Suffering in Silence

Suffering in silence; suffering with courage and grace

Hi friends!

Today’s post got real. It’s rough around the edges and a little raw. If I am honest, I really didn’t want to share this, but I am putting on my big girl pants. Here goes:

It’s somewhere around 8:30 in the morning on a beautiful spring day. I’m attending Sunday mass with my family, surrounded by security and comfort: this place I call home. Suddenly, I notice there is something strange about the top of the music leader’s hair – there is a half ring of light in it. I move my eyes to rest on the altar – the ring of light is still there. Oh no. I feel my mind explode into a million pieces, every corner of my brain reaching out to assess the situation, but I know it’s pointless. There is nothing I can do. Either the wave will consume me, or I will thrash against it in a silent war for control. I know that the wave has the power to completely debilitate me; and not only that, it has the power to leave me as a shell of a person for an unpredictable length of time afterward: unable to see, unable to talk, unable to think clearly. The first time this happened, in 2008, I remember crying, unable to talk and thinking: I will be stuck inside my head forever, like a vegetable.

Not here. Not now. Not again. Last time this happened, I was left without my vision for a week. Going blind is probably my number one fear, even before I was diagnosed with Hemiplegic Migraines, and it is one that I have actually experienced.

I assess what I can do. Should I leave and go out to the car? Should I stay and pray fervently? Where am I safe? Where can I find safety?

A voice says, “Here.”

In this church. This is my sanctuary. I will not let these episodes scare me away from being here. For a time, I avoided churches, afraid their low lighting would trigger another migraine and blindness. My mind would play tricks on me and I would focus on the pew in front of me or on the ground, afraid to look up or at anything else. But I don’t want to live my life that way. I don’t want to live my life in fear anymore.

I pray to St. Michael, defend me in this battle.

The feeling goes out of my arms. I feel the (now familiar) ice cold wave descend over my body: the loss of sensation to my limbs. I press my hands together, folded in prayer. Yep, nothing. At least I can still think. At least I can still pray.

On the outside, I probably look normal. The people sitting around me probably have no idea that it feels like a holy war is raging inside me. I am doing all I can do to keep it together, to keep myself from having a full-on anxiety attack in the middle of mass.

My vision becomes like a tunnel: all I can see is what’s right in front of me. I look up and see white lights where the front of church should be. I look around at the faces. No one looks familiar. I am blind. Wasn’t my family sitting on either side of me? Where are they? I tell myself they are there. I trust that even though I can’t see them, they are there.

I breathe in, hold for 5 seconds, and I breathe out, like many yoga instructors have taught me before. I have heard that if you breathe this way, your body can not physically freak out. My body threatens to disprove this, but I believe it is true, I hope that it is true, and I keep breathing this way.

What’s different since the last episode I had two years ago is not the symptoms. The signs are all there. Any minute I will be rendered helpless: completely reliant on others to lead me by the hand to where I need to go, to speak for me, to take care of me. I have never been at peace with this.

But I realize with sudden determination that what’s different this time around is me. My goal is not to control the wave: my goal is to accept it. To endure. My resolve is not to “win” the battle but to let the anxiety know that I will be okay either way. I am perfectly fine sitting in the midst of this storm. You will not move me.

But deep down, a part of me is terrified.

Even deeper down, I am surprised to find: I am honored.

So many people suffer silently. The most joyful people I know have tended to be the ones that have suffered the most. I am honored to share a part of their suffering. This feeling was completely new to me. It’s tempting to fall into a pit of self-pity, asking God, Why? Why is this happening to me? But that’s not a road I’m traveling anymore. Life could throw more difficult obstacles than this at me, and my migraines are teaching me how to handle them. They are teaching me what kind of person I want to become. I don’t like it, but I know it is for my good. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux once said, “God does not permit unnecessary suffering.” I truly believe that suffering can be used for good, even if my finite human brain cannot yet grasp how that might happen.

