Sunday, February 28, 2016

When people don't acknowledge your pain.

This was posted on The Mighty on February 28, 2016. (

Recently, I’ve been trying to be more open about my struggles with depression, particularly about what happened to me last year when a particularly bad bout of depression made life at school a living nightmare and eventually forced me to leave my college home of three years. The hardest thing about opening up has been people’s hesitancy to, well, acknowledge that I had a hard time. It may sound petty and attention-seeking, but it is really painful to finally open up to people and share that I was hurting and have them, well, not really do anything. It makes one question: Do I matter? Is my pain real? Is what I’m going through not hard enough to actually count as a legitimate struggle?

Back when I was still at school, the typical response I got to telling close friends that I was in a bad place would be one of grief and sympathy: “I’m so sorry to hear! I hope things get better! I will pray for you!” But the person would never really ask me about it again. The dirty secret was swept back under the rug in spite of my attempts to be honest about what was going on in hopes of keeping them from spiraling even more out of control due to loneliness. Although I had always been one to invite people to meals, to ask about what was going on in their lives, to listen and offer sympathy, to try and follow up, to write notes of encouragement…I found little of that returned, even in my darkest hours. 

The feeling of being let down by friends added even more pain to what I was already feeling.
Today, thanks to time, treatment, perseverance, and my family’s support, I am doing immensely better and am starting to build a new life again, but the ghosts of those past hurts still come back to haunt me at times while on the road to recovery. For example, when I announced to school friends that I was leaving college due to my ongoing struggle, I only received a few replies acknowledging my choice. I still look back on this from time to time and feel a mixture of heartbreak, betrayal, and rage unwittingly boil up within me. Did they not care that I had to give up my life there because of this awful pain I never asked for? When friends contacted me out of the blue after months of silence, saying they missed me but never really addressing why I had left, I would write back pleasant replies, part of me sorely missing their companionship, but also another part of me wondering what had took them so long to say something and how they could just act like nothing had happened.

Tonight, as that bitter taste of disappointment, hurt, and anger once again linger in my mouth, I want so much to move past this old wound, but it hit too close to the heart. I wish I had answers on how to deal with this hurt that is a common thread through many people’s stories, but I don’t. I guess some just don’t know what to do with other people’s pain, particularly if they can’t relate to it. People feel uncomfortable not knowing what to do with others’ hurt, so they just say or do nothing. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget to check up on others. It’s painful to be on the receiving end of that though, especially when you are in the darkest time in your life where you really need to just know that someone cares.

For those who have survived tough times and are on the path to recovery or are recovered, know that you are a survivor. It’s sometimes easy to let distance from pain persuade us that maybe what happened wasn’t so bad after all. Or skeptical people make us downplay our courage. You stood through the raging storm and didn’t call it quits. You took the first frightening step to reach out for help. You pulled yourself through the much and mire of bad habits, harmful thought patterns, and old wounds to pick up the pieces, rebuild and reclaim your life, all while grieving the opportunities you lost. You are a warrior, no matter what anybody says (or stays silent about).

If you’re hurting and no one seems to be listening, I hope you can read this (and other stories on this site) and that know you are not alone and there are many people out there who would love to listen, whose heart would break for your pain. You are valuable even if people don’t acknowledge it. If you are feeling pain, it is legitimate and it is awful that you are suffering, even if people don’t say so.
If you know someone who might be hurting or have a friend who reached out to you recently and shared that things weren’t going great, please consider reaching out. Just a “How are things” or “Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you”. Maybe invite them to hang out. If they open up, you don’t have to have answers, just listen and be willing to say “That must be hard” or “I’m really sorry”. You don’t have to make their happiness your responsibility or anything, just let them know you care.

There are a lot of lonely people out there. Let’s show them that someone cares.

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