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Monday, January 5, 2015

The Pain Olympics

We are all Olympians. We can't all swim fast or ski over those bump things or remember the words to our national anthem, but there is an Olympian in all of us. The kind of Olympics we participate in are not the kind that you see every four years, though. These are the kind of Olympics that we participate in on a regular basis, daily or at least weekly for most of us. I am talking about the Pain Olympics.

I've written here before about my disdain for the One-Upper - that person in your life who just has to go one better when it comes to crazy stories or bad experiences. We all hate that person. But when it comes to the Pain Olympics, we all are that person.

You have probably listened to a friend talk to you about some problem and while you feel bad for them and listen attentively, a small part of you is thinking that you would kill for the "problems" this other person is telling you about. You don't wish them any ill will but you secretly wish you could tell them what you've gone through, to show them what true problems look like. You might not speak up but you think it and it starts to lead to some resentment.

But some people do speak up. Some people wait for your sentence to end just so they can one-up you with their life experiences. They tell you that you should thank your lucky stars that your only issues are the ones you just described because that sounds like a cakewalk compared to their own lives.

If you are one of those people, stop it. That's enough out of you. I will pinch you. If you are not one of those people, play on. 

It goes the other way, too. I meet a lot of other parents who have had kids in the NICU or who have medical/development issues. Sometimes we have a lot in common, but when they find out how early Josh was, or how much he is working to overcome his delay, they get quiet and start to explain that they know what they have gone through can never compare to what we went through.

Honestly, I hate that just as much. Not because it bugs me, but because it isn't fair. It isn't fair that because their child wasn't quite as premature that they have to feel like they can't complain. It isn't fair that some people feel like someone else's experience was somehow better than their own because it isn't identical to what they went through.

When my mom found out she had breast cancer, I cried to Daniel that I was upset, and also guilty for being upset because all signs pointed to my mom being totally fine and there were people in the world who were in war zones and being kidnapped. I don't know why my mind went there; I'm sort of a weirdo. But Daniel told me something that has stuck with me ever since:

Pain is not relative.

I love that because it's just so true. You can't compare pain. There is just no way. When Josh was born at 26 weeks and we spent 115 days in the NICU, that was the worst thing that ever happened. When my friend's son was born at 37 weeks and he unexpectedly spent two weeks in the NICU, that was the worst thing that ever happened. When my dad got laid off from his job, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, when my best friend broke her leg in a car accident - they were all the worst. Not because they were all horrible things that no one will ever recover from, but because in those moments, it mattered the most to them and the people who love them.

You can look at our situation: Josh was really early. But he never had to have surgery like my friend's son did. But he has a more significant developmental delay than a lot of kids. But I know another woman whose child will never overcome his delays. But Josh has so many doctors and so many health issues and it isn't fair. But at least we live in a country where he can get the help he needs, unlike many other children around the world. I could do this for hours. Sure, someone could "outdo" me when it comes to life, but does that make my experiences any less painful or any less meaningful? No. Not even a little. 

Should you still look for the silver lining in tragedy? Sure. Should you leave this post all depressed because I just told you your life was the worst? Well...I would hate that, but do what you will. But just remember that in the Pain Olympics, there are no winners. Because that isn't the point. If you are only listening to someone else talk about their problems so you can one-up them, you need to re-evaluate your friendship skills. But also don't feel like your problems are no longer worthy of being complained about because you think someone has it worse. It isn't a competition. It's just life. Life is complicated and fun and exciting and scary and painful and great and everyone learns that in their own way. No one wins. No one loses. Just listen and be a friend and know you're not alone.

I promised you a happy post after my last one. And you believed me. You fools.

Butseriously, the next one will be soooooo happy. I promise.

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