Thursday 7 February 2013

Well at least it's not.....

(Love Liz Lemonsource)

When you are ill, particularly chronically ill, you are inundated with helpful little tidbits from well-meaning family, friends and even, on occasion, complete strangers. I thought I'd dedicate this post to the one that seems to be a favourite of the well-meaning brigade, and one that really ticks me off.

"Well at least it's not [insert disease or life circumstance of choice]." 

I am yet to work out how this is helpful to the person being addressed. In many respects it assumes that the person has lost complete perspective and is simply over-reacting and whiny. Unless your head is so fully up your own arse that you couldn't pry it out with a crow bar, you know that there are worse things in the world.

No one is immune from loss and illness. We all have tragedies in our lives. Unless you live under a rock you know their is suffering around the world in the form of war, violence, famine and natural disasters, every day. On a smaller scale, there is the personal loss of loved ones and unexpected health and life crises. For myself, I've worked in palliative care. I have worked with women who survived the atrocities of the war in The Balkan's, during the 1990's. I have even helped my sister bury her nine-year-old son. Like most people, I'm pretty up there on the understanding that there are people enduring far worse circumstances than my own. You really don't need to remind me.

When you give someone the "at least it's not..." line:
  • You are being nothing short of dismissive and trite. 
  • You are negating their experience. 
  • You are telling them that they have no right to what they are feeling.
  • You are telling them they have no right to express that feeling. 
  • You are telling them to be silent.
  • You are telling them that their distress is unwarranted. 
  • You are making them feel guilty.
  • You are making them doubt themselves.
Is that really helpful? 

Does it provide any solutions?

Any useful advice?

The simple answer is NO!

Suffering is as individual as those experiencing it. What one person can bear another will find an overwhelming burden. How can you compare such a personal experience? I know that other people are suffering and that for some their suffering is beyond intolerable. That doesn't stop me, or any other person, from feeling overwhelmed, or scared, or sad, or lost, or angry, or any of the other million emotions that arise with chronic illness. It doesn't mean I don't need support. It doesn't change my circumstances. It doesn't make my suffering any less real. And it doesn't mean that I think my suffering is worse than that of another. But, it is mine alone and it's salience can only truly be interpreted by me. Where is that line in the sand that says, yes you finally have suffering worthy of complaint? And who decides what the line is?

The reality is, that whatever anyone's life circumstances, be it illlness, or loss, or...., there will always be someone, somewhere whose experience could be classified as worse.

Negating or silencing someone's experience is not an act of kindness. You do not need to understand someone else's experience to be able to show compassion. To let them speak their truth. To let them release that burden so they can start to pick their feet up once more and take the next step. Compassion costs you nothing but is priceless to those who receive it. 

Chronic illness is a long and often frustrating journey. It has no clear parameters. Some days it is better, some days it is worse. Often you can't predict when either circumstance will occur. We experience loss in different forms, jobs, life roles, financial, social, our sense of self. We experience pain both physical and emotional. We have burdens a plenty to deal with. Why should we also be made to feel that we must justify our right to feel upset or overwhelmed.

I, like most patients, know in many respects I am lucky. I count my blessings each day. But the days it gets too much and I'm barely holding on, a kind word or a listening ear is what is needed, not a patronising reminder to keep silent as others have it worse. 

Think about what you are truly saying when you utter those words. Or you just might find yourself beaten, albeit very slowly, to a bloody pulp by my someone's arms of patheticness.


If people would think before they speak, the world would be a much better place. Sing it Aretha!


  1. Ah yes. I went to a parent function at school tonight, which took, well, all of me. A breezy Mum (who knows from many conversations in the past what is wrong with me) walked up to me and said "Oh! Rachel! Are you well?" Which should really be a very normal thing to ask someone, unless they are a chronically ill someone. Cos what I am supposed to say back? I lied. It's easier in that moment, isn't it. I said "...mostly" to which she replied "oh, well at least that is positive". I could have screamed in frustration. I honestly don't know how I will carry on being 'positive'. I just don't have the energy for it anymore and it will be easier to just retreat. Going out takes so much ooomph. Telling people the socially sanitised response they would prefer takes so much ooomph. Telling them how things really are takes so much ooomph. I think I will just stay home.
    PS. Can I hire out your arms of patheticness for a hit job or two?!

