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Ordinary Sorrows


Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method. Image found at

Tonight I mostly want to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s starting following my blog recently and to everyone who’s stuck with me as my blogging has waxed and waned. I don’t have much to talk about today; it’s been a day of mostly transcription so someone else’s voice is currently buzzing in my head. But I do want to share with you a double quote—May Sarton quoting Carl Jung—which stuck with me when I read it this morning. It’s about suffering, not with a capital “S” but the ordinary sorrows that give life their texture. Sarton and Jung believe, and I agree, that suffering is necessary to growth. And by choosing to avoid suffering, or as we do in many cases, choosing to not acknowledge  our suffering by squashing it deep down inside through opiates (both dangerous and benevolent) or sheer will power, actually arrests our growth and keeps us from walking fully as the people God has made us to be. But Mmle. Sarton and Messr. Jung say it much better than I do:

“We fear disturbance, change, fear to bring to light and to talk about what is painful. Suffering often feels like failure, but is actually the door into growth. And growth does not cease to be painful at any age. Jung says, ‘The possession of complexes does not in itself signify neurosis, for complexes are the normal foci of psychic happenings, and the fact that they are painful is no proof of pathological disturbance. Suffering is not an illness; it is the normal counterpole to happiness. A complex becomes pathological only when we think we have not got it.'” — May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude

Why me?

So far over the last two decades or so, in terms of health challenges, I’ve racked up a corneal transplant, near-fatal pneumonia, getting hit by a car at the end of the same year I had the near-fatal pneumonia, and now I have a uterus full or tumors with a (very) slight chance that those tumors may be cancerous.

While I have allowed myself the occasional wallow in self-pity, I haven’t really asked “Why me?” because why not me? And let’s face it—like most people—I prefer being thought of as noble and brave, rather than whiny. I mean I hate being thought of as whiny so much than when I indict myself for such behavior I default to the British term “whinging” because posh whininess is better than regular old, feeling sorry for myself whininess any day.

That all being said, I do think “Why me?” can be an important question, if you can resist the move toward self-pity or blame when answering it. In my case, I think one of the reasons these things happen to me is because I have a gift for articulating them. I can write about the tension inherent in the caregiver-patient relationship or the loss of identity you feel when your body betrays you or what it’s like to have to make decisions about fertility as a single woman of a certain age. Especially with the fibroids issue, it’s been somewhat amazing to me how many women I’ve now spoken to who have struggled with the tumors, with the heavy periods, with the shame that can come from those heavy periods. Yet, until I was diagnosed myself, I wasn’t really aware of how epidemic they were among women my age. I’m actually the perfect person to go through this because I can give voice to the experience, I can bear witness for others who may feel they are alone in their grief, their shame, their fear.

I have long thought that while my writing was a way to see me through my own emotional and physical crises, that the work was also there for the other, for the woman who was waiting to be seen and heard, to know that she was not alone in her suffering, to know that what she was feeling was legitimate and could be articulated. I think about how often I have recognized myself in a piece of writing—the loneliness of the young Jane Eyre, for example—and I hope that in some small way as I write my way through my physical challenges, I am creating a place for someone else to recognize herself.

I do not mean to sound like a Pollyanna, or a martyr. I do not want to suffer. I want to at all times feel 100% healthy—emotionally, physically, mentally. But if by documenting the days, the weeks, the long shadow times when my well-being is disrupted, I am helping someone else, well, then, I guess it’s a good thing that it’s me. Why me? Because I have the gift of feeling out loud, and that, I hope, for someone else, has made all the difference.

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