Opinion piece by Richard Bleil
We have an odd habit. I am not sure if it’s our society, or human nature, or some other reason, but when we hear about somebody’s difficulty, it’s all too common to try to top it. “Well if you think THAT’S bad…”
I’ll not mince words about this. Whether it is intentional or not, this is a way to undermine what another person is going through. It’s a bad habit, and it needs to end.
We all struggle. We all feel pain. We all have different tolerances for pain, and our tolerances vary from day to day, or even moment to moment.
You, my dear reader, may be going through something yourself. Let me say this for the record; what you feel, regardless of the reason, is real, legitimate and fair.
Right and wrong isn’t always a legitimate question. Feelings are something that we, all of us, have to face. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with these emotions, of course. Mass shootings are becoming an all-too-popular way of dealing with problems. There is no justification for this, ever. But, maybe, if we were better at dealing with negative emotions as a society, there would be less violence when things don’t go our way.
Dealing with hardships and emotions is a funny balance between releasing the negativity, but maintaining control so as not to cause more harm. Angry driving is kind of a thing these days. Psychiatrists have suggested that it’s the “anonymous” aspect; with the windows up and nobody there to hear us, we can lash out and cuss and get angry and express ourselves without fear of retribution. But if we start swerving, weaving, and get into an accident, then our anger has just made things worse. Calling, texting and harassing an “ex” is never good. Physical violence is never good. Any form of intentional harm to another is unacceptable, be it physical or emotional. But as friends, we should learn to be more supportive of those in pain.
Have you ever noticed how people recovering from emotional wounds respond in a way very similar to those physically harmed? When I had my heart attack, I spent days sleeping, lethargic, and barely able to take care of my own basic needs. When my wife asked me for a divorce, and I moved out of the house, I did exactly the same thing.
Then I had my friends who tried to smooth things over by explaining how much worse their divorce was. “Once, I was dating dis broad, and she dumped me, an…” Okay, I don’t have friends who actually talk like that, but you get the point. The come out of the woodwork to explain how it can’t be so bad, because they had it better, so just get over yourself.
But I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I was in real pain. Maybe they had it worse, maybe not, but it’s not the point. Trying to make it better by telling me it could be worse did nothing but invalidate my feelings.
Maybe that is the plan. Maybe it’s that we don’t want to hear it. Could it be that “I remember this one time…” is just a way of simply saying, “I don’t want to listen to your problems”?
Men are not good at listening. We tend to be “fixers”. “Just go out and find some other chick…” Okay, again, I don’t have friends who use terms like “broad” and “chick” (and neither do I), but it is the kind of slang you might expect from somebody who might say these things. Sometimes, there is nothing to fix. Sometimes, we need to be heard, validated, and respected. I lost my wife. Maybe you did as well, maybe you lost your kids when I had none, maybe you had far more than we did, but it is fresh. It’s painful. It’s hurting me right here, and right now. There’s no fixing it. It’s just dealing with the pain.
I suffer from manic depression for as long as it’s been called manic depression. These days there are a multitude of flavors of “bi-polar disorder”, but it means a chemical imbalance. One of the oddest conversations I’ve had was when I was catching a bite with two of my friends who are also both bi-polar. The conversation turned to depression, and they began discussing their relative conditions, the medicines they’re on, how bad it is, how mine is worse than yours and so on. I just listened. It was just odd. There is no better, there is no worse, and there certainly is no trophy for severity.