Invisible Problems, Invisible Lives: Suffering Alone in the Modern World

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When you feel awful, truly terrible, whether it be from illness, emotional turmoil, chronic stress, or a multitude of other possible ails that the modern world throws at us, we think it must be pretty obvious to others. How could they not see it, this enormous life-altering experience that we are living in, affecting our every movement and making every step a hardship, a pain to endure? When you live in suffering it is so all-consuming that it feels like a beacon is flashing a warning of its existence out to every human in our path. It is huge. And it is unmissable.

So why aren’t those humans around us giving us the support, the empathy and the constant help that we need to survive our problems? What it comes down to is this: most of our problems are invisible. Unless your leg is hanging off, a gun is pointed in your direction, or you’re been found by a co-worker hugging your knees in convulsed sobs, it’s pretty likely that our problem is not immediately noticeable to the naked eye, and therefore when we come into contact with a great many people, not one will see the turmoil that we’re in, the pain and the suffering that lies beneath the surface.

“You’re looking so well”, is the most common greeting I receive at the moment. After a year of being severely underweight and a bright orange colour due to liver problems, the way I look at the moment (slightly fleshier and now a reduced pastel yellow hue) is signifying to people that I am “well” again. And every time someone says it, every time I am congratulated for “getting better” and “finding a cure”, I wither and choke and bubble with anger inside.

Because the truth is I am not better, I am not well, and I’m not ok. I get so angry because they can not see it, this pain and this anguish and the long road ahead that I still need to tread on my path to recovery. So they walk away, none the wiser to the storm they have created inside another being, and I watch them leave with frustration and the kind of residual bad feeling that makes me want to disassociate myself from these people I thought of as friends.

And then I realised my mistake. One simple but enormous shift in my perception has taken all that anger away, all that blame and impatience. It boils down to this: Some people just plain don’t understand. Some people don’t want to understand. Some people are scared that they can not understand. And some really do, they really want to understand, they just don’t have the language or the reference points or the expression to let you know that they care and they’re there for you. It might take a while to figure out which people are which in the greater scheme of things, but my reaction to anyone now, anyone at all, is the same:

My problem is invisible. They can not see my pain. If I want them to understand it I can share it with them. But in the meantime, they mean no harm. They genuinely believe they are being helpful or nice or supportive or congratulatory. They don’t know any different. And you can’t blame an innocent. Reacting with anger and resentment to other beings can only do harm, and carrying these feelings around is a heavy and tiresome burden.

I thought I was being too passive, and too giving to others by being thankful for their well wishing. But there is a decent line between taking it, and taking it into account. It’s not all I can do to smile and say thanks; it’s an awful lot that I do smile, I do say thanks, and I then choose to share my truth. It’s an awful lot more to feel the power of not telling it, if that’s what I choose. If I know it will not be received well, it is more powerful for me to keep myself together and not loose a part of myself to anger than it would have been to tell all and feel misunderstood.

But the most amazing thing of all is the surprise. The utter shock and delight and true comfort that comes from finding out that most people, most other beings with their well wishing and slaps on the back and misplaced congratulations, are able and willing to listen to your truth, to see what had previously been invisible. Because they have just as much hidden in the depths of their smile as you do.

Be free health seekers, be strong and wise 🙂

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