Self-Defeating Game of Comparing Yourself to Others
I recently read a post about the guilt of complaining about my MS when other MSers have far more serious cases. I immediately thought, “Why do that to yourself?” I have had MS for 20 plus years. Now granted, in the beginning thoughts like that kept me awake at night. I was torn between trying to grasp my new reality while worrying that people would never take my concerns seriously when my symptoms were invisible. Even I chided myself for obsessing with the future unknowns that laid ahead of me. Would this be an easy journey or would I end up in a wheelchair? No one had the answer. Well, I ended up somewhere in the middle and now I have SPMS with a host of permanent, unpleasant symptoms and dysfunction. I know some have far more serious issues they struggle to live with, but should I be ashamed of speaking out when I have not walked the same road as them?
Everyone has a story we know nothing about
First of all, everyone has a story we know nothing about. We are unique creatures, subject to all sorts of maladies. But should we compare ourselves to others as a measurement of our own experience? If I see an amputee, should I feel guilty because I have two legs? Or conversely, if I meet a supermodel I should be depressed because I do not look as beautiful as her? When I see my 2-year-old grandson playing should I be ashamed of growing old? Comparing yourself to others is a desperate attempt to validate yourself by judging them, often without knowing their story. It does neither one of you any good.
Attitude and persepective
Their strengths and weaknesses, personality, and upbringing are variables that can drastically change how they experience what life throws their way. I have seen people that pass out at the sight of blood. A cold can leave them bedridden, panicking as if their life is in grave peril! On the other hand, I have seen survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing who have lost one or both legs thrive, marry, run with as much vigor and drive as they did before, if not more. Nothing can hold them back. It’s not the challenges or obstacles. It’s not the amount of pain or disability. It’s ALL about attitude and perspective. We are not wired identically across the board. Our circumstances and support systems are unique.
Exchange guilt for purpose and strength
When we measure ourselves against others, we may think we are being empathic, when in reality we are obsessing with our own story to tear ourselves down or build ourselves up. Instead remember, no one knows our minds and bodies better than we do. The only person that matters when it comes to knowing how good or lousy you feel, if you are fighting or caving in, if you are doing the best you can in living with MS or whatever you may be experiencing is YOU. Judge yourself against you the prior day, month, year. Measure your accomplishments, good fortune or set backs and struggles by your own journey, not other’s. No two cases are alike. Don’t compare apples to oranges. Just make sure you do everything you can, while you can and make the most out of every day. And for those who are worst off? Try offering them a shoulder to cry on. Brighten their day with a smile or kind word. Make it about them. Not you. And if you come across newbies that are scared and frightened as you once were, be there to answer their questions and alleviate their fears. Educate others, raise awareness among those who do not understand this crazy disease. You’ll find these things will give you purpose, make you stronger, and feed your heart and soul. Quit the self-imposed guilt trips and recognize that no matter where you are on this journey, there are millions on the same road.
Others' suffering should not be marginalized
One last note: Don’t forget that our greatest source of support comes from family and friends, who most likely do not have MS. Granted, most of us live with pain and symptoms 24/7. When our significant other develops a backache from overdoing it, their suffering should not be marginalized. There should not be any, “What do you mean you are suffering. I live with that day in and out!!!” Everyone has the right to experience the ups and downs of life without being compared to others or judged unfairly.
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?