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Suffering in Silence

I am an extrovert. An external processor. An experience-sharer.

I deeply value authenticity. I generally welcome the shared human experience, even when it is painful and messy.

If it is your pain and suffering, I will sit with you in it. I don’t want you to be alone.

When it’s my pain and my mess, I suffer alone, in silence. Because I don’t want to bother you …?

If I had taken an online quiz about how I imagined I would show up in the midst of life’s deepest pain, I would have ticked all the boxes that pointed to reaching out for support: throwing myself into my husband’s arms for comfort, calling a friend so I didn’t have to face the news alone, making sure I was surrounded by people who love me in life’s hardest moments.

When I was a kid, I always went to my cat (aka best friend) and cried in her fur. What made me think I would act differently as an adult? Naturally, I would go to my closest peeps. Oh, wait. I still cry into my cat’s fur.

The first major experience of suffering in silence was when my dad died.

My husband, Judah, and I were in bed together. It was the middle of the night when my mom called to tell me the news.

Instead of snuggling over toward the human who loved me for support, I rose out of bed like a robot and zombie-walked into a room on the other side of the house. In the dark. By myself.

I didn’t even tell Judah what happened. I can see now that I was likely in shock. But still. I walked away from comfort and support. Not a peep. Tears would come, but initially, silence.

Fast forward almost eight years. Judah and I faced a total surprise when I peed on a stick and all signs pointed to “pregnant”.

We hadn’t been trying.

The next day we got on a plane to visit his family for Christmas.

Seven days later, back in our home, we were barely starting to wrap our heads around the perceived realities of what this all might mean when I started spotting.

This happens sometimes. Nothing to get worried about yet.

I woke up in the middle of the night with pretty intense abdominal cramps. I made my way to the bathroom where I spent two or three hours by myself, writhing in pain. The most intense pain I had ever felt. Judah was mere steps away, blissfully unaware in a state of sweet slumber. I didn’t yell for him. I didn’t want to disturb him. I wasn’t totally sure what was happening while being acutely aware I must be having a miscarriage.

I may have moaned. May have shed some tears. But mostly I shifted my body around in silence, praying for relief.

Fast forward a year and a half. It was the middle of the night …

No, it is not lost on me that the worst things happen in the middle of the night. Why is that?!

I was laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, when I felt a strange movement in my abdomen which was followed by acute pain. I made my way to the bathroom (again) where I spent two or three hours by myself (again), writhing in pain (again). Pain on par with the miscarriage. Judah, mere steps away, blissfully unaware, sweet slumber sleep. You’d think I would have learned something by now.

And maybe I have. Or maybe I still need to. It seems my assumption is that I’m supposed to go to others when I’m in pain. Maybe I need to accept that, on some primal level, that’s not how I’m wired. I’ve often noted that I wouldn’t have survived in the wild. My arthritic knees would have made me slower and thus food for a lion. I’ve told Judah that if we ever face the end of the world, he should just shoot me and eat me. That is my contribution.

Well, that took a turn.

So, I spent hours in the bathroom alone and only brought Judah up to speed when it was clear I needed to go to the emergency room. Turns out, I had a kidney stone (the first in my entire life) that was stuck in my ureter, blocking the flow of urine and inviting a cute infection to manifest in my body.

What’s the deal? Why am I so willing to sit with others in their pain but my default seems to be to suffer in silence?

Don’t go trying to blame Judah either. Every time I have woken him up from his blissful ignorance, he has shown up. He has come out of a deep sleep and into focused action. He has been tender and responsive, never once even insinuating that perhaps it isn’t “that bad”. We’ve been to the emergency room three times for me (the third time I ended up needing to have my appendix taken out). Each time, I wasn’t totally certain that’s what needed to happen but I couldn’t seem to get my body to stop hurting. Each time, he was instantly on board, supportive, and sat in silence with me as I endured pain that left me speechless.

Is it a normal human reaction to self-isolate in the midst of deep pain? Is it only in movies that people turn to one another for solace in the moment of crisis? Have I bought into a lie and judged myself accordingly?

If you have lost someone you loved or experienced deep emotional or physical pain, how did you respond? If you could imagine it, what would you do?

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