The Great Pain Competition
There is an interesting psychological phenomenon which happens among people. And that is this great need for a one upmanship and competition of pain. Having it worse than anyone else can be a badge of honor for some. It is as though some people wear a list of all things wrong as a way of measuring their self worth. It becomes a peculiar machismo to state how the world has been especially unfair to you. As though our "specialness" is defined by what happens to us as opposed to how we behave and cope with what life has given.
Have you ever had a friend or relative who upon confiding in them will retort with something worse?
"I've been feeling very down lately. I think I'm veering towards a depression"
"Least you don't have it like me. I have to take three meds just to get out of bed in the morning."
"I have been having a hard time dealing with my Multiple Sclerosis. Some days I feel so fatigued."
"You think that's bad, I just had the flu and I couldn't move I was so sick."
"My father died from his alcoholism when I was a little girl."
"You had it easy. You are lucky he died. I had to live with my parent and it was a living hell."
I am not sure what possesses people to say such things. All I know is that it cuts the conversation short and you don't feel much like confiding again. I have seen similar responses even in support groups when people engage in comparisons and judgments. For some people you can never be sick or depressed enough. In that sort of game, I am sorry, but I don't want to win.
In my attempts towards mental wellness I no longer wish to wear a list of all the bad things that have ever happened to me upon my chest. Two things are always true in life. Someone always has it "better" than you at this moment and someone always has it "worse." But this fact does little in the way of helping you to progress towards your goals. Nobody will ever be able to walk in your shoes. People will travel similar paths but they are not you with your unique personality, past history, and chemical and biological make up. There is a humorous saying which plays off of a familiar cliché, "You are special, just like everybody else." Everyone has their share of troubles. It may seem that you are totally alone in your human struggle but look around and you will find others struggling too. And it is not a game of competition to prove who has it worse. It is the interaction of human beings to support one another through our battles which is most important to our survival.
I remember a quote from a show called Ally McBeal. Someone asks her, "So why are your problems and issues always the most important?" And the character of Ally McBeal, who is a rather neurotic gal, answers truthfully, "Because they are mine." I believe that depression and mood disorders can cause one to be awfully egocentric. In our state of depression we tend to think that we are so special that the universe has it out for us. Or you may believe that life is more unfair to you than anyone else. Depression gives us the illusion that our pain is the center of the universe. We turn inward and sometimes in doing so, we forget that there are others out there who also suffer.
It is my opinion that one of the ways to climb out of the well of depression is to turn outward a bit. Allow others to share their experience with you without defending your self worth. You don't need to. Listen to what others say without interjecting judgment or needless comparisons. Allow others to feel as they feel. You are going to miss out on many opportunities for connection and friendship if everything is always centered on yourself.
I believe that support is a two way street. And sometimes that means leaving your ego at the doorstep. In some ways the experience of having depression gives us a gift. We know what it is like to be in need. We understand vulnerability. We come to learn how to survive. With this depth of understanding we can then give to others who are also suffering. In the giving back we too can heal. No competition or sense of self righteousness can replace this.