How many times have you seen a comment from someone on social media commenting on how someone else with an illness can’t possibly have it as bad as they claim (or as the author of the status).
I ran across the below “migraine status” meme on Instagram. “If you’re typing a status update that says you have a migraine, then you clearly don’t know what a migraine is.” It was posted as a “funny” by a migraine awareness site so I’m assuming they were laughing at the person who would actually say that. But, I can’t be sure. It’s just one example. The second meme was just one I found while searching out the original, the message was pretty much the same – that the person posting these memes feels that they have more right to claim an illness than someone else.
Unfortunately, there are too many of us that actually suffer from chronic illness who are quick to judge someone else’s illness as “not bad enough” or “not real enough”. The sad truth is that none of us know what another person goes through. We have no right to judge whether another person is sick enough, hurts enough, hurts more than we do or less than we do, is well enough to work, etc.
And, no one should have to justify their illness – especially to another person who also has that (or any) illness. It’s bad enough that we get judged by those who have no way to understand what we are are dealing with. We should not have to be judged by those who should be the most empathetic to our situation.
It goes both ways. Both from those who feel they have it worse looking down on those who don’t have it “quite as bad”, but also from those who can’t really understand what others who are suffering so much worse may be going through. All we have is our own experience, and until you’ve been in that person’s shoes you really can’t understand what they are going through. Often, you can’t even imagine it.
I remember in my early 20’s before I was chronically ill. I’d had occasional migraines since I was a kid. They were BAD when they hit. I’d curl up in a dark room and couldn’t do anything. Back in those days I might have been the person to create a meme like the migraine status message one above. I couldn’t imagine how someone could have a migraine and work through it, let alone have chronic migraines that made it so that they had to go on disability.
I had a friend that I saw occasionally. When I saw her she was always doing well, smiling, happy, having a good time. We’d known each other for a while before it came up that she was on disability for her chronic migraines. I did my best to be empathetic but I really couldn’t imagine her situation. I couldn’t imagine how a) she could have migraines so bad so often that she had to stop working and b) if she really did have migraines that bad that often how was it that she was always OK when I saw her.
I wouldn’t understand for another decade, when I faced my first bout of chronic migraines. It was during that time that I learned that when you have chronic migraines you do learn to push through. You learn to wear a smile on your face even when you don’t feel like it, to keep working as much as you can. And, you learn to make the most of any moment when that migraine isn’t at its peak.
I also think about my grandmother who lived with chronic pain as long as I can remember. She retired early because of arthritis, which looking back may or may not have actually been arthritis. We believe now that it may have been fibromyalgia, back then they still lumped most chronic pain into the arthritis bucket and many of her early diagnoses were questioned by doctors in her last years. At times family members thought she was just lazy because she spent most of her time sitting in her chair watching TV. I recall a time or two where I heard people question her illness and comment that she just wanted attention. After even a few months with fibromyalgia I no longer doubted the pain she lived with for many years.Those with chronic illness are all too quick to judge another's pain, when we should be the first to believe them. Click To Tweet
It bothers me how often in the chronic illness community we are so quick to judge people’s illnesses. We have created this idea of what an illness is, often based on our own experience, sometimes based on nothing. When someone doesn’t fit into the idea we have created we are quick to label them as not really having that illness.
Oh, you can still exercise? You can’t really be sick.
Oh, you recovered? Then you didn’t really have ______.
Who are we to judge? Until we have lived in their shoes (and we never will) we must give those around us respect and the empathy that only we can. We don’t know their exact struggle, but we come closer than most. Think back to your struggle and how much it hurt when others did not believe your pain? Give others the grace and respect that you wish you’d received.
Dealing with my struggles takes enough energy, I don’t have any to waste comparing my struggle to yours. Instead of wasting energy, worrying about whether someone else’s illness is real or whether their illness is as bad as yours. Simply accept them and focus on your journey.Dealing with my struggles takes enough energy, I don't have any to waste comparing my struggle to yours. #thecomparisongame Click To Tweet
- We just want a little empathy and understanding
- Understanding Invisible Illness: Walking in Our Shoes
- Chronic Pain: No one Gets chronic pain until they get it