Glasgow Christmas Market

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.

Glasgow Christmas MarketIn 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.

stop telling people it could be worseAs 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…


Why positivity isn’t always a good thing

Reminder: it’s totally fine not to have achieved anything of note during the pandemic

Why I don’t blog honestly about my life any more

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

I also write books
  • Amy


    I loathe toxic positivity. It does not help.

    We’re ill-prepared to deal with a global trauma and people are trotting out platitudes because that’s all they can think to do. Sitting with discomfort is not something we’re used to doing; whenever something is uncomfortable we’re supposed to fix it. Doing nothing goes against our dominant cultural experience.

    Feel your feels and whatever they are, they’re valid.

    February 11, 2021
  • Isabel


    SO sick of hearing this, and not only this but also :

    – It’s not that bad
    – I knew lockdown would be extended until – insert horribly unbelievable date here –
    – At least you have a job
    – At least you live with your boyfriend

    Can I just rant IN PEACE?? Can I have someone understand my pain instead of making me feel like a cry-baby for feeling it??

    Thank you for your post, it helped me feel better.


    February 11, 2021
  • Brenda


    Totally agree, 1000%. I am so sick of hearing how much worse it could be. Barf. I once had a friend like that, who almost made it her mission to downplay every traumatic event anyone went through, even labeling it as “drama”. A few years ago, my son almost died in a horrific event that left us all traumatized and shaken, but so so grateful that he made it through (obviously!). We were with a small group of friends, many of whom hadn’t seen me since it happened, so when I was recounting it, this girl just swooped her hand aside and said, “alls well that ends well!” and she walked away. After a few other similar encounters, I just decided to end the friendship. I can’t handle fake and superficial, any more than I can handle a lack of empathy. And really, that is where comments like, “It could be so much worse”, really come from. Lack of empathy. And I am really tired of it. (Thanks for letting ME rant! – Lol!!)

    February 11, 2021
  • Laura Miller


    This is such a great blog post! I am trying to be so conscious that everyone is having a completely different experience of this last year but everyone is having a hard time! It’s not a comparison. We need to be kind ????

    February 11, 2021
  • dublinerInDeutschland


    Yeah most people I know are struggling right now. Recently I have felt like I’ve hit a lockdown brick wall. Every day is just groundhog day. I either feel depressed and numb /stressed, irritable and angry or anxious. Happy moments are rarer. It is so hard right now. I guess I’m just looking forward to when the weather gets a bit better and hoping that things will improve.. they have to eventually right?

    February 12, 2021
  • Steph


    Ugh I hate this. I just wrote a similar thing about birth stories. I think most of the time it comes from a good place, but it just isn’t helpful and we need to drop it. I think it generally shows how emotionally repressed we are as a society. It’s great that mental health is starting to be taken more seriously, but it’s still really apparent that people can’t handle it when someone expresses upsetting feelings. We either go on the defensive and dismiss them entirely or we freeze up and spew generic platitudes at them. Just listening doesn’t seem to be a skill set we’ve been equipped with!

    February 13, 2021
  • Jacqueline


    I think that many of us feel like this, but because we haven’t been ill, lost someone, lost a job etc, we’re not allowed to feel angry, fed up etc. I was very angry to begin with, now just very fed up. The removal of my freedom is what’s annoying me just now. I have been working full time, all through this, so have not had time to follow Joe Wicks, bake banana bread or learn a new language. Somehow, I seem to have failed. And, I have put on weight!

