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Alone

By Justine Dorton

When the doctor told me that something was wrong, I don’t think I believed him. I smiled and asked questions, nodding at appropriate moments. I’m sure the doctor thought I must have fallen off my rocker. It wasn’t until I got home that I let myself contemplate his words. “Something is wrong. We need to do more tests.” The possibilities he had laid out were scary. They were so scary, in fact, I don’t think I associated them with real words or actual reality in any way. Cancer? MS? Those words were such outliers in my vocabulary of reality, they didn’t seem to possibly apply to me in any real or appreciable way. They were, of course, things that happened to a beautiful (and skinny) heroine in softly lit, heavily airbrushed movies.

That is why I lost it at home that night.

I lost it in a way that only slightly strange people like me can. I cried and thrashed about on the bed. I raged at the curtains and walls. I felt the injustice of it. I wanted to yell “It’s not fair!” like my 7-year-old daughter does when household justice isn’t meted out in perfect parcels. Frankly, I just didn’t feel like ‘the type’ to have a life-threatening disease, whatever it is that means. Somehow I hoped that thrashing about in my tantrum might somehow change the new vocabulary words that were entering my consciousness.

After the raging came the sadness. I plunged into that terribly selfish place where I felt utterly alone in the world. I was surrounded by dozens of people that loved me and were serving me in so many ways, yet no one, I felt, could really understand what was happening to me. I had suddenly been handed the weight of the world and asked to run a marathon with it.

I went through the next round of tests with this feeling, the heavy certainty that I was bearing an unmanageable load. I carried all 100 MRI films of my brain into my next doctor’s visit. Walking from the car with these films, I felt their weight as I felt the pain and anxiety of the last six weeks of tests. They seemed to get heavier as I walked through the parking lot. They held all these answers that I knew would add weight to my already sagging shoulders. I almost couldn’t carry them, their answers unwanted, their offered burden unbearable.

I cried quietly to the Lord, “In my head, I know I’m not alone, yet I feel so singularly alone. But I know I am not the only person who suffers. Please help me remember. Help me remember.”

I closed my prayer as I was stepping into the waiting room. Inside, I saw 10 or 15 other people sitting in chairs.

Waiting their turn.

Clutching their films.

I held on to my own films and cried as I walked. I walked into this room that had so immediately answered my prayer, this room that held people holding their heavy burdens in black opaqueness on their lap. I sat among these friends, holding my own burden as they held theirs. We sat together quietly, communicating what could not be said.

I am not alone.

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We’re all carrying burdens. We’re all hoping for good results. We’re all thrashing about on the ground sometimes crying that it’s not fair. But the truth is that when I’m the one thrashing about, any person that helps pick me up off the floor will be carrying a burden of their own.

My life is no different, no more special or traumatic, than yours or any other person. I suffer and hurt and mourn lost expectations, yet the Lord still expects me to occasionally be the person to scrape someone else off the floor. I don’t get the luxury of a perpetual tantrum. We all hurt, and yet we all are commanded to comfort those in need of comfort. We all struggle, yet we all are commanded to give anyway. I want to remember that this week. I want to give as the Savior showed us. I want to give in spite of the struggle. I want to give precisely because I am not alone.

What can you give this week to someone who might feel alone? How do you fight your own pity parties? Is there someone in your life that serves you in spite of their own struggles? I know there are in my life. This week, I’m going to serve them for a change.

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

31 thoughts on “Alone”

  1. We moved a few months ago, and for the first few weeks in my ward I felt really conspicuous. The ward is all younger couples and I felt like the only one there without a spouse who attends church (it's a small ward with a specific demographic). At first I felt deeply embarrassed and really self-conscious about my children's behavior. Then the Lord opened my eyes and helped me see that others are also struggling–maybe not with the exact same issue, but with other things that make church hard for them. I've tried to reach out to them and I've tried not to let the fact that my husband is inactive define how I perceive my church attendance. In my mind I often repeat the phrase "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent" and I cheerfully try to serve others rather than sitting around in sacrament meeting obsessing about what I'm missing.

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  2. I think that having the occasional experience of being the one who was scraped up off the floor helped me see and understand and try to seek out the times when I could be the one doing the scraping.

    As far as someone who serves me, I think of my grandma. She's 77 and still works as a childcare provider at a hospital. When she's not working, she helps care for my 3yo cousin while my aunt works. But she still does thoughtful things like call and email me to ask for updates on my kids. She called the other day to say how much she liked getting new pictures that I sent her. When I think about how busy she is and how hard she works, it always helps me feel appreciated to know that she makes time for me too.

