Like all of you, I have suffered. I do not contend that my suffering has been any more or less painful than your’s. Having come to the other side of my experience, I believe that persons are healed through relationships, through the sharing of our suffering. Let me explain.
It is 1989. To an outsider, my life would have appeared pretty darn good. Happily married, steadily making progress towards tenure at Vanderbilt University, writing my dissertation for a doctorate in psychiatric nursing, our children doing well in their lives. But deep within, a darkness began to consume me. I entered psychotherapy, but continued in a downward spiral. After numerous hospitalizations, medications, more therapy, and two courses of electroconvulsive therapy, I had periodic episodes of marginal functioning, but remained depressed.
Scientists and clinicians know from trauma theory that someone begins to heal, both neurophysiologically and psychologically, once they are able to put into words the painful memories and feelings that have been trapped in their heads and in their hearts. And to share the story. To be able to break the silence and shame with someone helps people heal. In 2004, I began to heal when I was able to speak some truths about my life with my therapist, then my husband, then others. I continue to heal by sharing my experience with you.
I was sustained all those years by important relationships. My husband was there every step of the way. My church family came to the hospital to feed me with the bread and cup. One morning as I lay in a fetal position in the hospital, my psychiatrist didn’t ask how I was doing. That was fairly obvious – not very well. Rather, he sat quietly with me and held my hand. As he got up to leave, he said, “Fern, I know you don’t believe it now, but I believe deeply that you will make a lasting recovery one day.” His hope sustained me that day, and in the days and months to come. A friend brought “feminine hygiene products” to the hospital. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Today, for the first time in many years, I feel whole.
As human beings, we can all relate to the experience of suffering. Grief is grief. Hopelessness is hopelessness. I believe we care for our fellow human being because we ARE that being. William Blaine-Wallace, a chaplain who has worked in hospice care, writes that “there is resonance and resilience of the human spirit” that comes from people being connected to others through the experience of suffering. People find that they are more alike than unlike another, and are more empathetic and connected. Wallace emphasizes that interdependent hearts heal and are healed.
Looking back, I see that many shared my suffering. The people in my life were with me during the flight from my demons, promising they would not desert me. I believe that it was the strength that emanated from their sharing my burden that ultimately put me in the position that I could speak my truth.
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