The worst experience you’ve ever had is going to inform your sense of perspective. I ran into this a lot when James was young, and it’s quite a process giving a child a framework in which to consider their experiences without invalidating how they feel about things. Distress should not be competitive, and the idea that you shouldn’t make a fuss because other people have it worse, is abhorrent.
How distressing something is depends a lot on how resourced you are. If you’re already at the margins, smaller things will have more power to break you. Getting the flu as a basically healthy person is different from getting the flu when you were already ill. From the outside, it isn’t easy to tell how overloaded someone else might be.
Even so, in my experience it is often the people who are most privileged and most comfortable who make the most fuss about their setbacks. The more insulated a person is in a bubble of comfort, the more intolerant they are likely to be of other people’s struggles, too. Most of us are challenged and knocked about by life and most of us have more compassion and empathy for other people than that. Unfortunately the UK government appears to have a lot of whinging privilege in it at the moment.
Community is really important in all of this. Investing care in others – humans and non-humans alike will give us a context for our own experiences. Very little is new, most of us aren’t desperately original about the things we struggle with, and I think there’s a kind of beauty in that. We share so much common experience in our flawed humanity. When we talk about that and make the stories of our trials available to each other, we open up to compassion and empathy. It’s also a way of sharing knowledge, and if you’ve seen someone else go through something you’re much better prepared to deal with it if you encounter something similar.
I’m always uneasy about the people who constantly need to prove that they’re the biggest victim, the most hard done by, and the only one who should be getting attention. It’s not healthy. It’s vitally important to be able to look around and see what’s most urgent right now, or most fixable. When we look out for each other, we build resilience and resources. If we all sat in little puddles of self pity demanding that we be recognised as the one with the best sob story, nothing good would come of it. We all need room to express our woes, but doing that together is far more powerful.
When we rage, and grieve and struggle together we can build things that are more than the sum of our misery.