Monday, January 30, 2012

People are nice: Nov. 21, 2010

When I was struggling, a lot of people helped me. They didn't have to. But they did anyway. That kind of thing makes me so glad to be here.

I’m grateful all that stuff we were taught about sharing is true

    Every once in a while, I wander into territory in this column that feels a little bit scary to write about publicly. I did that last month, when I wrote about my struggles with hyperthyroidism and the physical and mental fallout of the illness that have dogged me since late summer.

    The warm and supportive responses I received to that column reminded me that when I'm afraid to write about something difficult, there's a good chance I'll be overwhelmingly glad that I did.

    In the weeks since that column ran, I've received emails from women I've never met who have struggled through similar (and far more dire) circumstances. I’ve heard from friends online, on the phone and in person who offered kind words, listening ears and genuine empathy.

    I even received an envelope from a stranger who jotted her favorite Bible verses about strength and faith into a little notebook and mailed it to the newspaper with a note asking that it be forwarded to me. (Jean, thank you so much. I wish you had included your return address so I could send you a proper response.)

    In the past, when I've occasionally written on very personal topics (my mother's cancer; my son's health scare as a toddler; my confessions of exhausted, desultory parenting) I've been inspired and moved by the kindness that comes my way from people who have read those words. And I’m so inexpressibly grateful for that kindness.

    At the heart of it, I think this is why I write – and this is why we read: I think most of us have a fundamental need to share our stories, even when (especially when?) they lay bare some painful truths about our lives. We seek to see ourselves in other people, and maybe even to feel a little less alone in the day-to-day experiences and struggles that define us all at one point or another.

    One of my favorite bloggers has written periodically over the last several years about living with anxiety that has ranged from vaguely distracting to truly disabling. In the last few months, as my defective thyroid has amped up my own anxiety level, I have returned repeatedly to her site just to glean some comfort from her descriptions of her own Tilt-a-Whirl mind that remind me so much of my own.

    There's real power in the recognition I feel when I read her work -- and there is real comfort in the knowledge that this woman, a stranger, has felt what I'm feeling and has found a way to describe and survive it that illuminates not only her own struggles, but mine as well.

    I know from experience that I will see the other side of this difficult time. I have a family I cherish, a job I enjoy, friends who make me laugh – and who help me laugh at myself. And I have the privilege of sharing my stories and hearing from people who are compassionate enough to share theirs.

    Even on the days I struggle, I could not be more grateful.

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