Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Putting on my Fighting Trousers

The title is a tad ridiculous if I'm honest - I'm not putting on any trousers today. Today is another dress day for definite - seams are evil and painful and must go away.

I've been planning a post about this for a while, and was spurred on by discussing it with a friend last night. It's something I find intensely annoying and often sickening, and I'd be interested to see if anyone else has come across similar.

And what is it you ask? The insane idea that illness is somehow a competition.

(Or walk into Mordor, oddly enough.)

The nature and quality of your particular illness will not score you any points. Life isn't Dungeons and Dragons - you won't level up for illness experience. There's no cap at Level 40. You won't be awarded Daedric Smithing for raising your Illness skill to 100.

What's that? Too many gaming metaphors? Well really now!

I'll start with the most obvious one - "well it's not cancer!"

Not a single one of us is belittling the "Big C" in talking about our lives. Nobody would wish for cancer or wish it on anyone else, and as someone who has lost loved ones to it I find it a particularly sickening thing to say. However, when did cancer become the benchmark by which we are all judged? When did every other disease, condition or syndrome become illegitimate on the grounds of not being cancer? I'll make a general comparison point - do people say "it's not cancer" to people complaining about a cold? So why is it OK to say it to people suffering chronic conditions?

The truth is it's not OK at all.

What's also completely unacceptable to my way of thinking is to compare different conditions against one another. People who suffer the same condition can have wildly different experiences, so trying to compare *different* chronic conditions is a completely futile and pointless exercise. So, you know a person with X and you think that's worse than Y - why do you think that gives you the right to criticise or judge the person with Y? If you're making comments like this the likelihood is you don't understand the topic at hand and nor have you taken the time to try. A friend of my family had a very good saying which I always remember - "Better to let them think you're an idiot than to open your mouth and confirm it for them."

In other words, you're probably better keeping your appalling ignorance to yourself.

One-up-manship is another silliness which makes my hit list. We've no doubt all seen other ill folks sitting on blogs or on social networking sites telling other people to "be thankful you're not like me", to "count themselves lucky". I try to be patient and sympathetic with others - treat others how you'd like to be treated, y'know? - but that attitude fast loses my support. It's not helpful and especially distasteful when coupled with the assumption of automatic authority because their X condition is more severe/worse/less understood than anyone else's Y. It was fairly surprising to me that there are a number of ill people out there who are just as devoid of compassion as the ignorant fools I mentioned above - more worthy of note as I expected those who suffer with chronic conditions to be more understanding and supportive. Thankfully, 99% of those I have encountered are indeed wonderfully compassionate and helpful individuals - but the existence of that rather vocal 1% still took me by surprise.

And worse than any of these? For me, the worst thing is when other people use your illness as a stick to beat you with or as an insult. To use something that is little more than an unavoidable poor toss of the dice of fate in such a way leaves me rather speechless in rage. It's the classic playground bully mentality - sniffing out a weakness and then trying to use it. I think part of the reason this annoys me is because it's happened to me - the malice was against me personally and yet the whole rant was constructed around my illness and the way I coped. That kind of behaviour sickens me when it happens to anyone, not just me, because it's not as if the victim has a great deal to defend themselves with - they can't exactly sit there and say "but I'm not ill!" in the manner of responding to any other insult. All bullies are essentially cowards - and this is one more situation which proves the adage.

Being patient with another person, offering to listen and saying "I understand" is a gift which costs you nothing and yet can mean everything to the person who receives it. We'd all be a little better off if we exercised a little less judgement and a little more compassion.

In a short summary: unless you are in the exact same position as another person, you have no right to judge them. If you're not ill, you have no right to judge an ill person or try to police how they cope. If you are ill, you have no right to do so either.


  1. Broadening this out from the topic of illness, I've found this seems to be a common theme across modern times - the need to be outdoing each other in every little tiny aspect of life. A constant game of one-up man-ship.
    Really bugs me, what happened to just been happy for someone? Or being understanding to what they're going through without having to link it back to yourself?

  2. This here, this is the nail you just hit on the head.

    It does seem to be in every single aspect - everything is viewed with acquisitiveness and envy. I think you were spot on the money in saying why can't you just be happy for someone? It seems like another person's happiness is seen as a challenge - you're then obliged to go do something better, or more worthy of attention (am I an awful cynic in saying it mostly seems to come down to the dreaded a word?)

    People, in short, can be very silly xx

  3. Nicely put :) and you know I often whinge to you about how much it annoys me when people try to belittle conditions. On the flip side though, it equally annoys me when people are so rude as to say "I've found someone who is much worse off than me. Thank God." Implying me. I'm just like er... thanks, thanks a fucking lot. I'm so glad you can make yourself feel better just by looking at me. Truly, thanks.

    Lol. Though usually I take these things with a pinch of salt and laugh them off, because I know I have it tough compared to others and all you can do is laugh, but sometimes it hurts. I wouldn't dare say "oh thank god I don't look like them" to a worse eczema sufferer.

  4. So true.. the bit I can relate to most is how much it would mean for people to have a nice word and some understanding. They honestly have no idea how much difference it would make.

    Through the onset of my illness and the length of time it took for me to be diagnosed, the hardest part was the lack of support from those around me, especially work colleagues. In 1 position, I had them send for my medical records as they didn't believe there was anything actually wrong with me (this was before my diagnosis, but I'd had time off work with being so ill)... sadly another job I got a couple of years after was just as bad, with me finding out people I thought were friends were all discussing behind my back how I was 'taking the p*ss' and 'should be sacked by now'.

    Support costs nothing and means everything.

  5. I'm sorry to hear your work colleagues were so horrible :( that really is awful! Sometimes I think compassion must not come naturally to some people... I'll never understand what people get out of not just extending a quiet word every now and again.

    It's that "smile at a stranger" mentality - what does it cost you exactly to make someone else happy? x