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Nov12
2015

Believe Us When We Say We’re Hurting

By Sammy Nickalls

“Smile! There are people in worse pain than you.”

Would you say that to your loved one suffering from diabetes, fibromyalgia, or chemo treatments for their cancer? Would you say that to a friend who was crying out in pain after breaking their leg? Or to someone who is recovering from a devastating car accident?

No, you wouldn’t. Why? Because this phrase doesn’t lessen their pain. This concept—that there are select people in the world who are in so much pain that they carry the title of being in “true pain,” while everybody else has to bite their tongue and wince through their own—is completely flawed. It’s as if there’s this collective amount of pain everyone is allowed to experience, and it’s already being used up by others—others whom are never named, who are just assumed to always be there—who are experiencing true pain.

In other words, that phrase completely negates the fact that pain is relative.

My best friend lived in a big, beautiful house. He had a wonderful family and a whole life ahead of him. It would be easy to tell him that “others have it worse” because on the outside, sure, they did. But no one could see the wounds within, the wounds that were too deep, too painful.

He took his life three years ago when he was just 21 years old.

“Others have it worse” is a ridiculous and heartless thing to say to someone in physical pain. Yet, for some reason, people think it’s OK—helpful, even—to say it to someone who is depressed or suffering from a mental illness. This phrase rolls off the tongue, a “remedy” that makes the speaker feel like they’re helping.

But when they cannot see the wounds, they may think they’re bandaging them. In reality, they’re just rubbing salt in them.

The stigma surrounding mental health boils down to one thing: that if pain can’t be measured or seen, it doesn’t exist. People believe that illnesses that cannot be detected with medical equipment can do no harm. But that one dangerous concept has a variety of stealthy disguises.

“Smile! Others have it worse.”

“Your life is great!”

“But you always seem so happy.”

“If you ignore it, it will go away.”

Sentences filled with salt for our wounds.

When someone is suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness, they are internally crying out in pain just as much as someone who broke their arm. The difference is that no one can see it but them, so they live in fear that no one will believe them.

And when you say these harmful phrases, you are proving their fear to be true.

We need to stop inflicting more pain on those who are already quietly bearing so much. Dispelling the stigma surrounding mental health seems overwhelming, but there are ways to do it. Commit to letting others speak about their suffering. Believe them when they say they’re hurting.

And, most importantly, recognize that pain has no limits or bounds.

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Comments (15)

  1. Alysha

    This is what i hate, when you’re feeling depressed and some says that. it doesn’t make you feel any better, just makes you feel worse. It doesn’t change your situation. if someone says that to you it means they don’t have any empathy.

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  2. Stephanie

    So very true.

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  3. Karissa Bailey

    To add to that notion whilst battling with anxiety and depression, I wonder sometimes, Why is it that the degree of depression does not take into account the strength of the afflicted individual, but rather is measured by the gravity of the disease made apparent by the individual? As if those who can’t get out of bed in the morning are worse than those that manage to russle around, swallow that impending doom and go to work anyway. I don’t mean one is stronger than the other in my question, just trying to address that just because the person who forces themselves out of bed, doesn’t mean that the paralysis felt when waking is lesser than the person who stays.

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  4. Anon

    So true. Thank you for so eloquently explaining the subjectivity of pain. This will be a great help in helping people to be more understanding and to help others heal.

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  5. Pingback: Believe Us When We Say We’re Hurting | wenigvielleicht

  6. kelly

    You are an utterly amazing group of people. This hit me right on the head.. I hear that phrase all the time.. I grin and bear it but inside I just want to throat punch everyone who says that.. Is my internal pain any less than someone else’s external pain? Just because I choose to cry alone at night where no one can judge me, doesn’t mean my pain is any less real than someone suffering from a physical illness…. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating #TWLOHA

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  7. Sunshine

    Nobody takes depression or suicide seriously. It doesn’t matter how many times you say it as bluntly as possible, nobody cares.
    I always heard the phrase “even the most unlovable people deserve to be loved”. Well, to many people are busy and not slowing down to see how their loved ones are feeling. Exhausted, lonely, hated, not good enough, a failure, unlovable…ec..ec.. God is good though and I’m gonna continue leaning on him and trusting he will save this…broken, christian, woman from the negative, lonely, feelings inside.

