You're Not Sick, You Are Suffering

I am rarely asked specifically what it is that I "do" for a living. This is likely because meeting new people becomes a curiously slow process when one approaches 40 years old and lives through a global pandemic. I've found myself considering this question for many years now as I've developed and grown in my practice. It came to me some years ago that I am in the business of human suffering and the reduction of it. Of course this begged a further question as to what this term means to me and why it is that I thought of it in the first place. I've settled on a term that is simple and I believe demonstrates a useful definition of the term and how it applies to us as humans.


Suffering is pain without purpose.


Pain, and the experience of pain, is an unavoidable and necessary experience of the human condition. Pain is incumbent in strengthening, bonding, knowing, learning, and growing. It is a natural and expected outcome of violence, harm, and hatred. In this way it links and bonds our experiences together much like any other emotion, any other happening of which we are aware. Insofar as this is an acceptable truth, pain is purposeful and important. Suffering, however, is the experience of pain from which we derive no implicit meaning, no help, no learning, and no expansion of our perceptions. Suffering has many manifestations and as such it has been called many names. Depression comes to mind, as does anxiety, among other more clinical words like phobia and obsessions. We have developed these terms to specify the certain manifestations of suffering. One could make the same statement regarding physical maladies as well, as I cannot imagine that the pains ranging from the common flu to cancer can be said to have any implicit purpose.


The people I work with all suffer. They experience pain they do not understand, and are daily victims of it.


This is all a short lead up for me to state something unequivocally to those who are my current patients, or those who may become ones in the future: You are not sick. We use the term "mental illness" as it was the best combination of words the medical model could withstand to describe patterns of behaviors commonly seen among the suffering. It helps professionals communicate and find consensus. Mental illness is a description of patterns, and not one thing more. You are not a pattern, you are not a diagnosis, and you are not "sick" in the ordinary sense of the word. It is likely that you experience pain of some kind, emotional, cognitive, and yes even some physical pain and you do not know how to cure it. The pain has no meaning, no shape, and due to this is menacing and seemingly unending. There are answers to this suffering, and they are much easier to come by if we can together dismantle the vulgar language of diagnoses. Once done the journey towards knowing, truly knowing, the nature of your suffering can begin. Then once you know it, you can begin to take all the steps necessary to alleviate your suffering and be free of it. The methods vary, the time expenditure is unknown, but it is worth every single moment. I encourage you to continue on this journey if not with me then with someone who can aide you.


You have everything you need, I promise you.


Stay hopeful fellow travelers,


-M


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