Why Must We Suffer Alone?

My post from just two weeks ago, Who I Am and What’s Been Going On, has somehow become my most viewed post of the last 5 years. Friends and family members in 13 countries on 4 continents came to see what has been going on in my life. Frankly, I have been more than a little surprised by the response. Not only did you read my post, but many of you decided to reach out and try to connect with me personally. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Many of you had kind words for me, and words of solidarity. As I read your words, and interacted with so many friends and family members, I realized that as is so often the case, there has been a misunderstanding. I do indeed experience a great amount of loneliness in my life, but I have never believed that I was alone in these feelings.

As a highly empathetic youth, I was always acutely aware of the feelings and emotions of the people around me, whether I knew these people personally or not. As I observed and listened to people at school, church, the park, or just in my neighborhood, I realized that suffering seems to be a universal phenomenon. We all suffer. We have pain that we don’t always express. We smile with our faces, but we cry inside. 

I have written before about my habit of sitting in my bedroom window sill as a teenager. I remember one day being so overcome with the pain of those around me, that I couldn’t help weeping aloud in my window sill as I looked out upon my hometown. Their pain was my pain, and it overwhelmed me to the point where I couldn’t function at all for hours. 

Mission Viejo - View from deck 2
The View from my Bedroom Window Growing Up

To this day, I sometimes wonder when I’m feeling the lows of depression, if it’s really my depression at all. I know that, at least sometimes, I can literally feel the pain of those I interact with. When I write posts about depression or loneliness, I’m not meaning to imply that I’m alone in my condition, or that others have let me down in some way. As I tried to make clear at the beginning of this post, I have a lot of people in my life that care about me. I have met and connected with good people wherever I’ve moved to and lived in my life. Most of the readers of this blog are people that have known me in person. If you are one of these, I appreciate our connection. Thank you for being a friend.

I know I’m not alone, and you’re not either. As many of you have reached out to me, to comfort me and to connect, I have felt your need as well. I wish I could be there for all of you. I wish I could be the answer to your own private suffering and longing for real connection. … But for the vast majority of you, I can’t.

Around five years ago in Taiwan, I was walking and talking with a friend. This good friend was feeling overwhelmed by the perceived obligation he had to maintain a connection with a growing number of individuals. He was constantly on his phone, chatting with multiple people at once. Like me, he was highly empathetic. He wanted to be there for all his many friends, to help them with their assorted worries and concerns, to give meaningful advice, and on and on.  

As we walked together, I convinced my friend to turn off his phone for a while so that we could have a more meaningful conversation. I can no longer remember the words that were spoken at that time, but I remember what lessons I took away from the experience. We can’t be there for everyone. We can’t be everyone’s good friend all the time. If we divide ourselves too thinly, our ability to do good is greatly decreased. Instead, it makes more sense to focus on just a few people in our lives.

The people that matter most to me are the people that I see in front of me. If someone falls, and I’m there to do help, I should. If my neighbor is hungry, and I have more food than I need, I would gladly share. I really don’t know my neighbors at all, but they matter to me. I can sometimes hear them, and feel their emotions, through the thin walls of my apartment. When I’m at work, my students and fellow tutors are the most important people in the world. When someone emails me or reaches out to me, they matter.

I don’t feel bad when distant friends or family members don’t go out of their way to try and connect with me. I assume they have their own lives and issues to deal with just as I do. I hope they don’t take it personally when I don’t reach out the way they might like me to. When I share my issues online, I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for me. I’m just taking care of a personal need to express how I feel. I also hope that the words I write can help others. If it doesn’t help you, maybe it will help someone else. We all have our own circumstances.

Finally, if it does make you feel sad or uncomfortable when I share my experiences relating to depression or loneliness, consider taking action. I don’t mean writing or trying to connect with me, though I certainly do appreciate those people that have contacted me recently. What I mean is that there are countless others just like me all around. These people may seem fine when you see them, but things are often not as they appear. Everyone suffers. There is so much pain that is never expressed. Hidden  wounds. Unshed tears. Silent screams.

So, if you feel something for these silent sufferers, go connect with the people around you. Give a hug. Express gratitude. Offer a compliment. Don’t let the people closest to you continue to think that they’re alone or that nobody really cares.

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