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  • Sharon Cabana, MA, LMFT

It's Okay to Wallow

When I was an undergraduate, sometime when bedazzled jeans and popcorn tops (I dare you to look that up) were cool, I was given a scholarship to South America. On the trip, I roomed with an older woman named Ellen*, who became a steadfast companion on the journey. One evening, we were talking and the conversation circled around to health stuff. Ellen had a large piece of her skull missing, which raised curiosity for me, and I was having a fun time with side effects from a new medication, which sparked curiosity for her. So, like two old ladies, we started comparing aches and pains. Ellen told me that she had had a brain tumor removed, which is why a part of her skull was missing. I thought to myself, as I dealt with the side effects, “See, Sharon, it could always be worse.” When she asked about my medication, I explained that the condition was chronic and I would just learn to live with it. That’s when she said, “See, goes to show you, it could always be worse.”

You see, for me, cancer was the scariest thing EVER. For Ellen, she had cancer, had surgery, and then was free of it. For her, living with something chronic was the worst thing ever. In the midst of our own suffering, we looked upon each other's with relief and gratitude.

Each of our worsts was the other’s better.

Ellen showed me that comparing our suffering to others doesn’t work. We all have different lived experiences and different hopes and fears about our health, futures, and lives. There will always be someone who has it better/worse/harder/easier than we do. But just like in folktales, when the sorcerer casts an illusion spell, the glamour hides their true nature. In an age of social media, it's easy to believe in the glamour people cast about their lives. It's easy to believe that someone always has it better or worse than us, that our suffering and joys don't actually matter. But, social media just makes us jealous of lives that never existed in the first place. Life, as we know it is more complicated than an online profile or a news feed. There are times when it’s absolutely okay to sit in our suffering and feel like (insert appropriate noun here).

There are also times when suffering can help us grow and evolve into a new and a better version of ourselves. Suffering is an integral part of life that helps us to recognize and hold on to the moments of joy we are given. As in Daoism, absolute yin creates yang and absolute yang creates yin. Joy and suffering are in balance with each other.

That being said, it sure doesn't make it any less painful, or lousy, to endure it. So, what's a body to do?

The next time you have a poopy day, wallow well, my friends. Let yourself rage and cry and roll about in the discomfort of being human. However, don't let your wallowing turn into a 24/7 ordeal. Let yourself wallow, but only for a limited time. Wallow ten minutes in the morning and ten in the evening. Or maybe wallow for a half an hour in the middle of the day. Have a wallop of a wallow and dump all your pain into a two-hour movie. I tend to watch a sappy movie on my wallow days. What Dreams May Come does it to me. I sob through the whole thing. Every. Single. Time.

Then, when all is done, do what you can to find the better in your worst and grow forward into your best you.

At least, until it's time to wallow, again.

Yours in wallowing,

*Name changed for privacy

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