“it seems like we both have a lot to process. Do you want to call it a day?”
I really did. The conversation was dying, settling into a silence full of my disappointment that a relationship was off the table and her not having a whole lot else to say.
And yet, as I contemplated leaving, I realized that as much as I wanted to have some time to think about everything, I really didn’t want to be by myself. I suddenly needed a friend a lot more than I needed to go home and think.
I told her that something else had come up, emotionally, for me. Something that had nothing to do with her or the conversation we had had earlier. I asked if she was up to just being an ear and a shoulder for a bit. She told me she was, and offered a hug I gratefully accepted.
I started to cry. She held me as I waited for the sobs to subside, feeling the utter helpless frustration accumulated over the last few months boil over and out. When the first wave of crying subsided, I tried to explain.
“I should call it a day. It would have been a good idea to call it a day. I need to process things, and I can’t think of anything else to talk about. But I don’t have anything else planned after this today. That means that even if I think it’s a good idea for me to go home and be by myself and think, what happens when I do go home is that I have to find a way to fill the five hours between now and when I can go to sleep with things that won’t hurt.”
The crying began again. Around the waxing and waning of tears, I talked more about the things I been worrying about with respect to my chronic pain. There never seems to be a whole lot to say about dealing with chronic pain. The pain is there, it’s always there a little more or a little less, sapping your strength, and when someone understands that there is nothing else interesting to say.
So I talked about my worries. I talked about not knowing how or when to make a decision to take time off from work. I talked about worrying about what happens if I were to go broke doing so. I talked about how frustrating it is that my current physical issues happened on such an off chance. The perfect type of work at the perfect time for me to be careless enough to forget the risks involved in having a body prone to repetitive stress.
I talked about how no one told me things could be like this. No one told me things were ever this hard for anyone. I grew up in a world where things were solved in the space of an hour minus advertising minutes. I grew up knowing that depression and poverty and hardship were things that existed, but only in the abstract – knowing it in the same sense that I know a few of the names of people who signed the Declaration of Independence – knowing it like I know trivia facts.
No one told me when I was growing up that the world was broken. No one told me what it meant – no one forced me to really appreciate what it means that people suffer. It took me a long time to learn that there are people whose lives we can’t fix and people whose brains we can’t fix, and people whose circumstances some don’t even have any interest in fixing, and what that really, really means for those people.
I wasn’t told, not really, that anyone’s lives could be as hard as I have recently found mine. This in spite of the fact that there are so, so many people whose lives are immeasurably more difficult than mine has ever been. I have spent so much of my time feeling like everyone has things together but me because the world I was shown while I was growing up did not have people like me in it. I had to learn for myself that this reality wasn’t new — that depression wasn’t something that had sprung into existence with my generation. That it has always existed, it’s just that no one thought it was important to tell me. The fact that the world I see around me — full of friends and friends of friends struggling to keep their heads above water, mentally, physically, financially — this world isn’t new. The novelty of this world in which people suffer and die at the hands of chance and the indifference of people who should know better — that novelty exists because of the single crowning lie of omission. That novelty exists because, by way of omission, I was taught that real suffering doesn’t exist. I was taught that the word “civilization” had something, anything in common with the world I live in.
It’s difficult to put into words the sense of betrayal that this realization comes with. If I had known what suffering and hardship really were, and how much more common they are than I knew growing up, I would have started trying to fix the world sooner. I wouldn’t have spent and wouldn’t be spending so much time feeling like my problems are my failures. I would have understood just how many people I share my experiences with, and would have been better able to believe that my problems are things that happen to people everywhere, and taken solace in our shared circumstance, instead of feeling like I was the one person who just couldn’t figure out how to get things right.
We need to teach our children that the world is broken. We need to teach them that it’s broken and that no one, but no one, can fix it but us. We need to teach them this because the alternatives are for them to grow up and be hit by the reality of it full in the face without warning, or to be dealt a bad hand and be one of the ones who has to go through the long process of learning that they aren’t alone and it isn’t their fault, or to never know, and never really understand what the fact of human suffering really means. To never understand how much we need to fix things, and, as a result of not knowing, to unknowingly perpetuate the state of brokenness in which so many people find themselves.
The world can be, and sometimes is, an amazing, wonderful place. But it is also, at times, hell. We can make it not that way, but first we have to acknowledge that it is, and to take on the responsibility of being honest with others about the fact that it is.