“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.” ~ Saint-Exupery
The words “tears of a clown” provoked in me some curiosity and reflection after hearing the phrase mentioned in a news report about the suicide of actor, Robin Williams, one of my favorite comedians. Even though his acting abilities were undeniably diverse, he was forever the comedian and his manic, impromptu style revealed a kind of unrivaled comedic genius. It seemed inconceivable that someone who made everyone around him laugh, did not have a sense of personal inner peace.
Curiosity prevailed and I discovered the phrase “Tears of a Clown” is actually the title of a song sung by Smokey Robinson. The lyrics read “keeping hurt and sadness hidden from the public eye - just as Pagliacci did.” Who or what is Pagliacci? Pagliacci is the Italian plural word for clowns. Pagliacci is also a famous opera of a play within a play. The main character Canio (dressed as a clown) literally stabs his cheating wife and her lover while they are performing onstage and turns to a horrified, yet unsuspecting audience and utters the famous closing line as they lie dying “The Comedy is finished.”
The irony of this notion of outward hilarity covering an inward and unrelenting sorrow is indicative of a huge number of current contemporary issues we frequently deal with on very personal levels. While deliberating this paradox, my phone rang with news of a break-in at my daughter’s floral shop. The thief broke the glass of her front door and entered the shop during the early morning rush hour. The police suspected the thief was looking for money or something to liquidate quickly to fuel a likely addiction.
Later that same night, while dining with friends I could not help but notice a 700 lb. man dining at the table next to us. Emotional pain manifests itself in so many ways: aggression, bullying, suicide, depression, addiction and self medication, eating, cutting and self mutilation, shopping, gambling, infidelity, excessive work, sex or exercise, as well as a variety of other self-destructive behaviors.
This is not really just about depression and suicide, nor is is about addiction, nor even about food. Isn’t the bottom line of all these behaviors simply the various ways we run from and mask emotional pain? Instead of having conversations about each one of these destructive behaviors individually, shouldn’t the conversation be about teaching about, identifying and assisting with emotional pain in a straight forward, direct way? Why is this not our focus, since unresolved emotional pain seems to be the crux of so many of these issues?
“People need loving the most when they appear to deserve it the least.” ~ John Harridan
While it seems so obvious to me that we are missing the proverbial boat, I examined my own personal resources in dealing with emotional pain as a person, parent and a former board member for the Mental Health Association. Am I able to give a quick rundown of ways to work through emotional pain in the same way as for a fever, a cold or the flu, a pulled or strained muscle? No, not even close. Sure, I have some ideas and suggestions, but a well rehearsed list of options, sadly - no. How in the world did I ever raise children? Suddenly, I feel completely inadequate in how I equipped my own family to deal with the unavoidable stress, hurt and disappointment of life. Are we overwhelmingly getting a failing grade in arming our society with coping strategies in dealing with life’s disappointments? I would have to say, unequivocally, yes!
The internet is full of information about physical health. Granted, information quite often is conflicting, but there is plenty of self-help advice to be found. Try looking up emotional health. Why is belly fat or high cholesterol so much more important than anxiety and depression? Unfortunately, I had to look long and hard to find any type of list of how to work through emotional pain. I am not so naive as to think there is a “one size fits all” list, but certainly we can start with some effective suggestions for everyday disappointments. Serious depression and suicidal thoughts should be considered a medical emergency and can be as life threatening as a heart attack or stroke. In less dire situations, there are healthy and effective ways to deal with emotional pain. Below is a condensed version from WikiHow on “15 Ways to Cope with Emotional Pain.”
- Don’t try to cure what is normal.
- If you have emotional pain, there is a reason for it.
- Don’t pretend you don’t feel it. Allowing yourself to feel rather than denying or masking will help you process the pain. Pray or meditate to work through it.
- Identify all your feelings. Identifying exactly how you feel will be helpful in processing your emotions in the wake of a traumatic or disappointing life event.
- Endure it. Like any other body part that is broken, giving it a few days - the pain lessens, but healing can take a little time.
- Talk to someone. Knowing someone is there for you is more important than being understood.
