How to Deal With Mental Pain

Jules Shear - The Third Part - This is my darkness now, only I can see in itOne of my very favorite songs is “The Girl’s on Fire.” And my favorite line in it is, “This is my darkness now, only I can see in it.” There’s a lot of meaning in that line.

It’s about pain. It’s about how no one can share your pain. We all lie to ourselves that we are part of a greater whole. But we aren’t. We are alone. We are so alone that most people won’t even allow themselves to think about it. That’s because it is so terrifying.

You Just Can’t Know My Pain, and I Can’t Yours

I spend a lot of my time as I’m waking up thinking about what it will be like to die alone. Since I don’t expect to live long and I am lucky to have a number of friends and family members who care about me, I expect that there will be people around to see me die. But they will only be spectators. It will be like a sporting event. They’ll be watching, but they won’t be on the field — in the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as so much an individual that no one can know what it’s like to be me. The fact is, I’m making an argument for us all. There will be no one around who truly understands your pain — or anyone’s.

“This is my darkness now, only I can see in it.” –Jules Shear

Oh certainly, we all know roughly what it is like to be dumped out of a long-term relationship. We know what it’s like to lose a job or something far less ephemeral like a child. We can all watch Love Story and sob when Ali MacGraw dies.

But we don’t know what it’s like for you. Because we aren’t you. Just as you aren’t us. Others can’t see in our Darkness and we can’t see in theirs.

The Pointlessness of Trying to “Cheer Up” Another

This is why people trying to cheer you up always works the opposite as intended. To begin with, even though you know they are trying to be helpful, they’re stealing from you. That pain belongs to you not them. And it’s pathetic too! Because they don’t know what you are feeling.

Words Don’t Help

Indeed, “cheering up” someone usually has the opposite result, because it makes the person feel even more alone. It’s like someone commiserating with you about a dear pet that just died as though you’d just lost a car. Regardless, the only thing that can be said in such a situation is a platitude that you’ve not only heard before, but have probably used. So you feel bad hearing the platitude and you feel bad knowing that you were being equally useless to another friend.

Life is hard. Don’t trivialize it with words. And good God never trivialize it with platitudes. Everyone knows them all. That’s what makes them platitudes.

The Only Relief to Your Pain

What if you can embrace your pain. I mean really do it: love your pain. Then you might have a chance. But that is a hard thing to do. And there is no one who can help you.

Otherwise, your only hope is death. And that’s not so bad. Because it comes to us all. And most of us have control over it. If the pain ever gets too bad you can kill yourself. This is a thought that cheered up Stevie Smith very much. And it cheers me up to.

That doesn’t mean you should do it. In fact, I think most people are wrong when they do it. But it’s nice to know that if things get so bad that you just can take it, you have the option.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “How to Deal With Mental Pain

  1. I’m divided on people’s attempts to cheer me up. On the one hand, I agree — these never work. On the other, I can appreciate the sentiment. Oddly, sometimes I appreciate the sentiment more from strangers than from people who know me well. One expects people you know to say sympathetic things, so it feels a bit rote. Like sad expressions at a funeral. When it’s from people who have no social obligation to be kind, it’s a reminder that not all humans are innately cruel. And since that’s usually what’s depressing me to begin with, the little moments where they surprise you with decency are very memorable.

    The only thing worse than platitudes are pop songs about being happier. I love REM, but there’s one song intended to cheer up depressed people which was a huge hit, and I can’t listen to it. I’ve heard that album 50 times at least, and skipped that song every time but the first.

    On dying alone — you might remember the story from ten years ago or so about this cat in a nursing home who seemed to sense when patients were slipping away. Apparently this gave patients some comfort. The story must have made an impression on Stephen King, because he included it in a novel!

  2. I have not heard the original track in a very long time. I’m pretty sure we ran across it at the same time and …… was it an LP i bought you or maybe one you bought me?
    When I hear the song, i see you performing it with a small audience of one…and the track is overlayed, in my mind, with your voice and timing.
    OK, to be fair, i have the tape of you doing it and I think you lack the same. But it leaves me with the feeling it is and has always been your song as much as it is his.

    • Really? You have a recording? I have to remember that all those years you were quietly recording lots of things. There were three songs on the album that came to be part of my standard repertoire: “The Girl’s on Fire,” “First Freeze After the Fall,” and “And That Was yesterday,” which I really didn’t have the range to sing. I’d hate to hear what I did to those.

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