  2. My arms of patheticness are happy to take out a few people for you. ;) I must admit I often respond with "fabulous" or "same shit, different day" depending on my mood. Sadly,most people really don't want the truth and many of those that can't cope give you useless platitudes like the one I discussed. There are really only a handful of people I give a truthful answer to that question. xx

    1. I do the same thing. People just don't get it and I often get 'well at least you don't LOOK like you have had a stroke' and then I get the tales of their grandfather in a home. Cause that is totally relevant.

      So I just give them a breezy 'fabulous' and walk away. Cause I don't need that shit.


    2. I must admit I sometimes think, "bloody hell well I can't even do this 'sick' business right" when I get those comments.

      If anyone could do breezy and 'fabulous' it's you Kelley xx

  3. AWESOME!!! At least it isn't...malingering-- Phew! Thanks for a beautiful post, as always.

    1. Thanks Diana. Yep you can put so many things in there. I've heard so many variations. (le sigh) xx

  4. Seriously spot on post! I completely see where people are coming from and feel that at least some folks are relatively well meaning, but ultimately this is a gear grinding thing to hear at the best of times. Still beats, "But you look so healthy for a sick person!" or "I'd never know you were sick just to look at you" though (*le sigh*).

    Wishing you a relaxing, lovely weekend, sweet gal,
    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica. :) I also get the multiple variations of the "but you don't look sick" (well, not so much at present). I'm still unsure as to what 'sick' looks like or why some diseases and disorders don't need to 'look sick' and others do.

      Hope your weekend is lovely too.
      Michelle :)

  5. I got a reaction this week that completely surprised me. A lady I have met twice, but did help make a quilt for, was telling me about how hard it has been for her to find a good doctor for her. I told her I understood as I also had difficulty finding my good doctor. She asked about my diagnosis so I gave her a basic answer. She continued to ask questions and I did my best to answer honestly and simply. Her response? She tells me she has had cancer 4 times now and would rather have cancer than the conditions I have. There was an awkward pause and she continued by saying that at least she knows she is going to die eventually, where I just get to feel like death.
    I didn't know how to respond so... I thanked her. If I had my witty brain on I would have said something about how my condition doesn't make me immortal so I will eventually die too. Instead I thanked the kind lady for telling me that the cancer that is killing her is better than what I am working with. So, yeah, um ... Thanks...

    1. Wow. I wouldn't know how to react to that either. I guess it does show that some people do get that chronic issues are hard due to the lack of end. Though given her circumstances it's really hard to process.

  6. ...great blog! I've just started to admit to myself that I've been using the "at least its not..." Line on myself. If that makes sense. It's taken a near collapse at work and months of being unable to return to work to finally put my guns down and admit, well, that I can't get to that refugee camp yet, or walk that bushwalk anytime soon, or maybe never. And taking a walking stick to the market on some days isn't so bad. And having a stool in the kitchen to sit down while I cook is just what I have to do.

  7. Thank you Michelle another brilliant post that speaks to so many of us.
    Ive had the "at least its not fatal line" dropped on me as I was coming around from a faint. Had I been fully mentally with it I would have clocked the XXXXX but I wasn't, I just felt incredibly wounded by her insensitivity and have carried that hurt around for years.
    Its almost as if there is a competition element with some people as in who is the sickest, when they give you the line. You quite rightly point out everyone is having to deal with their own shit and are allowed to react to it whatever way they want - because its theirs.
    You are always so perceptive! THank you

  8. very well written and insightful. I really like this and will share it to those that are ignorant of the but you don't haves


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