How hard is it?

If you’re dealing with long term illness, pain or mental health difficulties, it can seem appropriate to try and figure out how hard things really are. How does your experience compare with other people’s? This will likely stem from a feeling that you are making too much fuss, and not being stoical enough. You may not feel confident that you are entitled to ask other people to take your suffering seriously.

Distress is not really a thing that can be measured in relation to other people’s distress. However, the urge to do so comes from experiences like being told you shouldn’t make a fuss because other people are worse off. By this logic, only one person in the world at any given time is allowed to make a fuss!

In any sane and compassionate scenario, what will matter is that you are suffering. If you have to prove you are suffering enough to be taken seriously, there’s something wrong with the situation. If you’ve had extensive exposure to having to prove your discomfort, you may be in the habit of doing it to yourself even when there’s no longer anyone around to suggest that it probably isn’t as bad as you are making out.

Many people have terrible double standards around taking their own discomfort really seriously while being dismissive of everyone else. It is of course the people who know perfectly well that they make a fuss about little or nothing who tend to mistrust other people’s self-reporting. People who are used to being comfortable often treat minor setbacks like a bigger deal, people who are used to being uncomfortable often learn not to let it be the most important thing.

I’ve noticed around my issues that I feel obliged to be able to explain and demonstrate things. If I am upset, I have to make sure that I can reasonably explain why I am upset and I have to feel confident that any normal person would also be upset in the circumstances. It’s never felt like enough just to not like something or be uncomfortable. I’m trying to stop doing this, and to make space for how I feel regardless of whether I can demonstrate the reasonableness of the feeling. I often catch myself accounting what I’ve done against how I’m feeling, like this is an equation to balance, and if I haven’t done enough to feel tired, I don’t feel comfortable stopping.

All bodies are unique, all situations are unique, all minds are unique. What someone else might do is not that useful a measure. How hard it is for you is the most important consideration. But, if you’ve had knocks to your confidence, or don’t get taken seriously, it can be hard to hang on to that. No one else really knows what anyone else is feeling or going through. How hard is it? Really only you can say. Feeling you are entitled to say can be challenging. Trusting that your experience and needs are what matter can be hard if you’ve been taught not to do that.

If you know it’s important to keep a sense of proportion… if you care about not asking too much of other people… if you worry about whether things aren’t as hard as you think they are… trust yourself. You are paying attention, you aren’t being self-indulgent, your experiences and opinions are valid. It’s the people who never worry about these things who tend to make a lot of fuss over very little. Try and work out whose the voices are that tell you your experiences aren’t valid – the odds are there are specific people who have downplayed your distress and treated you like you were playing up the discomfort to get your own way, or get out of something. You don’t owe those people anything at all.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “How hard is it?

  • DiosRaw

    Greatly said. 🙏

  • Karen Webb

    I love your point that using comparison there is only ever one person on the planet who is really really suffering.

    I left this in your hands; and this morning I had the thought that I can never say that my suffering is greater than yours; I cannot know. Pain is pain. But what I can say is that I suspect my suffering is less than yours, though I cannot know. (And I thought of you.) If I don’t use that thought to belittle my own hard place, simply to recognise that it’s almost certainly not the worst, that way compassion lies. Whilst I still hurt, and that is true too.

    Recently because of illness I stopped smoking for 4 weeks. It seemed to be going OK! On day 27, no longer so physically ill, I started weeping almost uncontrollably. Day 28 seemed ok till the evening when it started again and I recognised the feeling – this was just how I felt last time I decided there was no reason for me to be on planet, other than the pain it would cause if I took myself off. So I started smoking again. My friends said smoking is less life-threatening than suicide.

    And now I’m left feeling a bit of a fraud, and a bit of a wuss. Maybe I could have carried on. Probably I should have (oh, learnt lessons about should). The thing that stops those thoughts is my partner’s happiness that I love my smoking. He wishes I wouldn’t, yet recognises right now it’s a good thing. No judgement. So I’d be very very stupid to judge myself for reacting to save myself from what was a very very hard place.

    Thanks, Nimue.

    • Nimue Brown

      Tom says nicotine can be as hard to quit as heroin. He’s been coming off it in recent months and has had a really hard time, including being emotionally messed about.. It’s not you, it’s the nicotine. best to do whatever works, smoking is definitely better than suicidal feelings, but definitely don’t feel like you’re a fraud, this stuff takes a massive toll.

  • lornasmithers

    ‘What someone else might do is not that useful a measure. How hard it is for you is the most important consideration.’

    This is so very true. It took me years to work out how very very different we are in relation to social situations – how any kind of conflict real or online utterly floors me whereas some people actually seem to feed and buzz off it.

    Sometimes avoiding conflict and not speaking out feels cowardly but it’s something I have to do to protect my mental health, maintain my creativity, and survive.

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