Let’s talk about pain. Let’s get right to it, without overthinking, without feeling sorry or guilty or stupid. Let’s – for once – talk about the thing that scares us the most.
We feel the need to pretend everything is okay, even when it’s not. If anyone asked you a year ago, would you have imagined finding yourself in the middle of a global pandemic? I guess not. So, let me be clear: you don’t need to have your life together. It’s okay to be confused or disoriented, maybe this is the time to take a step back and understand if your life is actually what you want from it. And to do so, for how hard it might be, you may have to start by talking about your pain.
I have an issue with the managing process of my feelings, especially when they are negative. It is because I hate to appear weak, I hate to reveal to people what I really have inside – funny enough, I am a writer and that’s exactly what we are supposed to do – and I detest with every piece of my body to talk about pain (and this is also why I’m writing in a language that is not my mother tongue, just to have at least a bit of a protection filter to my own thoughts). The thing is that it doesn’t matter how you call it, you could say pain, or trouble, or headache, or again having the worst day, being in a bad mood, feeling weird, or even being stressed, and nervous, and overwhelmed. I am 22 and I have spent a great amount of my life “being tired”. Not because I actually wanted to go to bed and sleep, but because it was the perfect excuse, saying that you had a busy day, it’s way easier than sitting down and opening up. We all do it, even if sometimes we don’t realize it.
Pain is mean, and demanding, and it’s a miner that works non-stop against the walls of your restraint. It doesn’t matter how good you’ve become at living with it, it will slither through the leaks and you will lose the strength in your hands, letting all the dishes fall on the ground (fyi, it did happen to me). Because for how hard we tried to hide it, looking closely you could always see it.
This doesn’t mean that everything in life sucks, it means that when something sucks, you are allowed to feel bad.
When I’m in great pain, for instance, my conversations are slow and whispered, I eat in silence, the music is too loud, and I focus my attention on literally everything that is around me. I smile instead of talking, and I answer nodding instead of using my voice. When I’m in great pain, I’m too happy, because I fake it.
And you do know what I’m talking about. You know what are your signals, and you know when you are using them.
THE “JUST STAY POSITIVE” SHIT
We all heard it, at least once in our lifetime, said by a friend, a parent, or said by ourselves to ourselves: we shouldn’t be complaining about whatever problem or adversity we may be currently facing, because “it could be worse, you don’t know what *insert the name of anyone else* is going through and if you stay focused and happy, you’ll be back on your feet in a blink of an eye”. That is true, there are always people feeling worse than us, and yes, the status of my current life could always dramatically decline into the sum of ALL my biggest nightmares, but that doesn’t mean that this situation still doesn’t suck and that my pain is not as valid or equally real.
This is when positivity becomes toxic, when you force yourself to suppress and deny bad feelings and thoughts, just because you don’t recognize or don’t want to face them and what they mean.
The assumption that you should always have only a positive attitude, vibes or mindset implies that negative emotions are bad, ending up denying or minimizing our authentic emotional needs. “Toxic Positivity”, says the psychologist Dr. Jaime Zuckerman “is an avoidance strategy used to push away and invalidate any internal discomfort. But this avoidance or suppression […] leads to increased anxiety, depression and overall worsening of mental health”.
And believe me, it was hard for me to realize it as much as it’s complicated now to admit that maybe I should talk to somebody that actually knows what it’s going on with my mind, and in this case, yes I’m talking about a psychologist or therapist.
The pressure of positivity invalidates us, making us feel inadequate and, as in my case, weak; and at this point, yes again, things can get worse, because shame comes in and it is way more intense and manipulative.
YOU ARE WRONG! But not as you may think.
We are arrogant to think that we alone are able to beat it, we think that with time it’ll simply go away, and we’ll be free to breathe again and that the ununderstood feeling of daze and dizziness, would be something old and long forgotten. But it doesn’t work like that.
So, I say let’s talk about pain. Let’s not pretend for once in our lifetime that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be. Let’s face it, let’s crumble on our knees on the kitchen floor and let it out. Because fake happiness distracts us from what we are going through, it doesn’t give us space to understand and normalize our low moments.
So I start: I had cancer when I was thirteen years old, I lost both my grandpas before I was able to show them my boyfriend and have their opinion about him, I’ve lost every slice of self-esteem I had left during these last months of lockdown and I see no future for my dreams (that maybe were too big for me to begin with), my heart is broken and getting out of the bed in the morning is hard. I’m constantly afraid of not being enough: good enough, pretty enough, even enough in pain to feel what I’m feeling. And the list could be way longer, but that’d be another reason to never show this piece to any breathing creature, so I just shut up here. Now it’s your turn. What is it? What is haunting you today? And if you’re not ready to talk, I get it.
Someone told me that small pains are easy to say, but great pains shut your entire body. It’s the hedgehog defense mechanism. We roll into a tight ball, while all our spines point outwards, trying to make the horrible sound of misery in our head stop. Well, it doesn’t. It never does. So, I say that again – more as an attempt of convincing my soul to absorb this belief than as a repetition to you – because feeling in pain is not a disease and we shouldn’t even have the chance to blame ourselves for whatever is happening in our life.
Let’s talk about what we can’t talk about. Let’s be brave enough to love who we are not only when we are happy and loved, but when we are broken, on the verge of giving up, and let’s be brave enough to listen and understand the pain of the people around us, not to be good, but because it is worth it, because it is what’s better for us, because it helps us figuring out how to deal with what we have inside and because we can’t do it alone, but above all we don’t have to do it alone.
I guess I’m going first, and while I’m sitting here writing on this white page, I’m also sending a text to the people I trust the most.
I can’t breathe. Can we talk about it?
Yes, we can.
- – Elena Marzari