The one thing I just can’t handle

Complaining didn’t go over well in my house growing up; this is generally the case when one lives with a one-upper.

You know the type. If you have a sprained ankle, they spin tales of past woe-befallen BROKEN ankles. If you have a cold, they’ve just gotten over bronchitis.

My grandmother’s best friend was like this, to the point that when my grandmother got bifocals for the first time, her friend went out and got herself declared legally blind.

(At least that’s how my grandma liked to tell the story.)

(No matter how bad your one-upper was, my grandma would assure you: hers was worse.)

When I was in 10th grade, my dear and wonderful husband BROKE MY EVER-LOVING HEART. I was crushed. Crushed with SRS EMO PAIN. I think I cried for 24 hours straight. And do you know what my mother told me to try to make me feel better?

“Well, at least you weren’t engaged and you didn’t walk in on him cheating on you with another woman! Now THAT is heartbreak!”

Wow, Mom. I feel BUCKETS of better now.

And I know she meant well. She wanted to give me perspective, and I can see that now. But who wants perspective when they have just been crushed by their SOULMATE? (And see? I WAS RIGHT TO BE CRUSHED, DAMMIT.)

But that was the way things worked with my mom. When I encountered hardship, she always had a story of even greater hardship. And when I say that, I mean that from a heartbreaking place, because she did not have an easy life at all. She is a survivor of so much, and I don’t begrudge her a moment of it.

Recently, we were talking, and she started getting very down on herself. Things have been difficult with her siblings lately, and she’s been sort of in the Bog of Eternal Stench of Family Issues. And then she went off on herself about what right did she have to be sad? We are all still healthy, we have roofs over our heads and food on the table and everything under the sun to be thankful for.

And oh, it broke my heart. Because she was letting the whole wide world one-up her very justified pain. So I told her that everyone bears their own burdens. This is not misery poker, no one is playing to win, and no matter how bad off you are, there is someone, SOMEWHERE, worse off than you. But everyone’s pain is their own.

It was permission to wallow, if just for a moment, in circumstances that would have crushed someone weaker a long time ago. And in an instant she understood — you cannot slap a > or < between two people’s burdens.

Because you just don’t know. You don’t know their whole day, and you don’t know their whole story.

And that, dear internet, is the one thing I cannot handle. It is the one thing where, no matter what you’re complaining about, no matter how heavy your load, my sympathy synthesizers shut the hell down when you belittle another person’s struggle.

I wish I could say I’m not guilty of it, but of course I am. OF COURSE I am. We all think it, sometimes; we all feel the most persecuted, the most exhausted, the most put-upon. The grass is always brownest in our own backyard.

But the next time I catch myself thinking, “So-and-so has such-and-such, so her life is easier/better/more fair than mine!” I will take a step back and appreciate that so-and-so has things beneath the surface that I will never, ever see. So-and-so has skeletons in the closet and her own dark demons and looks at me and is certain I have it better.

If we all threw our problems up in the air, I’d fight like hell to catch my own. And I’m willing to bet so-and-so would too.

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9 Comments

Filed under Probably too serious

9 responses to “The one thing I just can’t handle

  1. Leigha

    Very well said. Love this post!

  2. Ian

    You think you had it bad? At least you got your high school crush BACK in the end. Not like me. Sheesh.

    You had a husband in tenth grade? Maybe you should have said, “my dear and wonderful now-husband” for clarity.

    There’s something I always find true about your blog: it makes me look at myself more closely. You’re right; what you talk about here is a terribly easy trap to fall into. And now I won’t have an excuse to do so anymore.

    • Wait — are you saying you have a high school crush NOW? Probably you should have said your then-high school crush. For clarity. And to make it clearer.

  3. Ah, the one-uppers. The glorious ones who aren’t happy unless they’re *better* than you, even if it’s by making themselves seem worse off.

    You are bang on: we ALL suffer at one point or another and to varying degrees. Who am *I* to say that your crying over a jug of spilled milk is silly? If it’s a big deal for you at that moment of that day, it’s a big deal. Period.

    And this? “If we all threw our problems up in the air, I’d fight like hell to catch my own.” Pure genius – so very, very true.

    *squishy hugs*

  4. I was just talking to @mom2snk about this exact same subject on one of our long runs last month. Thank you for writing this so beautifully.

    Misery Poker absolutely made me laugh out loud though. Very awesome analogy.

  5. You’re always making me think!

  6. JP_Lu

    You always make me think too Diane Geesh! No, it’s a good thing. I almost didn’t post what I wanted to this week because I felt bad for complaining when I know people have it worse than me. I was told to put it in perspective and that it’s OK to feel bad, sad, mad, whatever. So I guess I have the opposite problem, but I know how your mom feels for sure.

  7. Ooh, good post.

    This is a subject I cannot personally touch with a ten foot pole, though I would like to. Oh how I would like to. I deal with it all the time and I cannot handle it either.

  8. This post is excellent in it’s painful truth. I’m totally guilty of doing this. I get impatient with people and think to myself, “Oh come ON, it’s not THAT BAD, can’t you just snap out of it or suck it up!” but really I don’t even know the half of what they’ve been dealing with, or all the past issues that could be influencing their experiences now.

    Truly I am humbled.

    Oh, and btw.. total WIN on the Labyrinth reference.