Before we begin, just a quick head’s up: this post could be potentially disturbing to some readers, as it deals with abuse and mental health issues. Tread carefully and if you think you can’t handle this, just hit up one of my Caturday posts and take in some cute kittens. Because kittens always help.
Everyone else? Let’s do this.
I found this on Patheos Pagan several days ago; titled, Don’t Worry Be Happy and Other Abusive Folk Wisdom, it’s actually got some sound wisdom in it and there are a lot of points with which I agree. If you have the time, I highly recommend that you read it. But there were some points th author made that really hit me. Among them, the opening passages of his post:
At least a couple times a week I see a meme that says something along the lines of “your problems are nothing compared to what other people are going through – be happy.” And there are always comments that say “yes – people don’t realize how good they have it.”
These memes make me very angry.
Most people who post them mean well (on the surface anyway) but to someone who’s hurting they scream “your pain isn’t real” and “I can’t be bothered with listening to you, much less helping you.” They’re callous and abusive, particularly in a society that has the capacity to do better.
“Cheer up.” “Don’t worry be happy.” “It’s not that bad.” “You have so much to live for.”
These clichés and memes are unhelpful and abusive and they need to disappear from our conversations.
I hate them. Especially these. You have no idea just how much I hate them.
Starting back in late 2010, I heard them. A lot of them. You see, in 2010 I was told the unspoken truth about my family: that I really wasn’t my mother’s only child. I was the one she kept. Instead, when my mother was seventeen, she had a child–a son, my half-brother–whom she was forced to surrender for adoption. My mother was a victim of the Baby Scoop Era, which spanned the 1950s until the advent of Roe v. Wade, where unmarried women were coerced into surrending their children to be adopted by “legitimate” married couples. My mother was part of this. My father knew. My aunts and uncles on both sides of my extended family knew. (It was for this reason that my mother has never been accepted by my father’s side of the family; when my paternal grandfather died, my mother’s name was omitted from the obituary. Mine was not.) It was the worst kept secret in our family; everyone knew about it.
To say this was destabilizing would be putting it very mildly; my life went into a tailspin. I questioned everything, from the the veracity of my parents’ claims that they loved and wanted me to the very fact that I existed. I hated myself. I blamed myself for everything: my mother would have been better off, happier, if she had kept him and given me away. The reason my mother was abusive was my fault. The reason she screamed at me and hit me constantly was because I was a terrible person, an awful child, a rotten human being who didn’t deserve things such as love and shelter and family. My lowest point was when I was sitting in the bathroom, sobbing, asking Prime if I was truly wanted and if I truly deserved to live. His answer pulled me back from the brink and I can’t thank him enough for what he said that night.
I’ve often said that family isn’t always about blood ties. Prime has proved this more times than I can count. I love the mech, for this and so many other reasons.
However, at my lower points, a good number of my acquaintances weren’t nearly as understanding. To them, my pain was silly, much a-do about nothing. Hey, I had a brand new member of my family; life should be awesome! Never mind that I didn’t know him at all, that for thirty five years I had no idea he even existed. He was family!
He didn’t feel like family. I’m not sure if he ever truly will. Which leads me to another point:
As a child various authority figures would occasionally say “you better change your attitude.” Few things made me angrier. My response (that I had sense enough to think to myself rather than say out loud) was “I can’t change how I feel.” Of course, the authority figure didn’t care how I felt. They just didn’t want to have to deal with an upset kid. Whether my problems were serious or minor was irrelevant to them.
You feel what you feel. Maybe things really aren’t that bad and you do need to put them in perspective. Or maybe whatever’s bothering you is a symptom of a serious condition, either personal or systemic. It doesn’t matter.
In the moment you feel what you feel and anyone who tries to delegitimize your feelings needs to shut the hell up.
Prime understood that. My actual friends understood that. They got it: my feelings at that time were absolutely raw and nearly uncontrolable. They gave me space when I needed it. They offered advice when necessary. They did everything that they could to help.
Then there was my “friend” from high school.
To her, what I was feeling wasn’t “real” or “legitimate”. Even worse? When I started to deal with far more disturbing issues from my past–like my abusive childhood–I wasn’t simply wrong but “whining”. She let everyone know just how “whiny” she thought I was.
But if it was too much, I could have simply emailed her to talk! To this day, she still doesn’t understand why I won’t talk to her. I had my reasons, which I will get into below (emphasis mine):
But not everything is relative – some things are inherently bad. Pain is bad. Disease is bad. Suffering is bad. They aren’t relative – they’re just bad.
And if you’re hurting, the fact that someone else is hurting more doesn’t help you one bit. If you have the flu, the fact that someone else has leukemia doesn’t mean you don’t need to stay in bed till you’re well. If you have chronic pain, the fact that someone else has terminal cancer doesn’t make your pain go away.
Other people’s suffering doesn’t reduce yours.
My friend from high school, S______, lost her mother as a child. In her eyes, mothers and motherhood are all but sacred. When I started to talk about my childhood, I made the mistake of mentioning that my mother and I had a strained relationship, that the two of us didn’t really get along all that well. I started to delve into the facets of the abuse; it wasn’t very in-depth at first but as time passed I would have gone deeper.
That didn’t matter. To S______, her suffering, her pain was the only pain that mattered, that was truly legitimate. How dare I complain that having an abusive mother was bad? Couldn’t I see how selfish and petulant I was being? Didn’t I know that having an abusive parent was better than having none at all?
She couldn’t understand that my pain didn’t lessen hers, that my experience didn’t magically invalidate hers. Both experiences were bad. Both were shitty. Both made for awful childhoods. But rather than understand or accept that, S______ decided to make my pain about her.
It’s something she’s done before. Needless to say, it’s the biggest reason that I decided to go no contact.
If you find yourself thinking “other people have it worse, I’m OK” ask yourself this: are you putting things in perspective? Are you being thankful for the good fortune you have? Or are you settling for a bowl of rice when there’s a whole buffet available? Or worse, are you telling yourself to be happy because at least you’re better off than “those people”?
Currently, I’m trying to fight to keep my breasts from killing me.
Having BRCA means I have to have yearly mammograms, MRIs every eighteen months, and five years of taking tamoxifen, which has a lot of side effects. It sucks. It doesn’t suck as badly as having cancer, but it still sucks.
Most of the time, I’m pretty positive about my outlook: this was caught early, so I have a chance to fight it. I’m at stage zero, not stage four. I don’t have any tumors. It’s not metastatic. I have a damn good chance of preventing this from becoming a problem.
The thing is, though, it is still a problem.
There are days I get upset and I want to cry. There are days I want to stand outside, throw my head back and scream at the Universe, “Why me, you fucking asshole?!” There are days I don’t want to get out of bed. Then there are the days where one of the more pernicious side effects of the tamoxifen decides to rear its ugly head; those are the days where the anxiety gets so bad that I’m damn near paralyzed. Although I’m not fighting actual cancer, I’m fighting to stop it before it starts. And it can be exhausting.
It sucks. Although I know the hand that the Fates dealt me isn’t terrible, it still sucks.
There are times I need to go ahead and say it: this sucks and I hate it. Even though I know it could be worse, this is still bad. Less bad doesn’t mean that it’s good. It’s still fucking bad. And there are days I just need to say it, to say that this sucks in order to put it back in perspective. Once I say it, accept that yes, this isn’t a great situation, I can get back to being far more positive about it. Being realistic about it helps to keep it in perspective, which can help yank me out of the doldrums.
It sucks, but it could be worse. It’s not a platitude in my case. It’s the absolute truth.