If I Ask You How You Are...

“It’s nothing compared to what you’re going through.” I hear this disclaimer regularly. And I’m really bothered by it.

People feel they can’t share their struggles with me because theirs isn’t on the same level as mine. Or they do share (or I push them to share) and they have to add the infamous disclaimer “it’s not as bad as your stuff.”

I always try to push back, but I often do so inarticulately. So, today I’d like to explain why this bothers me.

I am bothered by these types of statements because it cheapens the other person’s struggles.

As I have walked through these “big” stresses - namely my husband’s cancer and my daughter’s special needs - I have realized that the feelings I feel are not that different from the feelings I have felt so many times before. The body doesn’t differentiate between big stresses and little stresses very well.

Stress is stress and heart ache is heartache. It doesn’t matter if it’s “big” or “small” we human’s have the capacity to feel all of it with equal severity. I have experienced the stress of living in a foreign country, the stress of job loss and financial instability, the stress of moving multiple times, the stress of illness, the stress of a child with bad colic and the daily stresses of just getting dinner made on time. And I have a secret for you they all feel essentially the same.

I have experienced the sadness of saying goodbye to friends who suddenly move far away. I have had the guy I was interested in tell me he loved someone else. I have lost opportunities I wish I hadn’t lost. I have failed at endeavors I have poured my whole heart into. I have watched both of my parents suffer in the hospital at different times for health issues that confounded the doctors. I have grieved my grandfathers Alzheimer's. And I have walked with family and friends through divorce and near divorce. And here’s the secret the heartache that I experienced in these different situations is mostly the same. That isn’t to say that we don’t feel varying degrees of emotion, sometimes stronger grief than others, sometimes bigger fears, but grief and fear and heartache and stress are the same. They may come in varying degrees but they all feel the same. They all hurt.

Just because the life struggles I am facing are “big” it doesn’t mean that yours have no value. It doesn’t mean that yours don’t hurt. In fact, all emotion - all pain, all stress, all heartache - is VERY valid and very powerful. It all hurts. It all effects us. It all feels very much the same in the end.

You’re pain is valid. Just as valid as mine. Our struggles may be different but that does not mean that yours are somehow less.

We are both human. And we both feel pain and hurt and stress. Yours is just as valid as mine. And mine is just as valid as yours.

These types of comments also bother me because they cheapen the relationship.

Friendships grow from sharing struggles, from walking through crap together. I know. I’ve seen this time and time again. You can’t share your heart with another person if you don’t also share your heartaches - your struggles. And you can’t really become friends with another human being if there isn’t some sharing of hearts - if you don’t open up and honestly share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When people don’t tell me their struggles because they don’t feel that their struggles are as “big” as mine, or when they share them hurriedly with the disclaimer “it’s nothing to what you are going through” it feels like they are choosing to close a bit of their heart and life off to me. And that saddens me. I want to hear about what other people are struggling with even if it’s something as “mundane” as knowing how to handle a difficult child, or deciding where to put their kids in school next year, or trying to loose the last five pounds after pregnancy. I want to hear about it, and cry with them, and walk through it with them. I want friendship. Just like everyone else.

Compassion is so much more all consuming than I used to understand. Walking through this “big” struggle has softened my heart to all struggles, because at the heart level they are all so similar. Life is hard. And even though our stories may be different and our struggles may be different, it doesn’t make you’re life any less hard, or your battle any less valid. In fact I think the fact that all of our stories are so different actually adds to the validity of each one, adds to the beauty of each victory small and large, adds to the depth of the human experience.

So, please, if you see me out and about, and I ask you how you are, or what’s been going on in your life. Don’t think I am just being nice. I really do want to know. And I really do think that whatever you share, however “big” or “small” by societies standards, is valid and valuable. And please believe that whatever compassion or empathy I may show you is truly genuine. I feel for you. I really do.

Oh, and if we do happen to meet out and about, please also excuse my inarticulate social awkwardness!

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany