Everyone lives through their own eyes; their own skin; feels their own joy; their own pain and has the right to sing, dance, cry and complain about it. As our experiences are purely internal, it’s impossible to truly compare our own to others. So by trying to compare, we are diminishing the other person’s right to completely own their personal rainbow of emotions. However putting this theory of not comparing into practice is tricky. It’s human nature to compare. Sometimes we feel we are tireder, sicker, sadder, smarter, happier, more informed, more understanding. Or just plain better. The truth is when we are talking about personal experience, what’s on paper doesn’t really matter. It’s how the individual processes it that does. A bump for one person is a mountain for another. A mountain for another is just a bump. Sounds pretty straight forward. It’s when someone keeps placing obstacles in their path and complaining of mountains that life gets tricky for everyone concerned and this theory becomes even harder to stand by.
I have a chronic illness. I feel wretched every day. Really quite horrid. But it’s normal for me and I don’t talk about it often. I’m generally at peace with it and I try not to let it affect me and those around me. (Full disclosure – there are occasional days where I want to crawl into a deep dark hole but I don’t). So what may seem like a lifelong mountain is really my everyday bumpy terrain.
Most people who know me have varying degrees of understanding about my health concerns. All of them are human with shiny bits and bruised bits. And all of them have their own issues to deal with. They might not be as physically harrowing but whatever they are, they can still be draining, upsetting and require some venting to their dear friend. And as a seriously good listener… I’m up for that. Quite often, mid cathartic release my friends will stop and I can see their mind ticking over – comparing their situation to mine. ‘What am I complaining about?’ Even if they don’t say it, it reads all over their precious faces. I am the first to stop them right there. It doesn’t matter what’s going on with me or anyone else. All that matters is how you feel in this very moment. How you are coping with your experience and what I can do as a friend to help you feel better about it. A cup of tea and some frittata while you let it out. Some constructive suggestions. Physical help to solve the dilemma. Letting the situation run its course knowing I am here in on the sidelines always. Whatever is needed. Everyone is different and every situation is different.
It doesn’t matter that earlier this year we bought a house that electrocuted me, had rotten floor boards and trees that strangled the pipes that needed replacing and blew out our mortgage (and our stress levels). It doesn’t matter that I’ve been learning the ropes as a new mama with a hubby who has been traveling 1-2 weeks of the month with his new job. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t slept a full night in 3 years due to my illness keeping me up. If you tell me you feel awful because you have a cold and sneeze. I will say, ‘Bless you. You must be tired. Sit down and let me make you a cup of tea.’ It’s all relative and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
It’s a hard concept to come to grips with and you might think I’m being insincere. I’m not. I’ve had eight years of illness to come to this way of thinking. If I thought any differently I would be a bitter sourpuss. I truly believe my illness has helped me to become more humble. While it’s taken some things from me it has made me gain an awful lot of insight. This being one small morsel.
I must admit that sometimes it can be extremely hard to apply my thinking. Sometimes I do get the urge to tell someone to ‘get over it’, ‘grow up’, ‘move on’ or ‘take charge’. (using much nicer turn of phrase than that). But I never do. Why? If someone is constantly unhappy – so unhappy their nature of complaining is like a broken record, then that doesn’t stop them from being entitled to their emotions. It may make it a little more frustrating to listen to them (if we are being completely honest). But they are just as entitled to a kind ear and that warm cup of tea as anyone else. OK and the frittata too. (No-one should be denied my baking!) If they seem to be on the poor me merry-go-round, we can try and help them get off it, but ultimately it is not up to us to affect change for anyone else, all we can do is accept them as they are and support them the best way we can.
I have time for every person in my life; big, small, sane to a fault, bananas to the moon or the random man who delivers my Ozsale parcels. I will always listen to what they have to say with an open heart and mind. I’ll never compare their situation to mine and I will always try and help them through whatever situation arises in the way that they need me, to the best of my ability. All we can really do in life is strive to get by and be happy. I hope that my thinking helps those around me to walk their path a little lighter, makes the bumps feel a little smaller and the bruises heal a little faster. And I hope that I am afforded the same human kindness in return.