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  8. Liz Williams

    A lovely reflection of an unseen illness & very honest reaction of certain people. Mental illness affects thousands of families & individuals from childhood through to old age. My work as a Befriender with MIND brought me into contact with some lovely people who face prejudice & isolation in the modern world. My friend S whose whole life is her Greyhounds, one who was
    sadly put down last week. ‘They’ have taken away her Support Worker, funding to enable her to continue warm water swimming to ease her skeletal pain, work-outs in the gym – things which made her life bearable. She has responsibility for a severely handicapped, very elderly Mother in sheltered accomodation a five minute car drive from her home & is frequently called out when problems arise in her Mom’s flat. She is attractive, slender – she has a food problem with the aromas, which often prevents her eating or enjoying a balanced diet. This is an intelligent, articulate woman, who has to fight for her basic rights & benefits. Another friend has difficulty with the neighbours, Apparently the flat she has lived in – sometimes – for four years is one of a block with a sinkhole reputation. She came over to Brittany trying to see me as things got so bad for her in Cornwall. I never realised that I, too, suffered from Mental illness of a genetic kind. I am blessed with understanding neighbours & live in a Country which accepts us as we are. The Church could play a large part in supporting these talented & social people whose lives have been devastated for various reasons. Understanding is a rare gift & is badly needed for these suffering souls. Everyone is so supportive here, especially when I was poleaxed by Depression, unable to get out of bed but needing to eat as I’m Diabetic. My Church, as always, turned up trumps & ensured I had enough food, fluid etc. It makes such a difference. Suicide is too often the result of Depression or a sould so badly battered they see no future. When Nick Heiney, Son of Paul & Libby Purves took his life, Libby summed it up beautifully “He stayed as long as he could.”

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  9. Phyllis

    Having spent my childhood and to the present in therapy and facilities for mental health issues, I’m personally tired of hearing others tell me it could be worse, or, someone else is worse off than you. Too many times I have contemplated suicide, even tried a couple times. I’ve been on every psychic med out there, I battle alcohol abuse, my husband has ms and just recently had a leg amputated. I lost my son to suicide a few Years back, I’ve been through a brain anurisium and can no longer work, so I feel stuck and only existing. I put on a brave face and do believe my faith in God will help me survive, but some days I just don’t know. It would be nice if people thought before they spoke but those who have never been there don’t know.

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  10. Rebecca

    I KNOW THE PAIN I LIVE IN SILENCE EVERYDAY I HAVE LOST MANY FREINDS FAMILY BECAUSE OF MY ILLNESS I HAVE LOST SEVERAL FAMILY FROM SUICIDE I JUST LOST MY COUSIN 2WKS AGO ITS HOURABLE BECAUSE ALL WE WANT IS TO BE HEARD AND NOT TREATED LIKE A BURDEN MY COUSIN WAS MY BEST FREIND I MISS HER LAUGHTER AND HER LOVE FOR HER FAMILY SHE ALWAYS CALLED ME BECAUSE I ALSO SUFFER IN SILENCE NOT HEARD AFRAID OF LETTING PEAPLE CLOSE BECAUSE OF BEING HURT IF ONLY I COULD OF BEEN STRONGER FOR MY COUSIN OR LIVING CLOSER IF ONLY MY HEART HURTS EVERYDAY I MISS HER SO MUCH ??

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    1. Claire Biggs

      Hi Rebecca,

      We’re so sorry to hear about your loss and that you’re living in silence right now. We’d love to send some encouragement your way. Please email us at info@twloha.com.

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  11. M

    Can’t tell you how many times those words came out of some of my DOCTOR’S mouths! Once or twice I even got, “I wish all my patients were as healthy as you.” Ya, I’ll bet! Ya make money off all that suffering! I now have chronic illnesses and various physical issues too, compounding depression.

    +Rebecca… I am right there with you suffering in silence! I feel SO guilty that my kids have had to help me with basic tasks and errands and it has worn on them. Eventually, they don’t want to deal with it. They don’t get it entirely and I have lost friends, family, social life, work, the simple pleasures in life. I can’t even handle basics like laundry, cooking, getting the car fixed (or even being able to drive, lately), make phone calls, fill out paperwork or deal with taxes. Basically, anything stressful becomes an overwhelming task. Sorry you are there too.

    What burns me the most is when a friend asks, “what’s going on?” or “how can I help?” I’m honest and tell them the truth… then I never hear from them again. Crickets! One of those friends is even a mental health “professional”! Meanwhile, I’m still here… at the mercy of others… physically can’t do much more than walk to the bathroom… getting nothing accomplished… waiting for time to pass by and hoping I can hang on. I think most people just don’t want to know.

    Much effort is needed to educate people in the art of compassion, listening and to learn how to communicate without judgement.

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  12. Chantal

    The “helpful” phrase I’ve been receiving lately when I share my pain is: “Everyone has something, some pain, some sort of trauma.” All this does is make me feel like even more of a failure. The message my wounded mind recieves is that if others have the pain I have and are not falling to pieces, surely I must be weak and exagerating. “Thanks for the salt, I’ll just go ever in the corner and rub it in a little deeper.”
    Please stop saying this to someone who has the courage to entrust you with their pain, it’s not helping.

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  13. Jessica

    Reply  |  
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