Columns

Malik ’18: Getting through the emotional pain

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, December 3, 2015

I have been feeling emotional pain for the past few days. It has gotten better, and I am confident that everything will be okay soon. But pain has been on my mind, and I will take this opportunity to discuss certain ideas that I have encountered that have helped me cope.

Before I begin, I would like to say that the ideas and ways of thinking I convey here should not, in any way, replace seeking help for emotional pain from people who have experience and are trained to provide aid. I thank the office of Campus Life and Student Services for sending an email on Tuesday with a list of numerous resources, including student support deans, the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, and Counseling and Psychological Services. Students should turn to these when they are facing hardships. I myself turn to similar resources when I face difficulties, and I am immensely grateful for the help they have given me.

One thing that makes me feel emotional pain is a feeling of being overwhelmed. There are so many terrible occurrences happening around the world. When I think about these terrible things such as poverty, racism, the destruction of the environment and the killing of innocent people (on the same day that I am writing this, a shooting has taken place in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people have been killed and 17 have been injured, according to reports), I feel very sad, small and weak in the face of such adversity.

But I have heard some words that have given me comfort. They came from a video I watched on YouTube of a talk with writers Karen Russell and Junot Díaz during the New Yorker Festival in 2013. A member of the audience asked Díaz how he deals with the pain of writing about difficult subjects. He answered by explaining his view that “to be human is just very difficult,” that this awareness of the hardships of life is understood and shared by all, and that if someone can get through life, then that person can produce art.

I agree with this notion. We are all human, and even though we face different problems and different causes of emotional pain, we are connected by the fact that we feel this pain on probably a daily basis. Even without considering the major crises in the world, we regularly come across sources of pain. Dilemmas and difficulty seem to be integral to living.

Though this sounds bleak, I find it comforting because of what I see around me. I see people working hard, doing their best, producing scholarship, making art and striving to achieve goals that they have set. They do this all in spite of the pain of living. This fact is inspiring; it is a testament to human resilience. When I see people doing awesome work and being productive, I believe that I will be able to find a way to deal with my pain.

I am also inspired by people who have faced immense pain but used that pain to make something meaningful. I have mentioned this novel before, but I can’t praise it enough; Christina Stead’s “The Man Who Loved Children” is a fantastic book. According to Time magazine, the novel, which illustrates an emotionally abusive family environment, is based on the author’s own childhood. It’s absolutely stunning that Stead was able to take such a terrible experience and make a great work of art.

Furthermore, though there are terrible things happening in the world, things used to be much worse in many ways. For example, numerous advancements in medicine have been made in the past several centuries. The people who have helped bring about these advancements might have felt pain when they reflected upon how illnesses were ruining people’s lives. Thanks to medical advancements, many illnesses are no longer life-threatening for many people.

The fact that people have been able to get through the pain in order to make progress is also inspiring. Of course, things can definitely be better in medicine and other areas that affect life, such as politics, culture and society. Nevertheless, the fact that people have been able to make circumstances better by not feeling paralyzed by their pain is wonderful.

There are times during which we cannot handle the emotional pain we feel on our own. In such times, we have to turn to those who can help us. But asking for help should never be seen as a sign of weakness. It should instead be seen as an aspect of humanity, as normal as eating and sleeping.

Though we are are not constantly aware of pain on a conscious level, we always find ways to cope with numerous hardships. This is not a minor matter; it is quite laudable. When I reflect upon this now, I find some comfort, and I feel a bit better.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu.