I’m probably not the only one who has heard variations of the following: “I have terrible anxiety too. But it doesn’t cripple me the way it does you. You need to find a different coping method.” Or “Wow, I have Crohn’s and mine is worse but I still work. Maybe you need different medicine?” One of my faves that I’ve heard in the past: “I have triggers too, but I don’t let them control my life.” There’s more of course, but you get the idea. These comments are frustrating and hurtful in many different ways, but for me at least, it implies that I’m not doing enough and I think that everyone who bears the particular cross of chronic illness/pain and/or mental illness, not only does absolutely everything they can to help themselves but wishes it never happened to them in the first place.
Maybe I am just naive, but I always thought that when you share a specific issue with someone, like an illness, disability or mental health disorder that you kind of join together and lift each other up not criticize, antagonize or bring each other down. We all begin in this place where you feel so alone with your problems and struggles. You feel like no one is seeing you or truly hearing you and without a doubt, no one out there understands. Then, you begin to reach out slowly and carefully to a community that is inhabited by others just like you, living with the same illness and daily struggles you are going through and you feel like you can open up and share things. It feels like a sledgehammer coming down on you when the people you thought would understand, the people you thought you could trust, bring you down and make comments like, “you have to be exaggerating, I have the same thing- worse- and I still run around for my five kids,” or that “you have to be doing something wrong.” I’ve even watched as people on forums intended to bring people together, instead, tear it apart with savage comments about the choice of medicine a person takes (on the advice of their doctor). “You’re going to become addicted.” “How could your doctor write a prescription for that poison.” “You’re better off just hitting the streets for drugs at this point.” This is no joke. I’ve read this and worse; my jaw just about hitting the floor or feeling so disgusted I have left groups.
I write for both the benefit of those going through chronic illness/pain/mental health and to attempt to educate those who do not have to deal with these things and perhaps don’t understand what it is like. I should not have to speak to the community I call my own and tell them that they should not discredit others’ struggles simply because they have been graced with the ability to handle them better or they think they’ve been through worse. That kind of thinking hurts everyone because we are not carbon copies of one another. We’re all uniquely and beautifully human and while there are amazing people out there (you may be one) who can handle the weight of their illness or struggles better, who might even overcome them and eventually inspire others, this does not mean I (or anyone else) is somehow less than because they are still struggling and still fighting every day. Additionally, when it comes to the medicine we are prescribed by our physician overseeing our health, there are some who rely solely on the advice of their doctor and there are others who might investigate further what is best for them. But there are far better ways to handle a conversation about medicine than telling someone they’re going to become an addict. It can cause a person to stress, trigger anxieties you may not know about and possibly abandon medication altogether. How a person decides what goes into their body to help their pain or illness is personal. Unless you have a less alarmist approach, stay out of it.
Life is so difficult, even when we are unburdened by the weight of chronic illness/pain and mental health problems. We don’t need to add to those struggles by attacking one another. Instead, we need to support one another and fight to bring awareness to illness and pain that have been ignored for too long. We can do so much good together; we can improve life for so many including ourselves, it seems like the only answer is for people to be more supportive toward each other. We’re all doing the best we can as we navigate the treacherous waters of chronic illness.