I recently had a conversation with a stranger. It was one of those conversations that dove deep rather quickly.
Part of me was thinking: Woah, maybe we should slow it down a little, and reel it in.
Because hey, we had just met, and we were only minutes into our conversation.
And although I’m not a huge fan of small talk, and I do love diving deep, I think there’s also a time and place for those types of conversations—and it’s important to go into the depths of our being with people we know we can trust.
But something that was said was nudging me to hold the space for what he was saying, as well as respond to what it was that he was speaking to.
Not because of my ego, or wanting to be right, or proving a point—but to shed light on a topic very dear to my heart, a topic that I think is heavily under discussed and misunderstood.
He mentioned he broke up with his previous girlfriend because she couldn’t relate to the struggle and suffering he had experienced in his life. That nothing “bad” had ever happened to her, and therefore, he thought there was no way she could every really understand him.
This startled me.
I replied in the sweetest of ways, sharing my belief that suffering is universal, not selective and extremely subjective.
He’s eyes grew smaller as his head tilted to the side with an expression of intrigue—so I continued.
What is traumatic for one person may be a walk in the park for another.
Someone’s social economic status, the color of their skin, or the place in which they were born does not make someone’s suffering invalid.
Everything we feel is 100% valid, all of the time.
I think that is something many of us forget or don’t yet understand.
Because I know I didn’t understand for a long, long time.
When I first started having episodes of depression, I actually felt ashamed to tell my family—especially my parents. I grew up in a wonderful neighborhood with a supportive environment and was given a generous amount of opportunity on so many levels.
But I felt stuck. I was in pain, and I needed help.
I started seeing doctors and seeking out help in secret, because my 14-year-old self thought, “How could I—someone who grew up the way I did—be suffering or have anything to complain about?”
I didn’t want to come off like I was ungrateful, or become more misunderstood than I already felt.
So I kept quiet.
On the outside, it all looked shiny and abundant—but on the inside, the ruminating thoughts and the phases of complete numbness were rather tormenting and effected my life in many ways.
What I quickly learned was suffering does not care who we are, how we were raised, or where we are from.
As I began to give this person I was speaking with just a glimpse into my understanding and experience of suffering, a big smile took shape over his face.
He cut me off and had to apologize as he laughed, half-heartedly admitting to misjudging me.
He explained how relieved he was that I had “actually gone through something challenging,” and that when we first met—because of the way that I looked—he assumed I grew up in a privileged way and was blessed with the avoidance of suffering.
Once again, I was rather startled and taken aback.
I took a long pause, as I felt into my breath and my body, so I could speak for my feelings and not from them.
Because let’s face it, when we speak from our emotions—our triggers, anger or disagreement—it doesn’t always come out in the most helpful ways.
In that moment, I remembered I’m not here to change peoples minds or opinions of who is eligible for experiencing suffering. I am here to speak my truth when I feel called to, and shed light on a topic that is in desperate need of more compassion and understanding.
More words were exchanged as we were becoming more and more anchored in each of our opposing views.
As uncomfortable as some disagreements and conversations can be, I think they’re some of the best experiences for our souls. They help us uncover our values, our truth and what we are willing to take a stand for.
After the conversation, I was left with the potent reminder that I think many of us forget (or don’t yet know), just as it took my younger self took a long time to understand.
Depression and suffering are not selective.
They don’t care if we are famous, have the most supportive family on the planet, or live in paradise.
Suffering is universal, subjective and often of times goes unnoticed as it can be experienced solely in the inner world.
When we hear people’s stories of their trauma, demons or the hardships throughout their upbringing, we have to remember not to compare it to our own. We can’t put levels of suffering on a 1-10 comparative scale.
Whatever we are experiencing is valid and deserves to be seen, acknowledged and deeply heard.
Suffering is part of the human experience—and we all suffer for different reasons, and express it in different ways.
By simply being human, we know suffering.
Yes, in different magnitudes and in different ways.
But I don’t think the level in which someone appears to be or not be suffering is a reason to welcome or exclude people from our lives.
Life isn’t a competition of who has gone through the most and therefore most worthy of being here.
We are all worthy, welcomed and belong here—it is our birthright by being human.
I believe one of the reasons we are here is to hold space and support one another’s experiences—the good, the challenging, and yes, the suffering.
Depression and suffering don’t care who we are, what we look like, or who we know.
Let’s remember this when we are with our friends, families and strangers.
Let’s remember we can’t possibly know what someone has been through or what they’re experiencing this very moment in both their inner or outer world.
Let’s hold space for each other to both experience and move through the suffering; to let go, to unlearn and to heal.
Suffering is universal and not meant to be gone through alone.
So please, please remember:
You are seen.
You are loved.
You are so deeply held.
Whatever it is that we’re experiencing in this moment is real, it will be understood by someone, and it is 100% valid, regardless of what the situation is, where you are from, or what you know.
Author: Alexa Torontow
Image: Shadi Malek, used with permission
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina