By Cynthia Toussaint
If you’re like me, you’re tired of hearing that “everything happens for a reason.” People have been sharing empty clichés like this throughout my 35 years of high-impact pain and fatigue – and I can honestly say they’ve never helped.
Others on my “Do not appreciate” list are – “God works in mysterious ways”, “You’re the chosen one”, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” My least favorite, and most often heard, is the classic, “It could be worse.”
I’m more irritated than usual by these platitudes because my life has been such a challenge of late. Before Christmas, I got walking pneumonia which knocked me on my heels for two weeks. I felt lucky to get well just in time for my partner John and me to go on our long-planned, eight-night holiday cruise.
Then a rare Los Angeles rainstorm left our condo with significant water damage. Packed and ready to sail, our restoration contractor advised that he and his crew had to immediately demo our master bedroom and bath, then dry the condo with big fans for days to avoid mold.
With sunken hearts, we cancelled our dream voyage. Then I got super sick again. This time with an upper respiratory infection and breathing difficulty. Two doctors confirmed that the work in our condo caused my illness – and John and I are currently living and working from a Burbank hotel. Adding madness to the misery, the contractors don’t think they’ve mitigated the mold.
This cascade of misfortune has opened the barn door for every cliché mentioned above. Just like when people respond to my physical pain, these folk may indeed mean well. But I think there’s something else going on here. More than comforting me, I suspect these niceties comfort the comforterer while offering them a convenient escape hatch.
These snappy exclamation points end difficult conversations about pain and suffering. The deliverers project their beliefs and are rescued from going to a place of empathy. As a woman in pain, I need to be surrounded by strong, caring people. People who can go to real places including those dark and unsettling.
This is a very scary time in my life. I’ve lost much of my strength, I’m sick and displaced, my immune system is compromised even more than usual, my body trembles from post-fever, I can’t exercise, my pain has spiked – and I have work trips coming up next week that I need to be 100% for.
I need deep, loving support. Not empty words, not a wink and a pat on the back. I need people with a softness and warmth in their voice. People who dare to enter the kingdom of the sick.
As for the faux-happy sayings, let’s please put a cork in them. How ‘bout we try “Bad things happen to good people”and go from there…
Cynthia Toussaint is founder of For Grace, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that works on issues facing women in pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.