What has been the single most isolating experience of your life?
For me, it was going through infertility. For a solid year, I cycled through suicidal thoughts, bouts of frequent crying and unsuccessful treatments that tampered with my hormones. I was a wreck. I questioned my faith, my self-worth and my sanity. I felt like I was cruising down a tunnel with the exit lights shut off. As awful as it sounds, I actually wished I would just have a miscarriage so that I’d have something tangible to grieve. People know how to respond to the death of a child you’re carrying. But they don’t know how to respond to the death of a dream of carrying a child. And when I invited people into my emotional pain, I felt even more isolated. Well-meaning friends and family responded with comments like:
“Relax! You’re trying too hard. It’ll happen when you least expect it.” Gosh, thanks for accusing me of being a high-strung control-freak!
“If you want kids so badly, you can have mine. After a day with them, you’ll be glad you can’t have kids!” Uh…no comment.
“Maybe God’s teaching you to be content with what you have.” Note to self: When your car is totaled or your house burns down, I’ll be happy to remind you of this very thing.
I quickly learned that I couldn’t trust people with my heart. When I shared my pain in a most vulnerable state, people felt compelled to fill the silence of not knowing what to say with empty platitudes, statements that invalidated my grief or comments that offered a quick “silver lining” to my pain so they wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable stewing in the mess of my life. Over time, I shut down to guard my heart. I still have a barrier erected with certain people to protect myself from being hurt deeply like that again. I remember wanting to scream, “WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP AND HOLD MY HAND?” I didn’t want anyone to fix me or offer empty advice. I just wanted someone to see me in the midst of my struggle and be a supportive witness to my journey. Isn’t that what we all want?
A researcher I highly respect, Brene Brown, said that when her best friend entered her third-year stretch of infertility, she looked into a way to show genuine empathy to her friend. She discovered one infertility center that asked women to fill in the blanks to four key areas of concern:
1. Here’s what I feel…
2. Here’s what I need…
3. Here’s what not helpful…
4. Here’s what support looks like…
If I employed this tool to express what I needed most from my husband and trusted friends in the midst of my infertility struggle, it could’ve been a game-changer. I wish I had the courage at the time to be real with people and humbly ask what I needed most, which was space to process my grief and validation for the sorrow I felt. I regret not having the guts to say, “Please don’t give commentary or advice. Don’t share your medical miracle stories with me! Just be present and hear me out.”
I fumbled my way through the healing process. It involved lots of tears, getting to a place of stark honesty with myself and adopting a little boy who pieced my heart back together. I look back on the years and tears I cried and thank God for it all for so many reasons, but most importantly because it taught me how to be a true friend…to myself first and foremost in honoring my heart. And also to people I love dearly, who’ve opened up to me about their struggles, whether it’s with infertility or the loss of anything significant in their life. I can easily access this well of compassion deep inside of me for people journeying through unnamed grief…because I’ve been there myself. And I’ll bet if you allow yourself the gift of being vulnerable with someone you love and trust, it’ll help you process your grief and find a pathway to healing and connection, too.
If you’ve gone through a deep struggle like infertility, what’s the one thing you need most from friends to help you heal?