I am always inspired by those who seem to handle difficult times with courage and grace. I strive to emulate them and while I accept that sometimes I have a little dark cloud over my head, I am working on not letting it rule my life or my attitude. That is what these migraines, even through their terrifyingly debilitating neurological nature and the indescribable amount of pain that follows, have taught me: to let go of control, to accept suffering without letting it steal my peace, and to be okay in the uncomfortable spaces. I have learned to face my fear of going blind and having more migraines (it can quickly turn your life into a series of avoiding situations and worrying all the time. Will this trigger another one? What will I do if I lose my ability to talk right now? What if what if what if… I felt like I should be wearing a medical bracelet at all times. I’ve seriously gone to social situations, announcing, “HEY JUST IN CASE I LOSE MY ABILITY TO TALK, here’s what’s up…” Those poor people probably thought I was nutso. I can’t say they’re wrong ?) I have learned that the fear of suffering, oftentimes, is worse than the suffering itself.

Sunday was a very sharp reminder for me of all the ways a human can suffer, both physically and emotionally. It’s a reminder to be more cognoscente of the pain others are going through. So I guess my hope is that by sharing this story, we might all extend a little extra empathy and love out to our neighbors this week. And if I’m completely honest, writing about it helps me too. I think it helps take away some of the power these migraines have had over my life. With the support of friends and family, it is easier during my dark hours to push through and not lose hope that I will come out the other side just the same as I entered it, if not strengthened. Iron sharpens iron [Ps 27:17]. I know I can’t guarantee that, but I’ve got to hold on to that hope with renewed fervor every single time.

I kept thinking to myself, If I could just make it to receive the Eucharist, I will be healed. Well, I did make it up to receive Him, even with my third nephew in tow, and shortly after, my vision came back. I did not lose my ability to talk like I normally do. The pain started shortly after mass, but after a few hours of laying on an ice pillow and sipping various drinks (water, maté — seriously what do they put in that stuff? It can’t be legal. But it works.), I was revived. It was my most short-lived migraine to date, and for that, I am extremely grateful. It’s now two days later, and while I feel a little slow in my mind, I feel basically the same as before the migraine. I feel like I have been spared. I feel like I have been blessed.

I’m sure most people have a story like mine, and the people in our lives who may be suffering the most may just be the silent ones, waiting for someone to truly see them. Or maybe they are silent because they are having a hemiplegic migraine and can’t think of words to say to you. In which case, you can sit by me, you fellow migraine-sufferer. And we will jibber jabber nonsense together. <3

You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.    ~ Ernest Hemingway

Is there someone in your life who inspires you with the way they approach suffering?

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  1. Mother Teresa comes to mind. She suffered great depression in the midst of all the love and giving she extended to the poor, needy, suffering in Calcutta. She felt a dramatic “darkness” she describes for 50 years! St John of the Cross is another example. Despite the convictions, demonstrated Faith, professions of commitment both shared in service to the Church, they suffered in silence. With searching, living, digging deeper and living the commitment may actually come a loss of FEELING the love of God, not to mention the personal cleansing by physical suffering we may encounter. You are on the right track. Hang on Arie! You are on a great ride shared by the Saints!

    • Thank you for you comment, Patty! I read something recently in 33 Days To Morning Glory that resonated with me: [To console [Jesus in] others is to respond to their suffering, especially to that deepest, most universal suffering: the thirst for love. We should respond to this thirst in others not with indifference but with a gentle smile that says, “I delight that you exist, and I, too, understand the pain of the thirst.”] This passage was taken from reflections on the life of Mother Teresa. I absolutely love that image. I delight that you exist!

  2. Adora says:

    I can’t believe I’ve lived all this time unaware of your gift for sharing through writing. Woman! God bless you. This is a great attitude.

  3. Jaspar says:

    What a beautiful post! Sorry for bursting into your blog, but I couldn’t help commenting.
    Something I’ve also come to realize over the years is that from the outside we rarely see the sufferings others are going through. The cross is something very personal. God has chosen it for us from the beginning of time, and it fits us perfectly. Not too heavy, and not too light.
    Forza! I’ll keep you in my prayers 🙂

    • Dear Jaspar,
      Thank you so much for your comment, feel free to burst into my blog any time! Amen, our cross is something very personal indeed. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 🙂

      Thank you for reading & subscribing! I will be praying for you too.
      <3 Arie


  1. […] ended up where I needed to be, and most importantly: that I was never alone. I wrote a post about suffering in silence once, and what I learned from that experience was that even though every part of me wants to avoid […]

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