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Dealing With One-Upmanship

Like many people suffering from a chronic and often invisible illness, I rarely bring up how I am actually feeling when talking to someone. Even when specifically asked, I’ll give the standard “I’m fine” or “oh, you know, good days and bad”. I will, occasionally, if I feel comfortable enough, be more truthful and explain that I’m in pain, or I had a bad fall, or I’m fatigued, or any of the many, many symptoms I encounter. Being truthful about how I actually feel is a rarity, so it’s especially disheartening to have someone complain about their own health afterwards. Regardless of the reasons for doing it, this act of one-upmanship can be especially discouraging to those with a chronic illness.

Why do people do this?

I’m not entirely sure why people feel the need to one up someone when it comes to talking about their health. Some people will obviously be trying to sympathize and show that they too know what it’s like to feel crappy. I’m sure some people don’t know how to relate and think that talking about the negatives of their health seems like the best option. Others though, just need to be the center of attention. They always have to be the person with the worst condition. If you are fatigued, well, they’re “super tired”, too. If you are in pain, they’ve also got pain somewhere. Whether it is truly trying to relate to us or just trying to gain superiority and attention, it’s still pretty demoralizing.

We aren’t always truthful

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not always truthful about how I’m feeling when asked. I get asked a lot, too. When people find out you have a chronic illness, you tend to get that question more than most. Some people start to identify you by your disease and can’t help it. They see you and are compelled to say something, often with a slightly tilted head, asking, “so how are you feeling?”. Obviously, not many want to actually hear the truth. For many, it’s a social grace. There is the sick person, let’s check on them. That’s certainly one reason many of us will just put on a smile and say we are fine. We also very much feel that few people can actually understand what it’s like to have MS, unless they have it themselves. The rarity of our disease, coupled with symptoms that are often invisible, make it easier to simply say that we feel fine.


Everyone has problems, I get it. Everyone’s own problems are always the biggest in the world to them, I get that too. However, when someone with a chronic illness, like Multiple Sclerosis, actually opens up about how they feel, it’s important to respond correctly. We aren’t looking for attention, we aren’t looking for sympathy, we just want someone to listen. We don’t even expect you to understand, in fact, we know you can’t, but sometimes, it’s good to just vent. It can be refreshing to be honest and admit that we don’t feel well. There are times when we simply have to be honest. When someone immediately follows up with a complaint about their health, it diminishes our admission. It makes us much less apt to be truthful in the future and it makes us feel like you aren’t really listening.

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