I debated for quite a long time about posting this now. Reading it back I realised that it could (if you tried really hard) be taken as some sort of obscure comment on Black Lives Matter and the horrendous #alllivesmatter which belittles the legitimate trauma and oppression of people of colour and disregards white privilege. It is NOT that. In my last post (also on myfeelfit.uk) I was very clear on the need to listen to black voices and work to change the injustices ingrained in our society.
But the way I’ve approached this blog is to try and write about what is going on in my life and head at this very moment. And this is it. I’m firmly sat with my widow/parent/youth work/psychology hat (massive hat, obvs!) on today.
Ok, disclaimer over..
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we always play down our own struggles and trauma by reasoning that someone else, somewhere else, has it worse. So we think that we shouldn’t complain, or we have our pain belittled by others, just because greater pain can always be found elsewhere.
I have 2 problems with this mindset:
- As far as I am concerned, there is no objective hierarchy or scale of struggle, trauma or pain. I’m happy to be corrected if anyone has found it, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been developed. Just because one individual breaks their leg and their arm, it doesn’t stop the person in the hospital bed next them who has broken “just” their arm feel their own pain. The pain doesn’t stop just because it isn’t the worst in the room. There isn’t some kind of “pain pie” and the more we take the less there is for anyone else.
- This approach stops people talking about their own struggles. The pain is still being felt, but the support which could be available isn’t tapped into , because the mum who has spent the last 8 weeks surviving on little sleep, no time to herself, pulled between and baby in a sleep regression and a child homeschooling who still needs emotional and practical support, compares her situation to someone without a garden, without income and with poor physical health and judges that she is just complaining about nothing and should get on with it…..
It’s possible I’m talking about myself…. Who’d have guessed….
But it is something that I find myself doing all the time. Belittling my pain and comparing it with that of others as if that is a thing. I assume that highlighting my struggles means that I am negating the struggles of others, but that isn’t true. There is enough room in the world for everyone’s experiences, there is enough compassion for my friend to care about me when I tell her that I’ve felt torn between my two children all day and slept about 3 hours in total, and for her to care about another friend who may be going through a miscarriage, or about the homeless man on her high street. And at the same time, acknowledging my own pain and the affect it has on me and those around me doesn’t mean that I don’t have compassion for other around me in different or worse situations. I can care about others whilst caring about myself.
I find it very difficult to be vulnerable. I’ll chat about anything that has happened to me – my life is up for grabs, but in real life conversations I tend to shy away from when I’ve felt sad or unable to cope. I have always been the fixer in my family and my group of friends. I have always seen my role as the person people come to with their problems, to give advice or perspective, or a shoulder to cry on. And my, ultimately twisted, logic, is that showing vulnerability in this role will lead to it being taken away. Why would people want to come to me for advice if I can’t even handle my own problems? This has led to a real issue with reaching out, admitting a struggle and asking for help. When this was compounded by the stoic coping widow image that I pulled around me it became more difficult for me to appear to not have it all together. It was also very easy for me to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad – I still had a house and a supportive family around me.
In the last year I have tried my very best to be more honest about times when I am drowning. On many occasions I have been pleasantly surprised by how it’s been received – who would have thought that my friends actually wanted to support me too?! (Yes, I know I’m a numpty…) But I’ve also had conversations where I’ve attempted to share a particularly difficult day or situation and been shot down because “That’s what you signed up for” or “That’s being a mum” or “But at least you have a secure home”. And in my journeys through Instagram there are often posts talking about shitty days people have had prefaced with “I know that I am very lucky and obviously I love my children, and lots of other people have it worse….”
It’s sort of like when someone posts online supporting a particular charity and they’re told off for not mentioning all the other charities in the world. “How dare you highlight the plight of endangered tortoises! Don’t you know that Red Pandas are endangered too?!”
I don’t know why we feel we have to do this. I don’t know when it became compulsory to preface every call for help or sympathy with please-don’t-think-I’m-ungrateful-or-that-I-hate-my-children.
I think perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say as a society when people are vulnerable and struggling. There are two responses: “How can I fix this” and “Let’s make the problem smaller by giving examples of how it could be worse/how lucky you are”
Neither of those are helpful in the face of pain, suffering, or a struggling mum who loves her children but is in a particularly difficult phase of parenting. Sometimes we want our friends to help us fix our problems. But more often we just want someone to sit down with us (even virtually) and say “Yes. It is shit. You are doing the best you can. And you are allowed to feel defeated/sad/exhausted/insert appropriate emotion here. Here is some wine (or a funny internet meme) to momentarily cheer you up.”
You know, unless any of you actually have any ideas I haven’t tried yet…because I am actually quite tired…..