Sorrow Has No Hierarchy

It’s been six years since I admitted to people I felt suicidal. It’d been almost twenty since the time before that.

It still feels strange. And the problems I talked about then still exist. Particularly now, with the isolation of quarantine. Everyone is drawing into their isolated bubbles – not just physically. It makes it hard to really know, sometimes, exactly how bad your mental state has gotten.

Then I ran across these.

It was then that I realized I was struggling at best. I had eight of the nine warning signs of mental and emotional exhaustion. My “good” days were a six on the mental health pain scale, but often were an eight.

And my scores were the same for the suicide scale.

That was a month ago. I’m kinda still there. The range is more 5 to 7 lately.

Much like years ago, the responses to even alluding to the topic to anyone hit the two extremes: thinking I was being manipulative or trying to get attention, or brief bits of way too intense concern that (I imagine) were amazingly awkward to everyone. I’ve hesitated writing this for a while because … because I was afraid of what everyone’s reactions would be.


Yes, I am practicing self- care, following the guide in Everything is awful, and I’m not okay. I look like a person on the outside, but I’m really a bunch of coping mechanisms in a trench coat. Which is better than not having those coping mechanisms.

So why am I talking about it again? Why bring it up, let alone publicly? Is it because it’s something big? Is there something particularly edifying about my sorrow?

Yes, but actually no.

It doesn’t matter why I – or, perhaps you as well – feel this way. It doesn’t matter how “big” or “small” the reasons are. It matters. It’s important.

Sorrow has no hierarchy. Suffering is not a sport. There is no final ranking.
“John Brannox” in The New Pope [1]

A lot of the pain I’ve experienced lately is related to shame. Feeling ashamed about oneself. Feeling ashamed about weakness. Feeling ashamed in general.

That shame can create a harmful reaction, where you lash out defensively and lash out at yourself. Where you feel judged, even if nobody is actually judging you.

As Brené Brown put it:

…When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection. 

So very quickly — really about six weeks into this research — I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn’t understand or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and thought, I need to figure out what this is. And it turned out to be shame. And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? 

Brené Brown – “The Power of Vulnerability

Our shame causes real damage, but it doesn’t have to. It can be an opportunity.

Rather than lean away from this shame, it might be as simple as recognizing it, acknowledging where it’s coming from, and realizing that … well, there’s nothing to judge there. It’s okay to be vulnerable.

We all feel ridiculous. We have all been embarrassed. Embarrassment leads not to abandonment, though, but to unity.
“Sofia Dubois” – The Young Pope

So maybe the solution really is that simple (and difficult). To embrace our vulnerability. To acknowledge our shame. To stop imagining judgment that isn’t there – and knowing that holier-than-thou judgment is really just someone else projecting their own shame onto us.

Maybe we should take John Brannox’s words here to heart.

I am a fragile piece of porcelain. But I have finally understood that my fragility is my strength, not my damnation.

[1] Why these quotations? Maybe it’s because I’ve completely fallen in love with the music of Recondite (whose gorgeous music is featured in The Young Pope and The New Pope), and listening to it makes me think of these quotations in particular. I dunno.