I've spent a lot of time cataloging suffering.  Even before I was sick, I tried to sort out which was worse -- depression or estrangement, being left or being widowed, extreme poverty or extreme narcissism. Then when I got sick, and moreso when I got better, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to turn me into a heroine.  I was "so brave" and "an inspiration."  But I never felt that light was meant for me.  I wanted to point out that other people are surviving much worse and not getting nearly as much support as my family and I were.  

I've often wished that there was some outward sign (like crutches or casts or baldness) for people who were suffering (a bad marriage, a lost child, chronic pain) so that we'd all know to make way for them, to let them cut in line or give them half our sandwich or drop off a pot of daises.  It weighs on me, how support seems to go more to some than to others.  We are only as good as we are empathetic and it's hard to know where to give yourself without some kind of signal.  

What do you think makes someone a survivor?    Do you think it's easier to help someone who is clearly sick, rather than someone whose suffering is more difficult to see and comprehend?





Editor's Note: For more on Kelly, please see her memoir, The Middle Place.
Message Edited by Kelly_Corrigan on 05-18-2009 06:49 PM
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by kpt on ‎05-19-2009 11:02 AM

Interesting topic Kelly.


Perhaps from teaching 12 year olds (who are always in pain and suffering of some kind) I have the philosophy of giving everyone a break! Maybe that makes me sound like a "Polly Anna", but trust me, after teaching 12 year olds for 15 years, other characteristics also prevailed. I am tough but light hearted and have no ego so it's easy to say to myself "this person's behavior must be coming from a place of pain" and then to give that person a pass.


I now work with graduate students who want to teach in high needs high poverty inner city schools. We spend an entire year in urban schools, learning how to reach kids who are suffering in major ways but are also so resilient. Talk about not being able to see an outward sign (like crutches or casts or baldness)! The students are often eager to learn but so many emotional scars get in the way that they must get through high hurdles made of distrust and fear before they can open their minds and hearts to what the world of school might have to offer through eager graduate student teachers.


So, I think what makes someone a survivor is attitude or disposition. How they approach a problem, no matter how large or small. If they approach it as a problem to be solved, they are a survivor. Mental game means so much when there is suffering around. And, whether they spread that suffering so that others also are made to feel the pain or if they are able to contain the damage and allow others to help them wilthout "infecting" them - that would also indicate a survivor.


I think it's easier to support someone who is physically sick VS. mentally or emotionally. When it's more difficult to see or comprehend we on the outside are more at a loss as to how to go about the support delivery. We may have experienced a physical malady ourselves at some point in our lives - so chicken soup or a well-timed margarita can often do wonders. But, when the suffering is from something less defined with uncertain origins we get confused and don't know if chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven will help or not.


But I think the bottom line is to always put yourself out there to help others. Sort of the "do unto others" rule - it helps me get through my days and hopefully when I look back on my life I can feel that I impacted some when they were up and some when they were down. I am always seeking balance and completely believe that there is always hope.

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