    February 13, 2021
  • Miss Kitty


    This Valentines weekend has been hard for me. This time last year I was enjoying a weekend with my boyfriend… and that is the last time I have seen him for a year now that we have been separated by border closures. If I was going to look on the bright side I would say that at least he is still just as determined to make our relationship work through all this, so it’s been a kind of proving ground for us, but I could have done without it actually, I already knew he was the one for me when we first met. They keep promising the borders will open but it always seems to be about 2 months away. And now we have gone back into restrictions, even though they’re nowhere near as severe as UK, it still feels like the final straw, like we are going to be doing an endless round of this forever and I will never see my boyfriend again. Friends tell me they are sorry for me but I never realised before how empty the word ‘sorry’ can be. It changes nothing for me, and even though I am grateful they recognise that it’s hard for me right now, I don’t think they really realise just HOW hard it is being separated for so long from someone you love. Sometimes I feel bad for feeling bad when I’m not dying or starving, then I think F*** it, I’ve got every reason to feel depressed right now, and carry on with my pity party. Still doesn’t change anything though ???? I think that’s the hardest thing for me, not being able to do anything about it, just being completely at the mercy of the virus and govts and I don’t trust either.

    February 15, 2021
  • Anneke Caramin


    No one ever does the opposite by the way. If you’re feeling good and happy no one is going to show up to tell you that others are feeling way happier!

    February 23, 2021
  • Sabina@OceanblueStyle


    Oh, could not agree more. Ranting is just so liberating. And necessary. But you here the “but” coming, right? I love a good rant myself. Things is though as much as their are people out there suffoucating any little hint of “negativity” with their harmful positive outlook-mentality, there are tiresome ones on the other hand feeling sorry for themselves, wallowing in self-pity. (Again: 5-min-pity-party? I would love to host that.) And, yes, if you got someone in your family terminally ill it DOES put things in perspective.

    xo Sabina

    June 26, 2021
  • Meg


    Oh, my GOD, agreed!!!! This toxic positivity movement makes me want to jump into a wood chipper.

    February 2, 2022
  • James


    I understand your point to an extent. You struggled greatly during the lockdown, and you certainly shouldn’t be silenced when talking about the painful experience that you went through. Anyone saying you should just shut up because your problems could be more unpleasant is in the wrong, and if their intention is to silence you then that is unacceptable. You’re allowed to talk about your problems, as you said. However in many cases, talking about your problems is the first step towards solving them. I want to point out that not all people saying “it could be worse” are trying to silence you, many want to see the opposite happen. They want to encourage others to talk about there problems rather than bottling them up. The reason they say “it could be worse” is because gratitude can often have a very uplifting effect on one’s mood. But gratitude goes beyond mood, it’s about highlighting all the good that exists in the world.

    Are you not shaming people who are trying to help you? It seemed to me that this blog was a little toxic in certain areas. Saying “it could be worse” isn’t about pretending the problems in your life aren’t real. It’s about pointing out that the situation you are in, however fortunate or unfortunate, is made WORSE with a bad attitude. Of course, anyone is aloud to feel bad. I’m not arguing against that. But to just sit around with a low mood and pout (even if you have a good reason to which I’m sure you may), without at least trying somewhat to be hopeful about the future, that I don’t understand. I think embracing that sort of mindset can lead to despair. How can despair be the way forward?

    June 17, 2023
    • James


      Oh and there’s a typo in my message, my mistake.

      : )

      June 18, 2023
      • James


        There’s 2 actually

        : )

        June 18, 2023
  • Carly


    My MIL came down to help out my family (hubby and 3 kids) while I was being treated for breast cancer. I had already had two surgeries and was in the middle of chemotherapy. I was having lots of side effects from the chemo as well as some from the surgery, so I was going to several Dr appts to deal with the side effects as well as going for chemo every two weeks which made me horribly nauseous for a whole week. When I would leave for an appt, I would tell her where I was going and why (not complaining as Jeff above notes) and she would always respond, “it could be worse”. Really pissed me off. Finally, I told her that, yes, individually all of these side effects were not so bad (except for the nausea – that was bad!) but dealing with all of them at once was alot and a big deal. Later, she came and said, I really don’t know what you’re going through (an apology of sorts?) and I appreciated that. But what really bothered me is that, I believe she really thought she was being helpful saying “it could be worse” and couldn’t comprehend how that saying could be so hurtful. Not sure if it was lack of empathy or what…

    July 31, 2023