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  3. I moved into a new ward in August and feel like I must be invisible. I'm also adjusting to new motherhood and often feel like I'm floundering. It's really easy for me to feel like my new ward isn't doing what they need to do to make me feel welcome, but I am trying to remember that I am probably not the only one who feels that way. I am trying to build some courage to reach out to someone in my ward instead of waiting for them to reach out to me. It's hard! But I try to remind myself that if everyone waits for someone to reach out to them, no one will ever reach out.

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  4. As I have fought my battle (although not as difficult as yours) with my itchy little girl I have sometimes just broken down and cried. Father I know that you know that my daughter is so itchy we both can't bear it. What is the answer. Is she going to be itchy forever. I just don't know if I can take it anymore, or at least I don't want to take it anymore. Ok I know that Thou knows all and that thou art watching out for me but please please please… I'm so tired and I don't know what to do. Just please fill this giant unknown that has filled my soul with something else. Then I am filled with the peace that He is always with me. Memories of past times that He has listened to me and undeniably answered my prayers fill my soul with the peace that He will always hear and answer my prayers.

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  5. Thanks for this tender post, Justine.

    I wrote about irony in adversity recently on my blog. This post made that come to mind. Life indeed is not fair. And that is part of our trial of faith.

    One of the things I do to avoid the problem of pity parties is to keep my heart open to others with similar problems, or at least others to whom I can relate and empathize to some degree because of my own challenges. I feel the Spirit strongly when I try to reach out in this way, and it helps take some of the sting out of my own struggles. If I can have empathy, it brings some purpose to my suffering for me.

    I think one key thing we can learn from our own trials is compassion. It's one thing to have someone care, it's another thing to have someone reach out who really *understands* some of what is happening. I try in my meager way to be a person who understands (at least somewhat) for a few people in my world. And I find that I receive strength and encouragement and support and understanding from them, too, in the process.

    Hearts knit together is the goal, right? I think there is nothing like trials to help facilitate that. 🙂

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  6. Oh and by the way if you are throwing any kind of tantrum it must not be a very loud one because you are still a shining example of service and sisterly love if I've ever seen one! You are an amazing woman and I think I could get a whole choir of men and woman alike to sing your praise! You are an exaple of courage and love to all who know you. I can only hope that my inward tantrums come across as benevolant and yours.

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  7. Justine, I love you and I love this post. I especially appreciated this line: Frankly, I just didn’t feel like ‘the type’ to have a life-threatening disease, whatever it is that means. I've been repeatedly surprised by difficulties that have come my way. I think we construct paradigms of cause and effect that help us feel safe, and when those paradigms are shattered we can feel painfully bewildered.

    I feel compelled, though, to point out the distinction between crushing loneliness/despair and a pity party. I don't think it's necessarily selfish to feel utterly alone, utterly lost. Those feelings don't reflect reality (because of the Savior, none of us are truly alone or lost), but sometimes we're simply not capable of thwarting them as quickly and cleanly as we wish we could, even after heartfelt prayer. Of course, sometimes we choose to stay in dark places longer than necessary, and that could be termed a selfish act. But the last thing a despairing person needs is to feel guilty about their despair. I don't for one second think you intended to imply as much. I'm just concerned about your intent being misinterpreted.

    Thank you for your candor and eloquence, dear friend.

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  8. Two weeks ago I would not have been able to grasp the heaviness of which you speak. It's humbling to recognize how fast that kind of oblivion can turn around.

    Yet I've been thinking about you this week and wondering (waiting with you in a tiny insignificant way) over your most recent round of tests.

    Just know you have also been in my thoughts and prayers and it did not go unnoticed by me that while (as far as I knew) you were still waiting and worrying you still reached out to me this week. You served me in spite of your own struggles.

    Thank you for that. I hope to soon be in a place I can be there for you, too.

    Love you–and thanks for this beautiful post.

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  9. Just reading comments and wanted to echo Raschel (you really are an amazing person, Justine) and Kathy Soper (truth be told, I have sometimes felt guilty about my despair when I have experienced it, and sometimes it is a process to work through it, so thanks for bringing that up.)

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  10. Kathy, you are so right. This is absolutely a guilt-free zone. We've all — ALL — had those times where we were sprawled on the floor in tears over the unexpected course of our lives. I, in no way, want to say that we don't all get our turn sometimes. If none of us ever fell apart, there would be nary a need for someone else to make a casserole and have a listening ear.

    I just can't let myself stay there very long. It's not good for my soul. And Dalene, you stand strong, honey.

    And Raschel, you are just about the kindest person I've ever known. Thanks for your kind words.

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  11. Justine, my heart goes out to you and your family. Let's hope you get a good outcome from those tests.

    My favorite part of this essay was how you were able to see beyond your own concerns to the other poor souls in the waiting room. A good vision for all of us.

