On a scale from 1 to 10, how much does it hurts? This is a typical question, and a very valid one, Doctors, Nurses and Health Practitioners would ask anytime one is in pain. Physical pain.
According to the fictitious mybrainspedia.com, physical pain is a pain that is material and makes you visible, noticeable. It is a corporal pain that one can actually point to and describe about. It is a pain that can be measured and understood using the simple, empirical scale from 1 to 10. Throughout our years dealing with couple’s infertility, my wife and I have been asked to measure physical pain many, many times. In our case, my wife is the one that braves into the specific physical, and sometimes hurtful, aspects of the treatments that unfortunately only she can perform. So she was indeed asked the “pain question” numerous times…
But every time the question was being asked to her, I was secretly, quietly, responding to myself: 11.
Yes, 11. On my 1 to 10 scale, the pain I felt during our treatments was off the charts. It was not the physical pain she was being asked to report on, but the emotional hurt the infertility process caused me. And it was a self-inflicted, lonely and selfish feeling. The emotional pain I was in was normally kept to myself while I pretended to be all strong, supportive and optimistic about the infertility treatment we would be experiencing at the time. It was a positioning towards male expectations so ingrained in me that it took me a long while to figure it out what it was. But it was there. So much so that the secrecy I had imposed on myself made it even worse, as the emotional pain would made me feel wounded yet completely invisible during the entire process. So make that a 12 on a scale from 1 to 10…
As I look back, I see I was in constant emotional pain. I realize that I was always measuring it against all sorts of inquiries and not only those directed to my wife. A simple “How are you doing?” would trigger my hurting, as my unspoken answer would be “Do you really, really want to know?” I understand now that my emotional pain was latent, pulsing through my heart every step of the way. It was making me sink in a quick sand of emotions without noticing I was even on it. I was so absorbed by the need to show control and support that I had chosen to simply accept my emotional pain as part of the treatment, not even sharing it with the one person I love the most: my wife. For a long time I have kept my emotional pain away from her, and I now know that in doing so I was too causing her suffering I could not understand.
The same feeling on “invisibleness” that was bothering me so much was afflicting my wife every time I kept my emotional pain for myself. How could I hold her during rough times when I was not allowing anyone to support me? How could I ask her to look at the positive side of things when I was not being honest to own feelings? Difficult questions for a guy to find answers for… I had coded on my Latin soul that “feelings” could be perceived as weaknesses. And I was not made for being weak. I could not afford to be weak. She would not love me if I was weak. So yes, understanding and dealing with my feelings was challenging, confusing and stressful. But it made me realize that my secrecy was in fact causing more harm than good to our relationship, even though all I was trying to do was to protect her by not showing my true self.
But why was it so easy for me to understand the physical scale of pain when being inquired by Doctors, and it was so hard to quantify emotional pain? Simple: because the physical one was “visible”. The simple acts of talking about it and empirically quantifying it made it real and easy to understand. So, the logical conclusion was that the emotional scale had to be seen for it to work.
And there it was. In my face. Bright and shiny. The light bulb that turned on and made things all much clearer for me. The realization that the emotional scale had to be shared with my wife was simple yet fantastic! That by sharing with her how I felt was not admitting defeat, but instead an invitation to truly walk together on the path to deal with our infertility. And that it was a scale after all, a somewhat measurable thing my male brain could relate to… A wise man once said that for one to be courageous, he has to fear his challenges. And that saying never felt more appropriate than the time I saw my emotional scale at a bright light.
Have my emotional pain disappeared since I admitted my feelings and plotted them on an imaginary chart? No, of course not. It is still there and it still hurts. But in making it visible to my wife and me, it made my journey more bearable, as I felt more connected and more empowered to deal with our pain every time the scale blows pass 10.