How to suffer better

“In my interviews [for the book], women spoke often of suffering, and how it should be expected, rather than just avoided. This taught me to resist my Western tendency not to speak of suffering, but rather to accept that suffering happens to all and to really look at our suffering carefully.”

Min Jin Lee

It has occurred to me lately that I am bad at suffering. I think, ‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this?’

It turns out, a lot of us do this. We are fundamentally unskilled in suffering. I asked all ’round queen of trauma Petrea King about this and she said that it’s possible that my generation lacks resilience because we were raised in a culture of ‘everyone’s a winner’ and ‘you can do anything’. We don’t have the protection of stoicism when we realise that we can’t have/do/be everything.

By denying the inevitability of suffering, we deny ourselves the chance to get better at it. 

Through my recent interviews for my podcast, That Shit Show, and my counselling study and research, I have learnt a few key things. 

You are not alone
Whatever is happening to you, someone else has been through it before. Often, these people are more than happy to talk about it because assisting others forms part of their healing (also known as post-traumatic growth). Seek out people who have been through – or are going through – the same thing and connect with them. Listen to their stories. Find out how they got through it. Everyone’s suffering is unique to their own experiences but there are far more similarities than differences. There are thousands of podcasts, books, websites, online forums and Facebook groups that are devoted to your special flavour of suffering. Find and learn from them.

Suffering is but another name for the teaching of experience, which is the parent of instruction and the schoolmaster of life.     

Horace

You didn’t do anything to deserve it
Suffering happens to absolutely everybody. Nothing you did made the fates choose you. Sure, you might have made some bad choices that led to some less than ideal situations but you are not the focus of some great moral finger pointing. Suffering is an atheist who has a special delivery for everyone. No one deserves suffering but everyone gets it. It’s got nothing to do with virtue or sin. It’s an inevitability of human life. 

When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.    

Chinua Achebe

You don’t have to make it worse
So you’re suffering and it sucks but you don’t need to compound it with a bunch of dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Driving straight to Dan Murphy’s and KFC when things are going wrong will only make things worse. Now is not the time to abandon scientifically supported self-care practices. Focus on the basics – diet, exercise, sleep and social support. You may still feel like a steaming pile of shit but at least you’re supporting your body with kindness and intelligence, as opposed to switching to self destruct mode.

We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness and strength so we can help transform the situation.    

Thich Nhat Hanh

Ask for help
Don’t wait until you’re a screaming mess. Ask for help when things start to feel unmanageable. Hell, ask for help whenever you want! You don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis to seek out counselling, medical support or even just an extra pair of hands or a supportive shoulder to lean on. You may not find the right person or people to help you straight off the bat but DO NOT GIVE UP. There is someone out there who can help you. They can’t take your suffering away from you – it is yours and yours alone – but they can help you bear it. 

Suffering is a gift
Sure, it might seem like the worst gift ever, but trust me – it’s a gift. Suffering helps you prioritise who and what is meaningful to you. Suffering provides an impetus to stop wasting time. It shows you how strong you are and it gives you the greatest gift of all – empathy. And empathy helps reduce the suffering of others so there you go – full circle. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.      

Charles Dickens

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