Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not The Same Thing


In order to avoid having a mental breakdown, I shall choose to be constructive in writing this post and explaining what is bothering me so much. DEEP BREATH - okay, here goes:

Let us begin by going back to elementary school. Circle and square: not the same thing. Dog and cat: not the same thing. Being five or thirty-eight: not the same thing. Being hot or cold: not the same thing. Now let’s see if you’ve clued into the pattern - Crohn’s and another disease/illness: not the same thing.

I know someone who had pneumonia a month or so ago and continues to recover. I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks because I’ve been having problems with my stoma - which, to note, is hard to explain because I’m not sick, but having a localized issue - and she somehow thinks that these are the same thing. I’ve never had pneumonia and can’t comment on what it’s like - but that’s the point, I don’t know so I can’t say anything. But it does not stop this individual - on and on with the metaphors and how we’re so similar and how we have to take care of ourselves and all of those ooey-gooey things you’d say in a therapy session in a saccharine movie. The entire time I was talking with her I wanted to be like, “Wait, I’m sorry, am I on Punk’d? Are you serious?” I demonstrated incredible restraint in not bursting into laughter or raising my eyebrows at her incredulous claims. When she found out that my parents aren’t in the city, or the country for that matter, she was so apologetic and fails to understand that having a chronic illness is different than having an acute illness and I have a support system and she does not have an honest clue about me.

And then there’s the matter of her ‘expertise’. Well, she’d have you know, her cousin has Crohn’s and therefore she is an expert. She knows all about it. Everything. You couldn’t tell her one new thing. Never mind the fact that she doesn’t believe in Western medicine - which is one thing, but please don’t tell me that my beliefs are wrong - and does not understand that IBD is so varied in presentation and severity and that having a stoma problem is not, in fact, an IBD problem. But pish posh, she’s the expert, who am I kidding (insert groan here).

I’ll take the opportunity to apologize for my invariably sarcastic diatribe, but give me a moment to explain to you why I wrote this. I truly, truly believe that is it wrong to compare suffering of any kind. We cannot possibly try to make pain ordinal - we can’t say that Crohn’s is worse than asthma, we can’t assign judgments - it’s impossible, but moreover it’s utterly unfair to the individual dealing with the illness/pain/life event. Who am I to say, as someone who’s only lived my life in my body, that someone else’s issue is easier to cope with than my own? I don’t have that authority and when people attempt to pull out a ‘suffering scale’ to compare things, I am automatically turned off and endlessly annoyed. 

A friend of mine said this the other day in a conversation and I thought it was brilliant, “it’s not comparative, it’s analogous”. I think if we truly want to understand one another and be empathetic and supportive, then we must listen and believe that our experiences are analogous but not the same thing as someone else’s. Only you know your body and your beliefs and your lifestyle and your dreams, and no one else can tell you differently. 

But did I say anything to this person that I know? Nope, and here’s why: I genuinely feel badly that she is in pain and that her recovery is slower than anticipated. I have long ago had the ‘eureka’ moments in regards to health and life and will let her have hers all to herself. I know she doesn’t say anything out of malicious intent, and that her words aren’t meant to deride to degrade my medical experiences. And because, at the end of each and every day, we are different people - we are not the same.

Jennie

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