A recent moment of utter vulnerability led me to a deeper understanding of the need to address emotional pain. Without going through the gory details of the proceeding moments, I recently found myself on my knees, doubled over on the floor, crying so uncontrollably that I was hyperventilating and dry heaving. ( I know, gross, right? I came to find out that I am quite the “ugly crier”). Beyond that, the pain I was in was enormous. It was the deepest emotional pain I can recall ever feeling. And that says a lot when I consider some serious near-death experiences for myself and my family that lead to the emotional awareness of losing a loved one.
So there I am, in the deepest emotional pain in memory and the bystander did nothing but look on, with a blank stare, glassed over eyes, completely vacant. The tears ran down my cheeks and the trembling did not stop and still no comfort was provided.
I cried out, “how can you just stand there, watching someone you love in such immense pain and do nothing, not even reach out a hand?” It was a shock to the system to be so alone in the pain. When I regained my ability to speak coherently again I stated, “emotional pain is equivalent to physical pain… If I were doubled over with a broken arm or gaping wound, wouldl you still just stand there and do nothing?”
There was no reply so I doubled over again with the realization that I was alone in bearing this heartbreak. In that moment I realized how frightful, overwhelming and heavy it is to carry emotional pain alone. Do my residents do this? Of course they do. In my own moment of utter disappointment I flashed to the residents living with dementia that experience this same feeling. They may not be able to articulate it clearly, if at all… and they may not double over on the floor sobbing, but they may express that same pain in anger. Anger, after all, is a much safer and quickly accessible way to express pain, physical and emotional.
How often do we check our watches or phones while half -a** listening to someone share a painful story? How often do we add a resident in distress to our to-do list, only to put it off until tomorrow? How often do we simply walk right by someone experiencing severe struggle?
I am sure I have done this. In fact I am positive that I have several to-do lists with names of residents that I “never got around to addressing” because more “pressing issues” arise, like a department head meeting or zoom call. I am ashamed now, more than ever, of the lack of priority I have made to the emotional pain of others.
I did not relinquish my agendas of the tasks at hand. I let someone carry such a heavy load alone, without the simple act of a hug, a clasping of the hand, a shoulder to cry on. My new perspective of the added pain this causes has enlightened me. I came into this business because I could not stand for the injustice of others not being cared for properly. Many of you have done the same. But there are people in the world who can just “stand by”.
I encourage you to keep in your empathic integrity and continue to be there for those you care for. You may be the only person in their lives that is available to remove that heavy burden of emotional pain, if only for a few minutes… but it can do wonders.
I implore you to step into a vulnerable space with at least one person this week. Let go of the need to be at that meeting on time, and instead do what you were charged to do… put your residents and their emotional needs on the top of your list. Emotional pain is very real, it does not go away with age, in fact it probably grows with each day. When we choose to step into the discomfort of others to carry the load, you will fill your soul and you will fill the soul of another.
Cathy Braxton, Improv4Caregivers