Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is "a lot?"

I was cruising my Facebook newsfeed when I saw an interesting status post - "I just laugh when people think they've been through a lot." It struck me as odd. The girl who posted it is dealing with both health issues and infertility. She's had numerous surgeries and is a very brave and lucky lady. To me, I'd agree she's been through "a lot" and I genuinely admire her. At the same time, I wondered (and asked), "who gets to decide what 'a lot' is?" Is there some arbitrary amount of physical or emotional distress one must go through to earn compassion and sympathy?

I feel like I see this in the IF community sometimes. As understanding, supportive, and empathetic as we are to each other, there is sometimes a sense of "I've been through more than you. You don't understand my battle." There can be a bit of an underlying hierarchy. And it is true - I haven't been through treatment. I've never had surgery. I've never shot myself in the butt with needles trying to grow multiple eggs. I've never been through egg retreival or transfer. I've never suffered a loss, as many, many ladies have. I've been very fortunate in my non-IF health, too, and in my family. My happily married parents and beautiful sister are alive. I have a home, a car, a job, two healthy pups, and a loving husband. It's true that I don't understand a lot about what some others go through.

However, where does lack of understanding and shared experience turn into absence of compassion? I know we all have moods and bad days when we think "I'm dealing with this mountain, and you're being a sissy la la over a mole hill." But maybe that mole hill IS a mountain to them. Unfortunately, life experience sometimes makes us jaded to the struggles of others. While it can serve to give us compassion and an ability to comfort someone who's trying to tame their mountain, sometimes all we can think about how much bigger and more daunting our own is.

I'm not saying I'm not guilty of it. I have my days for sure when the struggles of others seem trivial. But I'm working to remember that I don't know what else that person has dealt with. I don't know that they didn't suffer a loss or that their family life or marriage is struggling or they have an illness that is striking fear into them. I don't know if they're drowning in debt or worried about how they'll put food on the table. People don't always share all their struggles, and sometimes that last little "mole hill" is just the tip of their mountain, the last straw that makes them crack and pushes them to no longer keep it to themselves, but to hint that they need some love.

Moral of the story (I suppose): be kind to everyone, for we're all fighting a battle.


BrownEyedGirlsMom said...

I struggle with this a lot when I complain about life ... it's all about perspective to some degree. And yes, we all have battles we are facing

Jen Vogt said...

Somewhere along the way, a person explained to me a little about perspective. He gave this example: on a given day, two people in a car accident. One person dies, the other person breaks her leg. From the outside in, the person with the broken leg seems really lucky. But that doesn't mean the person's leg hurts any less.

I remind myself of this story all the time. No matter what I'm struggling with, there's someone out there who has it worse. But there's also someone out there who seemingly has it better...but is still hurting. Everyone needs compassion, even if we don't know why yet (or ever).

Shana said...

There was an episode of Ally McBeal once where Ally was freaking out about something and Richard said to her "Why are your problems always so much bigger than everyone else's?" and she said "Because they are my problems." It's true...someone else's problems might not seem big to you, but their problems are big to them.

And you are absolutely right...it may seem like one small problem, but you have no idea what else is going on.

Thank you for this post...because this is a lesson from which we can all benefit!

Erin said...

I feel like I often have a day full of first-world problems (I don't realize the toilet paper is out till it's too late, then the dog eats my favorite flip-flops, then Lorelai chooses to throw her lunch at the wall rather than eat it, then the DVRed show I was so excited to watch during her nap turns out to be a rerun), and I feel awful for being so frustrated over it when there are people having MUCH worse days. But then I remind myself that yeah, other people may have it a lot worse than me, but that doesn't make my bad day any less annoying.

Thanks for this post. Because you're right -- everyone has their stuff, and who are we to say it's not worth getting upset over?

Dee Stephens said...

Your so right with this. This is one of the main reasons I quit Facebook back last year.
I got on there and starting reading people's status updates only to end up for ANGRY. Why am I going through so much?
I realized that it was FB that was fueling a lot of my sadness and anger.
After I quit I started thinking about others who were going through so much more than me.
Geez.. at least I don't have cancer or a child who does? At least my husband wasn't killed in action while defending his country.
There are so many people dealing with so many things. We just don't realize it.
Perspective is nice..

Allyson said...

This happens a lot in the infant loss community, too. There's a piety that's assumed when you've had a 2nd or 3rd trimester loss (or even a stillbirth), as opposed to someone who miscarried as soon as they found out they were even pregnant. And y'know what? I bet my friend who cried over the loss of her 6 week old has cried just as many tears as I have. Lessening others' struggles only make ours seem bigger and that makes our lives seem darker than everyone else. Who wants that on a daily basis?? I would much rather find some perspective on the situation so that I can say, "oh my goodness, but it could be SO much worse!" If a person's need for sympathy is greater than their need to be happy, they will always make it about them.

But Shana's comment rings true. People's troubles are theirs and to them, they may seem huge. And we never know the battle each person is fighting. The worst thing we can do is take one look at a person and make an assumption about their lives. And their problems.

On a somewhat related note the vaguebooking about "life" is irritating. The whole, "Why, God, why?" and "I can't believe this just happened" statuses are obnoxious. And fishing for sympathy. If you legitimately have a gripe, then spell it out so there can be a conversation about it. Otherwise, leave it in your diary.

Sorry...I just word vomited in your comments section. I think you may have touched a nerve.