“It could be worse.”
It’s amazing how quickly these four words make my head spin. People living with chronic illness are well aware of the fact that “it could be worse.” I know that I could be in a hospital bed right now. Instead, I’m at home typing on my computer, living to see another day. I know that there are people who have died of terrible illnesses and ones who have died unexpectedly. I know other parts of the world don’t have the healthcare that we do, and I am thankful to have the quality care that I do. I am well aware that it “could be worse.”
The first illness that comes to mind for many people who don’t know of other serious conditions is cancer. The amount of times my condition has been dismissed or belittled because it wasn’t cancer is ignorant. Cancer is often a devastating condition and I have witnessed the effects of it firsthand, but it should not be used to throw in the face of someone with another debilitating condition. It should not be used to justify someone’s thinking that it “could be worse.”
I want others to know that, yes, my condition could be worse. I am lucky every single day to have two feet on the ground. That fact doesn’t diminish my pain and suffering, and it certainly doesn’t erase my medical conditions. My “worst” shouldn’t be brushed aside. When my suffering is dismissed by others, I start dismissing my health and ignoring how I actually feel.
Hearing “it could be worse” not only makes me feel invalidated, but it also makes me feel remorse for those who do have it worse. My focus drifts away from myself and I am left feeling selfish. I begin to think that my “problems” don’t matter. This way of thinking not only is a punishment to my physical health, but it’s damaging to my mental health. Putting off my pain and suffering because others have it “worse” is not an act of selflessness. It’s an act of self-destruction and can be extremely dangerous.
There are so many people out there who misjudge and misread my suffering because I don’t fit the picture of what “sick” looks like. When I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and other rare diseases, I tried to convince myself that it “wasn’t that bad.” I thought, “At least I didn’t have oxygen” … and then I was put on oxygen. “At least I can still go places and don’t need oxygen as much” … until I passed out after not wearing it while watching a football game. “At least I’m not in the hospital.” … Flash forward to November when I was hospitalized for three months. Any condition can be worse. It makes me anxious to even think about the endless possibilities.
Thinking about “who has it worse” or “how it could be worse” has not done me any good. It has made me neglect my own health. It has made me think that I didn’t deserve the care I was receiving. Those with chronic illness know it could be worse. But, what others need to understand is, it could also be a lot better for us too.
I realized that I have control over defining when I’ve reached my breaking point. My “worst” is solely my own. It doesn’t need comparing, it doesn’t need judging, it doesn’t need belittling. It needs recognition. I feel fortunate to be alive, to be able to stand on my own two feet, to be able to physically type this out and create these words in front of me. I can be fortunate and grateful and still have a right to feel my suffering and pain. I am allowed to say “this is my worst.”
With any chronic illness, instead of saying “it could be worse,” stop and acknowledge someone’s suffering even if it seems “small.” Each person’s pain is their own. It’s real. It’s valid. Every person, no matter their struggle, deserves to feel sympathy, compassion, and deserves to feel heard even though someone out there “has it worse.”
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.