- Don’t let anyone tell you your feelings are not real.
- Get your mind off yourself and how bad you feel. Healing takes time but it won’t help you or those around you to wallow in it. Even grief needs a break.
- Allow time to heal. This too, shall pass.
- Don’t let your pain define you. You are better and stronger than this episode. It won’t last forever.
- Write a letter. Putting your feeling on paper can help you sort them out. Don’t try to justify - just get them out and see what you can learn from them.
- Stay away from any statements that blame yourself or others. Take responsibility for your part in what went wrong but resist the urge to blame.
- Develop a learning orientation. Trying times can help us develop better coping skills, learn wisdom and develop perspective.
- Write a thankfulness list. Being thankful is naturally healing and will help balance the injury.
- If you’ve lost hope or you’re thinking of suicide, you’re either suppressing your pain or you have deeper unresolved issues that you need to complete.
For those willing to embrace faith in God, there are ways to enable the power of the Atonement to take from us the pain and suffering which catapult us far beyond our limits to cope and anguish we cannot begin to endure alone. This is not an either/or list. As a woman of faith I agree with every suggestion listed above. I wish I had possessed that list as I taught my children to process hurt and disappointment. However, using my faith and my belief in God gives me additional coping strategies that enhance the above list. Elaine S. Marshall, the Dean of Nursing at Brigham Young University gave an exceptional address to a group of students in 2002 on this very topic. She equates emotional healing to the physical healing from the medical field and gives five very practical lessons that facilitate healing of spirit.
“Healing Hurts - I have learned that healing hurts. Life hurts. Healing really begins only when we face the hurt in its full force and then grow through it with all the strength of our soul. For every reward of learning and growing, some degree of pain is always the price.”
“Healing is Active - You have to participate. No one else can do it for you. To begin healing, you must acknowledge and feel the hurt. Only those who don’t feel, those without conscience, cannot heal.”
“Healing is Private - Private healing is not healing by abandonment. Healing is not only private, it is sacred. There is something so sacred about partaking of the power of the Atonement to overcome suffering, disappointment, or sin that it happens in the privacy of that special relationship between the mortal and the divine. Healing involves a private, personal communion with the Savior, the Master Healer.”
“Healing Teaches Us - We will never be the same. Pain changes us but not in the same way healing teaches us. Healing can help us become more sensitive and more awake to life. Healing inspires repentance and obedience. Healing invites gifts of humility and faith. It opens our hears to the profound complexities of truth, beauty, divinity, and grace.”
“Healing is a Divine Gift - The last and greatest lesson of healing is that it is a divine gift always available from a loving Heavenly Father. If you have a pain or sorrow or disappointment or sin or just a grudge that needs healing, the Savior simply says, ‘Come unto me.’”
President Gordon B. Hinckley reminds us as servants of Jesus Christ of our responsibility to ease the pain of those around us who suffer. “Every day someone in your path is hurting, someone is afraid, someone feels inadequate, or someone needs a friend. Someone needs you to notice, to reach out, and to help him or her to heal. You may not know who that is at the time, but you can give encouragement and hope. You can help heal wounds of misunderstanding and contention. You can serve in the cause of the Master Healer.”
When it is all said and done, “At the final day the Savior will not ask about the nature of our callings. He will not inquire about our material possessions or fame. He will ask if we ministered to the sick, gave food and drink to the hungry, visited those in prison, or gave succor to the weak. When we reach out to assist the least of Heavenly Father’s children, we do it unto Him. That is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” ~ Joseph B. Wirthlin
Certainly we can’t change this problem overnight. Yet, we can all do a better job in our own circles; to actively reach out to those who are isolated, who seem withdrawn, those without apparent friends. Everyone needs to feel important and needed. There is a power in a smile, in kind words and encouragement. Helping others feel gladness, belonging and friendship may eliminate the need for a the self destructive masks camouflaging sorrow, pain and buried tears.
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression signs types diagnosis treatment.htm, and http://www.helpguide.org/mental/living_depressed_person.htm. Eight Ways to Actively Fight Depression