Saturday, 8 June 2013

Different Wings

I came across this post on Tumblr courtesy of The CVS Girl and it set me off thinking (we all know this is dangerous by now!). The original full post was made by GlitterHerpes and is here.She offers the view of a problem with success stories. To quote.

"This is the problem with the “success stories” that pop up every now and then. Of people who overcome their obstacles and go on to do great things. You were born with cerebral palsy and you’re now the world’s leading theoretical physicist. That’s fucking fantastic! I’m really proud of you! But for people who have never struggled, this becomes a point of comparison." 

There will always be extraordinary people - if there weren't we'd have nothing to look up to and no "wow" factor. Reading these phenomenal success stories makes me smile. However, if phenomenal is the expected and set standard then we can have no appreciation of anything "lesser". All small triumphs go unnoticed by virtue of the fact they don't match up to these (for many) unrealistic heights of excellence.

Depending on your health "victory" is something entirely unique to you that may not apply to another person. I count it a victory when I manage to complete a full workout; I talk to others whose health dictates that a triumph is when they make it out of bed in the morning. Why should these personal feats be frowned upon or discredited because of a couple of extremely rare and extraordinary examples? 

Each triumph, however small, is something to be celebrated in the face of something lifelong and incurable. For the moment for most of us there will be no ultimate triumph of a cure. There is no flawless victory. Why should that mean we can't enjoy small and simple daily successes? Sure, they're not as impressive as being a leading theoretical physicist in the eyes of the healthy person who doesn't understand your situation  - why should that dictate how you feel? Nobody knows your body and your capabilities like you do - so focus on how you feel about your day and what you've achieved. 

(Stephen Hawking is absolutely incredible - but he's a one off. Let's not forget the man is a genius - they are very rare.
Graphic courtesy of

“Well if so-and-so did it, you certainly can do this!” 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, and have another wrong for luck.There can be no standard in chronic illness - the very nature of that generalised term renders standardising impossible. Playing the game of "but so-and-so can...." can constitute waltzing blindly into dangerous territory. Long term ill health is by its very nature a vulnerable state of being - I've made a post here about the negative feelings which are wrapped up in this experience. Being bombarded with "but so-and-so" is distinctly unhelpful and hugely insensitive.

Your health is yours, wholly and utterly. It is entirely personal and completely unique. There is no standard, not even for the same condition as they affect each person so monumentally differently.

This also brings up a point previously mentioned about comparing X condition with Y. I could declaim at length about the nonsensical stupidity of this, but I won't. Just stop it - don't go down that road and think before you speak.

"Everyone struggles, no matter what it is - it’s difficult for them. You’re saying that because this man with cancer tries to walk, I should “try” to not let my anxiety stop me. First of all, you don’t get to dictate what trying encompasses. You don’t get to set the standard of trying."

Continuing the unique point, "trying" is just as impossible a state to generalise. For every single person "trying" will involve something completely different dictated by how you feel that particular day and the limitations your overall health dictates. Nobody else gets to set the "standard" - you do. There is no reason at all that you should ever have to justify what you can and can't do on any given day to another person - after all the difference from day to day is one of the things which makes chronic ill health so tricky to both diagnose and explain to others.

I do want to draw attention to one particular paragraph as I really like the point being made:

"No one is obligated to try and especially not for someone else. It is perfectly acceptable to have a day, week, month, year of just giving up. Of breaking down. It’s fucking human! That’s why it’s called “being strong” when you manage not to, it implies that it’s not the normal, it is not the default - it requires effort."

Correct. An expectation to be strong all the time, never once showing a wavering of resolve or accepting the possibility of doubt is inhuman and ridiculous. I'm not suggesting "being strong" doesn't have its benefits - it certainly does - but as GlitteringHerpes said it's not the norm and shouldn't be expected as the norm. I'd also argue that the state of "being strong" will differ from person to person based on not only their illness but on their own personality also.

People shouldn't be criticised if they are more sensitive and easily upset than others, or if they refuse to put on a false front that they are indeed anything else. The fact we are all of different dispositions is something to be celebrated, not something to be swept aside because it doesn't fit a prescribed view of "being strong". Every single one of us at one point or another will need a good vent - it's healthy as it lets off steam and frees pent up emotion. Whether you scream, shout, burst into tears, punch something (preferably not someone!) or indeed anything else - it's fine. It's healthy in fact - you're human.

This brushes the edges of something I believe more widely in life as a whole - comparison to others isn't healthy. Your life is your own, just as any other person's is. You don't have the same experiences and you don't have the same joys and sorrows, the same trials or the same triumphs.

So how on earth can you expect the same outcomes?

(The grass isn't always as green as it appears.... courtesy of

The only person you should ever compare yourself to in terms of ill health is you on a similar day - and I'm a firm believer there are very few of those. Focus on what you feel like you can do on this particular day and let that be enough. If you feel like pushing the boundaries a little, do so. If you feel like you can't, then don't and do what you feel you can. Winding yourself up with needless comparisons (whether spoken by someone else or conjured from your own head) will not help and will only hinder your small or indeed large successes. 

Save the world domination and paradigm-shifting discoveries for a day when you're feeling a little brighter.

Wishing you all many spoons xx


  1. A very good post! It also makes me think of when people ask for my advice on how to treat their eczema, and in fact I've had someone wanting to make a database readily available so that sufferers can see what works for everyone else. Whilst this is a nice idea, I stand strong in that every condition is entirely individual; people's eczema and allergies manifest in different ways and so the only way you could possibly find something to work solely for you is by trial and error. You can't compare the treatments that have worked wonders for others because then you have in your mind that they will work in the same level for you and this isn't always the case.

  2. This post has reminded me of the Paralympics, and how amongst all that truly amazing, inspirational time there was a whiff of 'If they can do it, why can't everyone?!' That was the point at which I combusted with rage.

    Comparisons suck on all levels and are best saved for car insurance, not people.