isn’t anymore. So until then, I will have to feel it. Embrace it. Accept it. But I will put it aside for the needs of others when they need me. And when they don’t need me anymore I’ll allow myself to feel what I need to at that point. But I am not perfect and I am going to waiver. I may crumble despite my good intentions. So if that happens, I hope you will just support me, love me, guide me. Not judge me. Not tell me I need to be stronger, as I’ve been so strong for so long. If I have given all I have left, don’t assume you would have more. I’m not selfish if I’ve poured myself empty and can’t pour anymore out.

No, I don’t want you to wear my shoes. Let’s just find a way to stop judging, put assumptions aside and simply be there for one another.

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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