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.