The Loneliness of Pain: Part 2

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.”

Malcolm Muggeridge[1]

In our previous meditation, we looked at the loneliness experienced by people with significant pain.  We discussed how many people feel uncomfortable with those who are suffering. Now, we will look at how can we respond meaningfully to our situation of not only managing our pain, but also managing the responses of others?

In terms of living with persistent pain, there are no easy answers. Besides the importance being under the care of health care professionals, as well as taking the time we need to rest (coping with pain is incredibly exhausting), we have a few thoughts. First, it is very helpful to have trusted others with whom to share our emotional pain; the emotional pain is in part our grief about how physical or mental pain has invaded our lives. Sharing this pain is cathartic and we may find that the trusted other we share with can understand or at least bear witness to our affliction. For some, support groups can be helpful, as others share stories similar to ours and this lessens our sense of being alone. Others prefer working with a counsellor. “A burden shared is a burden halved,” said T.A. Webb.[2]

Second, although it isn’t helpful to “sit” in the mire of despair, sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack and acknowledge that we feel lousy and afraid and that this is okay. We should, however, be careful of how long we “sit” in this place and attend to looking forward. This can be done by looking for grace within the pain. Are there actions of others, such as unexpected kindnesses, that reassure us of some joy in living and God’s grace in our lives? Can we turn our gaze towards good things as a way of not focusing only upon pain? Third, and related to looking for graces in our lives, can we look for ways in which our lives still have meaning, and invest in meaning making activities? And as the Muggeridge quote stresses, it is the difficulties of life – and coming through them – that brings satisfaction.  An easy, sanitary life brings little meaning![3]

Living with chronic pain also involves managing the responses of others. As noted in this posting and the last, while some responses can be so helpful that they move us to tears, others are not and unfortunately, these unhelpful reactions can move us to a different kind of tears – those of exasperation, even anger. Managing these responses is important so that we don’t feel that our pain is minimized, and in the process of pain being minimized, that our lives are diminished. Also, managing the responses of others will allow us to feel more control. When someone proceeds to give unwanted advice, we should have a reply that is gracious, but clearly lets the individual know that their “help” is not warranted, nor welcome. For instance, if someone suggests that they want to pray for us, we can thank them for their prayers that are offered in private, rather than in a public place. 

Living with chronic pain is lonely, even if we have wonderful support. Learning to recalibrate our lives to accommodate pain, but also find meaning, is not easy. This journey to balance pain with purpose may need tweaking at various times to allow for changes in health. However, it provides the hope of even greater meaning for the future – a hope that can be diminished if our focus is stuck only on our pain.

[1] Malcolm Muggeridge Quotes.  AZQuotes. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from

[2] Goodreads. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from

[3] This was the theme of our book The Meaning is in the Dirt:  Meditations on Life’s Richness.

© Marlette Reed 2020

The Loneliness of Pain: Part 1

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox [1]

This famous quote resonates with us because we’ve all experienced it!  When we are happy and laughing, friends seem to be easy to come by.  But if we are suffering, people are often uncomfortable around us. There is almost a social obligation to be positive. Or, as psychologist Dr. Susan David says, “Being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. . .” [2]

For those who live with substantial physical or mental pain, the pain alone is a heavy load to bear. But to add to this, we are often alone in that pain. Even when others express heartfelt concern, ultimately, sufferers live in solitude with the pain as well as their inner dealings with that heartache. An existential loneliness settles in because pain is often misunderstood, whether it is physical or mental. Nobody understands what I am going through can be the thought or expression from the sufferer.

Others, in their sincere desire to help, may offer ideas or solutions to our plight without really understanding what we are experiencing. Their ideas are meant to help, but often do not; the need to prescribe may be driven by their own discomfort that someone they care about is suffering. And, they may feel afraid; what if this happened to me?! If we challenge or question their advice, we may be viewed as ungrateful or close-minded. Or, worse, we may be seen to be too attached to or obsessed by our pain, even that we are unwilling to give up our relationship to it. We may feel stung and dumbfounded by the responses of others.

Loneliness and pain may steal our present and our future. We may not be able to do the activities we once could, causing our current lives to feel bland and bleak. Future plans for work, education or marriage may be placed on hold. Thoughts such as how can I plan for the future when I am in such a mess now? may suck hope out of us. Feeling hopeless, we may isolate ourselves from others, thus deepening our despair.

What can we do?  Our next To Ponder will focus on how we can meaningfully respond to our pain as well as to those who respond to us.  But for now, a few more thoughts from Dr. Susan David.  Regarding the false positivity she decries in our modern world, she says:

But when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity,

we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is,

not as we wish it to be. [3]

Know that you are not simply entitled to feel the emotions of what you are experiencing, but that these emotions are necessary in order to learn how to deal with life.  (Notice:  Dr. David speaks of skills to be developed – in our next meditation!)  And, a favourite quote of mine: “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility…Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” [4] Whether you are experiencing physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual fragility, the discomfort (or, let’s be honest, the agony) is what it takes to have a meaningful life! 

But whether our pain makes us or breaks us depends upon our response – stay tuned for our next To Ponder.

[1] Ella Wheeler Wilcox quotes.  Goodreads. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from

[2] David, S. (2017). The gift and power of emotional courage. TED TALKS. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from:

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.