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  12. Like the Savior grieved in Gethsemane we all need to grieve as well. The important part is that like the Savior, we rise from our grief and move on. Just as you are doing. My prayers are with you Justine…

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  13. I have always been the type of person that was able to pick myself up and get myself out of depression. But lately this has been so difficult. Guilt is a huge part of the feelings I am having. I keep thinking there are tons of people with bigger problems than mine and they manage to be happy. What is wrong with me?

    I have lately been making a concerted effort too serve others and I hoped that I would be happier. I have felt happier in some ways but the depressing feelings still linger. I have realized we just have to keep serving and not expect immediate results.

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  14. Justine, I love this post. I have felt this way so often — alone, in despair, feeling like nobody understands what I'm going through. I loved your description of walking into the doctor's office and seeing others sitting and clutching their films — that type of thing has happened to me as well. Feeling completely alone and suddenly realizing that there are others that are carrying my same burden. Somehow it feels lighter.

    I don't carry the same burden you do, but I have felt the same — the raging, the isolation, the desperation. And you're right, it helps when you help someone else carry their burdens. Also, I pray for a stronger back.

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  15. Raschel, My daughter developed eczema when she was three months old. It broke my heart. I have had it my whole life and struggled terribly with it (especially during my pregnancies). (If that is what is causing your daughter's itchiness and if you want any tips, please email me. sage at cineframe dot com).

    I used to live in a pity party over my skin condition. It's taken so many years for me to overcome it. I appreciate Justine recognizing that everyone has struggles. Some do seem harder to bear and I hope you will have the strength and support you need.

    My faith was tried as I listened to blessings that told me in time my trial would end. It took about 12 years, and culminated in the worst pain and oozing occurring on my new little baby girl, as I watched knowing how painful and difficult it was for me to bear, then seeing her suffer for over a year.

    But I wasn't alone. Many people sought to help. We are blessed to have each other. And now, it is just part of who I am, but not in everyone's face, and my daughter only itches a little and almost never has a flare. My prayers were answered in the Lord's time.

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  16. Sage, we really are so blessed to have each other, aren't we? What a beautiful way to put it.

    And heathermommy, it seems like there are so many stories where the happy ending comes after prayer and fasting. I often think about the many times in my own life, and in the lives of many that I love, when the happy ending doesn't come either quickly or at all. Those moments are what require the choice of faith more than any other. If everything were always easily resolved, it wouldn't be much of a choice, for me anyway!

    I'm sorry you're suffering. I know how suffering feels, and it doesn't matter the cause, it feels just as miserable and alone. You're in my thoughts and prayers. Resolution doesn't always come in the time or manner I wish it would, but I'm typically grateful for the growth anyway.

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  17. Thank you for this post. Where to begin with how I can identify with you?! Being from strong pioneer stock with a fierce work ethic I've always been proud of my physical capacity to get things done. (My mental capacity gave me a little more trouble.) Now the tables have turned and, just like you, I don't see myself as the type of person to actually have this body with it's new issues.

    Add to this the fact that doctors cannot find out what is wrong with me. That does something to you mentally- wondering if it's psychosomatic. In the end you and I have found ourselves in the same place – isolated and alone. Even those closest to me don't understand because I can't go around saying, "It hurts now, and now and now some more"- the way my body communicates it to me.

    I question myself, am I causing this, could I do something to prevent it? I'm spinning myself in mental circles over it. If only I could not be this new person, changed by chronic pain, if I could please reclaim who I am. The best way I've found to be me is to go on serving, not letting the pain take over my life. I'll be in pain one way or the other, might as well serve. It is more difficult though.

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  18. Justine, as I was writing about my struggles and reading about what some mention as lessons learned from their trials, I realize that because I haven't thought about my trials for awhile, I have almost forgotten what I learned. It is good to remember those moments of thrashing about, if only to contrast them with the times when I am still and try to see the path that I managed to stumble down that brought me to this current stillness. The calm before the storm? This post reminded me to keep learning. It made my heart walk with you carrying your 100 films. Heart knit together in trials and pain as well as love.

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  19. A friend once told me that we're not supposed to compare our trials; I think it was in reply to my obvious attempt to make my struggles sound similar to hers in a comradery-type of way. She told me that although it's good to empathize and sympathize, but at the same time, it isn't a contest. Nor is it healthy to compare. Your post, Justine, fits right into this because I think I often find myself feeling that my struggles are not AS BAD, and therefore, I'm not worthy to even ask for help. Does this make sense?
    I find myself feeling alone a lot (at least I have this last year; my depression has hit an all time low), and I always wonder why nobody will call, come over, or just "know" and help. But earlier this week, I decided not to think of myself, and so I made an elaborate (elaborate for me just means more effort than usual) dinner for my neighbor. Her family has been really sick and her husband was just diagnosed with mono. Making them dinner took most of the afternoon and forced me to think about somebody else, instead of wallowing in my self-pity (which always makes the depression worse).

    So, thank you for this post. Thank you for reminding me that everyone suffers, and it's not the level at which we suffer, it's the fact that we do. We all need the Savior, and we all need each other. I need to remember this!

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  20. jendoop, if you are reading this, know you are truly not alone. I understand so much of what you are experiencing…the undiagnosed health problems, the difficulty of loved ones not being able to understand, the self-doubt.

    Hugs. Feel free to email me anytime if you want to 'chat.'

    I'm at hotmail, with the username mulling_and_musing (underscores included)

    Piggybacking off of what cheryl said, I think often of Elder Maxwell and his many comments about trials. The phrase "tailorized tutoring" comes to mind. It helps me consider that the trials I have really are mine for a reason, and therefore there is no benefit in comparing — at least not in a self-defeating, 'Ah, it's not so bad' kind of way. For me, accepting my trials as part of my personalized plan helps me not get so stinking mad about them. 🙂

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  21. Justine,
    Your post reminded me of a time in my life when I went in to see an infectious disease doctor, whose office was in an oncology clinic. While I was waiting for my appointment, a good fiend came in, scared to death, for her first chemo treatment. Although my proble am was serious, all my concern fo myself went away and I was grateful to God to putting me in that place at that time–for her. As I've dealt with other challengesover my life, i've found that if I can be honest with others and my weaknesses, they are more likely to open up to me about their fheir needs and allow me to serve th4m without making it a competition of who has it worse, but rather making a deliberate effort tomake the conversation mutually supportive, our friendships are stronger and I thinkd, for me, I can have the support I need and feel good about myself by not being too sick to give to other people.

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  22. M&M your inlaws are a special part of my life. just today, i'd have to say the highlight of my day was the tender comments made by your remarkable mil…and it's not the first time she's noticed me and reached out with a "scrape me off the floor" kindness. I'm sorry about the loss of your grandmother-in-law. I also read the Maxwell talk on your blog…which was timely.

    Justine, this post and the comments it inspired has truly been heaven-sent at this time. i'm so sorry for the stress and strain you're dealing with right now. i don't know you at all, but can only say i'm grateful for you, and appreciate the perspective you've added to my thoughts.

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  23. Blue!! I didn't realize you were part of my small world, too. Wow.

    Yeah, my mil is amazing. I'm very, very blessed to have her in my life.

    It sounds like you are having a rough time. I'm sorry. Hugs to you!

    (OK, I so totally need to meet you! Will you email me? 🙂 )

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  24. Years ago, I'd have drowned off the coast of Taiwan if it hadn't been for a friend who bothered to swim out and teach me – there and then, on the spot – about how to patiently swim in to shore on the back of incoming waves (as opposed to exhausting myself fighting the undertow).

    Prior to my rescue, the overriding feeling was one of anger … why me? why now? And my plea during those moments went something like this: not like this, not this far from home, please? I'm a self-reliant Missouri farm boy, for cryin' out loud. We don't die in eight feet of water on account of some stupid "riptide" … we struggle and we prevail, right?

    Long story short, I was rescued by a Quebecois hippie who understood the sea.

    No doubt, I'll one day find myself truly alone and that will be that. Until then, I'll live with the conviction that we're never really as alone as we might think we are.

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  25. The holidays are filled with images of happy families gathering for feasts and festivities. Each year I struggle with the emotions these images evoke. Some years ago, I made the decision to cling to the Gospel and endeavor to walk in faith. The decision meant the unintended alienation of some extended family members who viewed religion as a crutch for the weak and thought I was a fool. I am still not allowed in the homes of some my closest relatives because it would be “upsetting” to those who disagree with my views.

    This year, as I again prepared to face the holidays without the relatives, I found myself feeling a little resentful. I know without a doubt what I have done—standing for what I believe in—is right. My integrity is intact.

    But it doesn’t erase the loneliness.

    Then, a week ago, my husband and I were visited by a man whose ward we used to be in. By worldly standards he has little if anything—he has suffered much hardship and pain—but he made the decision to help those who couldn’t help themselves. He and his wife spent several weeks making woolen hats for the homeless. Knowing we have helped at homeless shelters in the past, he asked us to take the hats and give them to those in need.
    My heart was touched, my conscience nudged by the spirit. It was a gentle reminder that, no matter the pain that simmers inside me, I too can chose to reach out to others.

    In doing so, I am always abundantly blessed.

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  26. There are so many ways our lives are so richly blessed by the people around us. I know that the church and the people around us can't "give us the dream", but in offering smiles, love, and attention, those people create an atmosphere that is certainly worth the pains of this existence.

    Everyone have a wonderful Christmas!

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