Please stop telling people who are struggling that it “could be worse”…
“It could be worse.”
Never have four words been more rage-inducing to me than those four words are right now, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, which we’re not really allowed to feel bad about because of the relentless pressure to “just be positive!”, look on the bright side, and count our many blessings.
“It could be worse.”
Even when it’s true, it’s not kind. Even when it’s meant to be kind, it fails dismally to be even remotely comforting, or motivational, or whatever the hell it is that the kind of people who go around smugly uttering these words like to think they’re achieving by it.
It could be worse.
I mean… OF COURSE it could. It could ALWAYS be worse, couldn’t it? But it could also almost always be better, too: and I think it’s worth remembering that before we start playing Tragedy Olympics, and insisting that feelings can only be valid when there’s no one out there who can one-up them.
It’s not a competition: and yet, every time I scroll through social media, I come across countless people who seem to think it IS one, and that only those who are literally dead, or dying, or <insert fate worse than death> can win it. The rest of us are the lucky ones, in comparison, so we should just toughen up, shut up, and keep counting those blessings.
In our family’s case, we ARE some of the lucky ones. We have not lost anyone, or been ill ourselves. We don’t have to attempt to home-school our toddler, and while actually working has been close to impossible with an energetic 3-year-old to entertain at the same time, we’re very aware that things really could be so much worse for us: as they have been for many other people out there.
Things could also, however, be better: like, MUCH better – and somehow the knowledge that at least we’re not dead isn’t doing a whole lot to make up for the fact that pretty much everyone I know is depressed right now, and just over a year ago, none of us could even have imagined that becoming our reality.
For the last year, every single one of us has been dealing with something we were not even remotely equipped for. Rationally, we know we’re lucky if all we’re dealing with is a bit of boredom and cabin-fever: but the contrast between the lives we’re currently living, and the ones we’re used to is still so great that it’s hard to actually feel all that “lucky”.
We know it would be much worse to be living through a world war, or dying alone on a Covid ward: but given that neither of those things are part of our lived experience, they remain theoretical, and fairly useless as motivational tools for those of us who feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. Never in the history of the world has someone been made to feel better by being reminded that someone else has had it worse – all they’ve been made to feel is guilty and silenced, neither of which helps anyone really.
Never in the history of the world has someone been made to feel better by being reminded that someone else has had it worse – all they’ve been made to feel is guilty and silenced
But the fact remains: every single one of us has had their world turned totally upside down, their coping mechanisms removed, and their lives changed. It’s been almost a year now, and I still sometimes find myself stopping in my tracks to think about the sheer enormity of what’s happening, and how drastically our world has changed.
As for the rest of the time, all I really do is wait for it to be over: a fact that’s terrifying in itself when I let myself think about all of the time that’s been wasted, and all the life that’s being lost to this groundhog day of an existence: trapped in the house, snow endlessly falling outside, as we wait, and wait and wait. Empty days, anxious nights, that daily 3pm panic attack, when your stomach twists itself into a knot for no real reason, other than the small – but not insignificant – fact that the world stopped last March, and everything since then has just been marking time and waiting for a change that never comes.
All of these things are hard, of course… but they’re not necessarily the HARDEST: which means that, as far as some people are concerned, we’re not really allowed to talk about them. My experience of pandemic-related anxiety and depression, of loneliness and boredom, of panic and frustration, doesn’t remotely compare to the experiences of people who’ve lost jobs or loved ones, and nor would I ever try to compare them. I mean, I’m not THAT much of a drama queen. (Shut up…)
In the context of my own life, though, the things I’m feeling are still a pretty big deal, really – and, regardless of how “lucky” I’ve been compared to many others out there, this experience remains one of the hardest things I’ve personally ever had to deal with – and I’m pretty sure that many of the people reading this could say the same, regardless of how much worse it could be, or how comparatively fortunate they are.
So let us feel those feelings, whatever they are. Don’t try to shut us down, force us to compare our personal circumstances to things we can’t even imagine, or expect us to accept that living through a pandemic is fine, really, because living through a war none of us experienced would’ve been worse. We KNOW. But, guess what? We’re still sad, and angry, and all of those things you don’t want us to admit to feeling: and we’re allowed to be. Because everyone is struggling these days: for different reasons, and at different levels, sure, but still – one person’s minor inconvenience could be someone else’s absolute last straw, and you never really know which one you’re dealing with, or whether it really COULD be worse…