Anyone with Fibromyalgia, CFS, depression or chronic pain will tell you that this is not necessarily a fun question to hear. It is often a flippant question, given as an opening to something else or in passing. Anyone who suffers on a daily basis know that most people aren’t really interested in the truth, they are just making conversation. In my work with chronic pain patients this often comes up – the feelings of loneliness and misunderstanding. It’s often easier just to say, “fine”, no matter how you feel. No stable person wants to be a burden. Few people are willing to listen if you really need to talk, anyway.
Fine – F**ked up, insecure, neurotic, emotional. Ya, I’m fine.
Of course there are those people who love to hear your problems. They practice what I like to refer to as, “amateur psychology hour”. They have all kinds of advice for you. They also love to compare. Sure you may have a chronic back problem but they have a sore back too and they still go to work. You look fine, so you should be fine. They read an article, or watched Doctor Phil (before he blew it on Twitter last week) and they know how to help you. Just walk more. See their naturopath. Read this or that book or website. Sleep without any underwear facing east (actual advice). Why are you still depressed? Don’t you want to get better? You have too many metals in your system. Oprah talked about your problem just last week. Stop whining. Look on the bright side. Don’t you know other people have it worse off than you? Count your blessings.
Thanks for that. It really helps.
It’s not that the aforementioned advice can’t be helpful. Clichés are popular because they contain an element of truth. Your attitude really does, sometimes and in some ways, determine your altitude. If you change your mind your really will change your life. The problem is timing. If you are so depressed you cannot get out of bed, going for a half hour walk or praying for an hour may not be helpful advice. Eating more kale probably is a good idea but won’t cure your chronic pain. Dieting is a good thing but sometimes you have other issues screaming for your attention. It’s important to recognize that making grandiose prescriptions for other people’s problems isn’t always helpful or appreciated.
Mother Teresa was once asked: “Why do you give them fish to eat? Why don’t you give them a rod to catch the fish?” She responded: “But my people can’t even stand. They’re sick, crippled, demented. When I have given them fish to eat and they can stand, I’ll turn them over and you give them the rod to catch the fish!” Profound words. No one knows what you are going through today. You may get all the best advice in the world but you still can’t stand. Great words are only helpful if you are able to hear them through the fog.
Years ago, when my life fell apart, I heard hundreds of pieces of advice but I could not receive them. What did matter, however, were those who climbed down into my pit and cried with me, fed me, hugged me, and loved my kids. All the best counsel in the world wasn’t as important as a casserole, or a coffee, or a gift for my boys. It didn’t matter if other people had it worse, I could barely cope with what I had.
“It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give… We have nothing but our freedom. I have nothing to give you but your own freedom. If it is the future you seek, then I tell you that you must come to it. You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.”
Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed