Every time I feel like crying, a voice in my head pipes up. This is what it says:

“Why are YOU crying? You don’t deserve to cry. You don’t deserve to feel sad. You don’t deserve to feel pain or grief. Because you are privileged. You are hashtag-blessed. You have not just a roof over your head, but a very pretty roof. You have not just a stable and loving spouse, but a beautiful family. You have talents and friends and a huge loving extended family who will always be your safety net.”

But the voice is not done. The voice continues. “You know who gets to cry? You know who gets to feel sad? People who are poor. People who are sick. People who are lonely or abused or neglected. You are none of those; you are not among the deserving. Your healthy body and your comfortable home and your loving family and friends disqualify you.”

The voice taunts me further:

“Did you know that some people never get a hug? Did you know that some people are in chronic pain? Did you know that some people live with such high levels of anxiety or depression that they cannot hold down a job? Well, if you are none of those things then your sad feelings are artificial! Counterfeit. Whiny, even! Be grateful!!”

Now, I know that voice is toxic, and I know that’s not what gratitude means. But that voice is so loud. It is so loud and overpowering, that I have to work so hard to not believe it. That voice is my bully and my demon. 

Because pain is not a competition. Pain is not a race where there can only be a few winners. That toxic gratitude, that demon in my head, is denying me permission to feel my feelings. It’s more of a relay than a race. I hand off to you; you hand off to me. My experience helps me to understand yours, and yours helps me to comprehend mine. Where there’s mutual empathy, all boats rise, regardless of the nature of the struggle.

So here’s what I answer that voice, that bully, that demon.

“Voice! You are a liar. My pain is real, and moreover, it’s the siren of my soul. When my heart hurts, it’s because something is broken. And it doesn’t matter if that brokenness is visible or invisible. It doesn’t matter if many other things are not broken. The brokenness still matters and it still counts. When something is broken, pretending it isn’t there just creates more brokenness! So I’ll listen to my heart and to my soul. I’ll be sad, and I’ll cry, and I’ll trust my feelings. Also, and not necessarily at the same time, I’ll feel grateful for my blessings. Maybe I can feel that gratitude in the moment, and maybe I can’t, and that’s okay too. Those can all coexist in this big messy heart of mine. There’s room. My feelings might all bump up against each other. They may create chaos and noise. That’s okay too. Don’t bully me and don’t tell me what to feel.”

Because no feeling is wrong and no feeling is illegitimate. The voice of the soul is too important to ignore, too wise to overlook, and too kind to push away.