“Compassion does not happen when you compare”.
This post may offend some people. But what’s a writer’s purpose when they don’t move their readers in some way?
I saw the above quote and picture on Nathalie from Easy Peasy Kids’ Facebook page. It is an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while. Especially around the disability/chronic illness community. Perhaps I am too blunt, or too hard. But illness one-upmandship really shits me.
One-upmanship. It’s the comparitive behaviour that says “I’m better than you”. Got a better car. A higher paying job. A bigger mortgage. Smaller sized clothes. The biggest penis. You know those people.
Is it really necessary to be THE BEST at illness though? I’m talking the “I’ve got it worse than you”, “my illness is more painful than yours”, “having a child with ABC disability is much worse than having a child with LMNOP disability”, “at least you don’t…” and the “my illness is the rarest” sayings. So it may be. But these sayings come across callous, and with little empathy. And it really questions the validity of an illness. What is the prize for who has the worse illness? Is there a medal? Or is it just a lack of perspective?
I have the wisdom, perspective and compassion to acknowledge that my illness is not the worst in the world. I understand so many in this world suffer from cruel symptoms. I really feel for these people. While I think it’s fair to say it’s much worse than a common cold, or perhaps a minor skin condition, I will never say to someone I have it worse than them. (Note – I didn’t actually realise just how serious my illness is until the dermatologists told me that if an infection on my skin gets so bad it could get into my bloodstream and then my heart. So I do think it’s fair to say it’s a bit worse than a common cold.) Illness one-upmanship is one of the reasons I am not too keen on support groups for specific illnesses, because there is so much comparison about who has it worse.
I’ve been one-upped, several times. It’s been said to me that my pain looks nothing compared to someone else’s. I was offended by this. Pain is relative. How do you know what my pain feels like to make an assessment that yours is worse than mine?
Someone posted in our Ichthyosis Facebook community that other people with Ichthyosis have doubted the severity of her condition and have sent her nasty messages about her appearance, because it doesn’t look Ichthyyosis-y enough. What? As with most chronic illnesses and disabilities, there are different variations of Ichthyosis.
A friend – Magneto Bold Too – who has a severely autistic son, told me that another mother told her she ought to be grateful her son’s not blind. I can see that both disabilities are severe. But just as the mother of the blind child faces challenges, my friend does too.
What my friend, and the girl with Ichthyosis, needed was a “yeah, we may not be in the same situation, but I get you. I get how hard it can be”. An empathetic ear can be like medical treatment.
One thing I have learnt in mentoring young people with chronic illnesses, and also having friends in the disability community is despite our differences in conditions, there are so many similarities between us, and so much can be learnt by sharing each other’s experiences. There is great empathy to be shared between us. While I can’t begin to imagine what someone with Cerebral Palsy is challenged with in terms of mobility and accessibility and caring needs, I can empathise with some of the social challenges and discrimination faced, as well as their triumphs. I have seen speeches and comedy shows and TV programs and just chatted with friends with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and thought, yes, I get it. I get what you are going through. My illness may be more or less severe than yours, but we share something.
Illness one-upmanship is not helpful. There is no need to question the validity of an illness. I believe it can lead to a very resentful and bitter outlook. We are all in this chronic illness/disability boat together.
Show a little empathy and stop comparing.
Use your experience to help others, and to promote awareness, so ignorance does not perpetuate.
Treat everyone with kindness and don’t make assumptions. You never know the battles they may be facing.
No illness is less worthy of treatment/research/awareness than another.
Edit: Carma Chan sent me a tweet describing illness one-upmanship as “more oppressed than thou syndrome”. Says it all.