BARRETT: Pain and suffering



Tom Barrett

My grandmother is depressed. And for a couple years now, this depression has controlled her life. She’s lost jobs, her confidence and even much of her once beautiful voice because of it. She has been in and out of various mental health facilities, sometimes staying for several weeks straight.

She has been tossed around from doctor to doctor, and it seems the only thing each of them has to offer her is a new prescription. She has even tried going to a couple of prayer and meditation groups. She has issue upon issue dating back to her childhood, ranging from losing her father as a child, divorce and declaring bankruptcy several times.

Nowadays, she lives trapped in her head, feeling absolutely purposeless. She has this uncanny ability to find the negative in literally anything and everything. She lost her job a year ago, which brought her down for a while. She fought and got her job back but then was unhappy with the work she was doing. Throughout her entire slump, my family has been there for her, offering their love and tireless support, yet she does not let herself feel this love. Instead, she feels guilty for being a burden on everyone. Even when I came home from school to visit her a couple weeks ago, all she could think about was how bad she’d feel if I died in a car accident on the way home.

What scares me most about my grandma is not how inexplicably pessimistic she is. Rather, what frightens me most is how much I feel I can relate to her. There have been times when I have felt absolutely empty – like my existence has had no purpose.

I’ve had moments where the light at the end of the tunnel seems to have disappeared and life has appeared utterly meaningless. These spells have appeared seemingly without warning, and when I’m in them, I feel like a completely different person. But seeing my grandmother struggle has made me aware of this tendency within myself. It has served as a warning of what could be. It has shown me the dangers of letting this pain rule my life. Most importantly, seeing her has shown me that I do not have to follow the same route that she has stumbled down.

We all feel pain. Whether it is emotional, mental or physical, pain is simply something unavoidable. We all will face it, and at times we’ll face a lot of it. There is a big difference, however, between feeling pain and suffering. My grandmother would tell you she is suffering from depression; I would tell you that sometimes I feel the pain of it. Pain is part of life. Suffering is a perspective; it is allowing our pain to control who we are – our actions, our thoughts, our feelings.

When we suffer, we yearn to let go of this suffering. Too often, people see their suffering as some insurmountable wall blocking our path to a better life. The only way we’ll ever climb this wall, however, is if we understand that we always have a choice. As grueling, challenging and seemingly unendurable as it may seem, our pain can only hold us captive if we allow it to.

We have to choose to see the good in our lives – the opportunities around us, the loved ones who care for us. With diligence, courage and fortitude, we can choose to rise above this pain and not let it dictate what we do or who we become. With love, support and understanding, we can help liberate each other from whatever suffering may already have us ensnared.

As difficult as overcoming our pain may be, we must never forget that the power to let it go is always within us.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].