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Michael Abrahams | We are surrounded by pain

Published:Monday | December 9, 2019 | 12:24 AM

They don’t know

And I say they don’t know

They see me smile

But they don’t know what I feel inside

They Don’t Know - Chronixx

Recently, I came across a blog post written by one of my favourite writers, Jon Pavlovitz, an American pastor. The title was ‘Everyone Around You is Grieving. Go Easy’. Published on February 21, 2019, the article spoke of the fact that many of the people we come across are hurting and we do not know, so we ought to be mindful of the ways in which we interact with them. The article resonated strongly with me, as his observations closely mirrored mine, and our feelings on the issue are congruous. Pavlovitz’s post served as a catalyst for this article, as the topic is one I had been planning to write on for some time now.

After decades of living on this planet, I have come to realize that we are surrounded by pain. We and our fellow human beings all carry scars, both physical and emotional. As a friend of mine once correctly pointed out to me, we are all broken. Some of us are cracked, and some are shattered, but we are all broken to varying degrees. We have all been hurt, and many of us are still hurting.

But those of us who do hurt do not wear badges that declare our pain, and we are not necessarily walking around with frowns on our faces or tears streaming down our cheeks, either. If people do not volunteer information, of if you do not ask, you will never know the pain some of them are going through.

Every day people lose loved ones and get diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Marriages and other relationships fall apart on a daily basis. But many who experience these stressful events are forced to soldier on and try to live their lives the best way they can, and in doing so, they mask their pain.


As a gynaecologist, I have seen countless patients who visit me for pelvic complaints, but by the end of their visits leave me much more concerned about the issues in their heads. In many cases, if I did not ask, I would not know.

I recall a young lady who came to me for a routine check-up. She appeared happy and smiled readily. It was her first visit to my office, and in taking a history from a new patient, it is customary to ask about the occurrence of diseases in family members that may have a genetic basis and therefore place the patient at risk.

When I asked her about the presence of disorders such a hypertension and diabetes in her family, her response was that she did not know much about her relatives, including her siblings, because she does not get along with them. Her mention of the schism with her family was fleeting, but I took note because a good relationship with family is of immense value, as it contributes to one’s mental and social well-being.

As I enquired about the history of her fractured relationship with family members, stories of childhood trauma began to emerge. Her father has been absent for most of her life, and according to her, is “dead to her”. Her mother was physically and emotionally abusive to her, and she also endured sexual molestation in childhood.

As our conversation unfolded, I not only realised that she has clinical depression, but has also been suicidal. She also admitted to being a ‘cutter’ and showed me the scars on her left wrist as evidence of her torment. At the end of the visit, I referred her to a psychiatrist for further management.

This woman was hurting deeply, but you would not know. And there are lots of others like her walking among us. Many people are on the edge, barely clinging to their sanity. They smile but are hurting inside. Some of the people you work or hang out with dread going home to an empty house at the end of the day, as chronic loneliness eats them up inside. Some fear going home to an abusive or neglectful spouse. They may look happy to you, but you do not see their faces when they turn away from you and head home.

We live among many survivors of sexual trauma. Please be mindful of what you say about sexual abuse and assault among company. Joking about such matters, or flippantly dismissing or blaming victims can trigger the survivors among us and send them into emotional tailspins.

Be mindful of offering harsh unsolicited advice or criticism. Many of us are teetering on the brink and it may take just one judgmental or insensitive comment to tip us over the edge and send us plummeting into an abysmal emotional inferno.

Words, unlike sticks and stones, do not break bones. But they can hurt like hell.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams