...and they all lived happily ever after...

...and they all lived happily ever after...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Who suffers most?

Life with Crohn's Disease is no cake walk.  I think that pretty much goes without saying (after all who wanders around thinking, "I have nothing much to do in life, maybe I'll go get Crohn's Disease to spice things up a bit?")

I face this foe every single day of my life.  Some days he brings me joint pain and insomnia.  Some days it is nausea and vomiting and intestinal cramps.  Some days I am just plain exhausted (not tired --exhausted) from the moment I pull myself out of bed.

Don't worry, this is not a pity party.

What I want to say is, if you don't happen to have Crohn's Disease, that's ok (um, yeah, it's a good thing).  You may not be facing the same problem that I am, but I know you have something.  Every single person on this planet has difficult struggles to face and daily battles to fight in one way or another even if we are not all facing the same demons.  

Often, if I tell a person about my autoimmune disorder and the fun that goes with it they are sympathetic and understanding.  I really appreciate that.  I think it is good for all of us to occasionally get a moment to whine or pout and have the supportive comfort of another human being to boost us when we need it and get us back on track.

However, sometimes when a person is introduced to my struggles they have a reaction more like, "Well, you have nothing to complain about, what I face it twenty times worse than yours.  Until you have faced what I am facing for as long as I have faced it, you will get no sympathy from me." Or something along those lines.  (And I've seen this is more than just my life, but I'm going to look at it from my perspective since that's what I am most familiar with.) 

Why is it that we sometimes feel the need to belittle or minimize someone else's suffering in order to crown ourselves king of all sufferers and leave ourselves standing proud and alone on the top of the hill of trials?

What good does it really do us to outdo the whole world with our sorrows?  What is the prize for being the Tsar of Anguish or the Emperor of Woe?

I have had people say to me, "Well, you are lucky you only have Crohn's Disease and not (fill in the blank terrible issue to deal with)."  I had a dear friend in my neighborhood facing breast cancer for the second time and someone said to her, "You should be glad it is breast cancer again instead of something you don't know how to deal with.  That's a good thing."

Um, having Crohn's Disease or breast cancer is not a good thing no matter how you slice it.  There is much to learn from these things, but smugly patting the head of a horrible life problem to make it seem trivial is not helpful or kind.

Life is hard for everyone (I'm pretty sure that is straight form the definition of life that came on our "do not remove under penalty of law" labels when we were born).  

One of the things that is most difficult for me about my disease is that I have six children.  "What," you say, "your children have nothing to do with your illness!" -- and you are right.  The trouble comes in that no matter how I feel when I get up in the morning, there are six little people who need me to be their mom.

No matter how tired I am, I have to drag myself out of bed to get things going for the day.  Even if I am hurting (and some days it is painful just to stand up straight), I have to help them get ready for school and do the laundry and the dishes because those things HAVE to be done (imagine the pile of dirty things eight people manage to create in just a few days -- we'd be submerged and naked before long).  

No matter how sick I am or how much I've thrown up that evening I also have to make food for my littles to eat (why do they feel the need to be fed EVERY!  SINGLE!  NIGHT?).  I don't have the luxury of only leaving the house or only cooking or only getting up if I feel like it.  That is one of the difficulties of my life.

Ah, but then you say, "Yes, that is tough, poor baby, but you also don't have to spend the whole day at work.  You can take a moment to lie down on the bed or to sit in a bath if you feel like it.  Obviously that means that working would make things so much worse,"

To which I respond, "Well, maybe, but I also can't take a sick day from my job.  I can't call in and tell my boss I just don't feel well enough to be in the office.  My boss is five and doesn't particularly care how I feel, she expects me to perform no matter what.  I am on the clock from 6 am - 9 pm and on call all the hours in between."

I can see you itching to jump in with your next point.  You are just waiting for me to stop talking so you can really lay it down on your next zinger...and the one after that, and the one after that.  

We could go back and forth forever.  But why?

Instead of trying to constantly one up each other, why can't we just RELATE to each other.  

Why can't you hear my sob story and say, "Geez, that stinks.  I'm really sorry that you are facing that."  And then you can tell me your story and maybe I can say, "Yikes, that is rough.  I know how it feels to be tired and frustrated and angry and alone (and whatever else).  I really would like to help if there is anything I can do to make things better for you."

So often, our problems are not even things that can be compared on the same plane.  There is no intelligent way to cross examine some of these issues.  It's not comparing apples and oranges it's more like apples and shampoo and aircraft carriers.

After all, how do you lay Crohn's disease beside depression or anxiety and expect to really make them comparable.  While dragons in your mind and dragons in your intestine may have some common features (exhaustion, muddled thinking, pain) they really aren't issues that can run parallel to one another.  

How do you contrast life with a disabled child to life with the loss of your spouse? 

How about crushing financial burdens and heartbreaking infertility?

When you lay a teenager making horrible life choices next to losing your job and means of supporting your family or caring for a dying parent or cancer treatments or lost limbs it is almost impossible to really line them up.

So which one is worse?  Which one is the most debilitating?  Which one is the biggest struggle in someone's life?

You can't choose.  You just can't.

They aren't the same.  They are each a heavy weight to carry, but not in a linear or comparable way. There is no winner of the "I face the most pain" award here. 

And even when your trials are similar, your life isn't.  I mentioned dealing with Crohn's with mothering a house full of kidlets.  That's rough (I can tell you from first hand experience).  But what about those that are trying to face a physical illness alone without the insta-audience?  What about those who don't get the support or the distraction of a house full of people all the time? Is their suffering more or less than mine?  

No, it isn't, it is different.  They don't have to force themselves to attend to the needs of others so they can plan their day in the way they want more easily, but they also don't have the regular hugs and laughs that come with family life.  Different.  No one more troubled than the other, just different.

There is no scale of pain that we can lay each of our life snags on to calculate the total to find that her suffering is 47 while his is only 38.  It's not about how much I've suffered versus how much  you've suffered.  It's about the fact that we've both been through hard things.

 More than likely, the most difficult struggle for anyone to face is the one that is on their plate right now.  The pieces of their life have converged to make that problem a focal point, a hitch, a sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacle that they could use a boost to get over.

So, are you going to give them a leg up, or are you going to drag them down and keep them from making any kind of progress?

We both know what physical pain, emotional stress, anger, helplessness, depression, frustration, powerlessness, crushing weight, and terrible fear feel like even if we haven't experienced them to the same degree.  Can't we just choose to stand together on common ground and support and lift each other instead of tearing each other down.  Can't we shed a few tears as we understand what the other person is going through instead of  labeling them as a "lesser victim of life's pain" and casting them aside.

My life is hard sometimes.  

Guess what, so is EVERYONE else's.  

That's just the way life is.

Our struggles and issues should help catapult us into compassion rather than driving a wedge between us.  

Unfortunately, it's those nasty, unwanted struggles that make us stronger, that help us grow and learn and see the power that we have hiding, unopened, within us.  We can tap into those kernels of strength, but we can also help others tap into theirs when we choose to build them with support and understanding rather than undermining them with a scoff and an unfeeling eye roll. 

Maybe the best way to beat our own suffering is to mold it into the kind of benevolence which transforms sorrow into a potent asset in the life of another person.

Just maybe, when we turn our eyes away from our own trials and work to support someone else in their challenges we will find an even deeper strength to master our own dragons.     

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