Throughout my life, I have experienced different trials, but the last few years have proven to be ones of intense suffering. Some have been small: I have anxiety about things such as paying bills or meeting up for coffee with an old friend. Some of it has been physical: the last few years of my life had been marked by chronic pain brought on by a car accident. And some have darkened every aspect of my life: depression and a depleted self-worth after having been assaulted.
My suffering made me draw away from my family and friends; I was afraid of telling them the truth and altering their perception of me, and in some cases I didn’t want to add my burden to an already existing one in their lives.
Many relationships faded and broke because of my withdrawn nature.
It finally took speaking with my sister to put my suffering in perspective and realize that carrying it alone was the worst thing I could do. In an unexpected late night conversation, we opened up to each other about our struggles and the trials that we had faced. I had been completely unaware of hers, so consumed by my own. Our struggles were different, but the shared experience was healing and built perspective not only for each other but for our own suffering.
As sisters, we experienced a mutual outpouring of empathy. Unwillingly, suffering makes you focus inward, but to realize that those around you are suffering provides a paradigm shift. You don’t know the sufferings that other people have, and even the most put together people might be experiencing a trial that is simply invisible to you.
Suffering at its core is a lonely business. Our fallback as a society is to overshare the things that make us look prosperous or glamorous, and to keep our trials to ourselves. However, the truth is that while our problems may vary and are encountered during different seasons of our lives, I don’t think that a single person hasn’t experienced suffering of some kind.
Suffering is made more bearable when we suffer together and express what we are experiencing. We are called to share our suffering with Christ’s on the cross, so why not share it with those around us?
Science would seem to agree. Compassion means “to suffer together,” and studies focused on suffering have begotten scientific proof that this compassion is integral to our survival. Studies have shown that “connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease.”
Compassion as brought on by sharing our experiences of suffering with others connects us. This connection has been shown to be important for our physical, emotional, and mental health.
Keeping suffering to myself has proven to be a bad habit, and it will take time to break it and reset my norm. However, despite its inevitability, at the end of the day suffering seems less daunting and more manageable, knowing that I am not bearing it alone. Furthermore, suffering creates a capacity within us to better empathize with others. Instead of becoming selfish within my own suffering, I can use my wounds to be a conduite of compassion toward others.
So the next time you find yourself suffering alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one. Even if they can’t totally understand your specific situation, they can probably relate to how you’re feeling. And on the days you feel on top of the world, don’t forget about the people who may be silently suffering around you, too. The more we can be compassionate toward one another and lift each other up, the better our world will be.