Why do I fall apart each month, when I should be thrilled we still have a chance?
t’s a game we all play. Stop anyone, anyplace, and they can probably give you three reasons why their life is worse than the average person’s out there.
I’ll attend a get-together or communal event and marvel at the conversation swirling around me.
“My baby was up all night, again! We haven’t slept in years….”
“We all came down with the flu, forget about work or school for the week….”
“The babysitter says she won’t take him back if he doesn’t stop pushing other kids! What am I supposed to do?” (wail)
And then I, too, mentally press play. The scorn rises fast. Those are issues?
I made my own versions of the game.
I used to keep track of all the childless couples I knew. Then, when (thank goodness!) they moved along, I would tally up if we “beat” them by “sticking it out” longer. Pathetic, I know. It was a subconscious thing, but I found myself doing it every time I heard good news.
And Heaven forbid I confuse that tally with the one of How Many Cousins Married after Us and Had the Audacity to Give Birth Immediately, not to be confused, of course, with the precise count of How Many Nieces and Nephews Were Born after Our Wedding, and, and, and — you get the picture… At least my math skills were improving by leaps and bounds, if nothing else.
My first time at a support group was incredibly comforting — and terribly disconcerting. The women were warm and welcoming, and yet as we sat around together, laughing and sharing, I suddenly felt a deep sense of shame. With a diagnosis less severe than most, could I really claim to belong? What right did I have to support, if my experiences were not half as painful as theirs?
At the end of the evening, I knew I wouldn’t be back for a while. Yes, I craved whatever companionship I could get. But my self-enforced disgust was too strong to allow the luxury of the listening ear I so badly needed.
As time went on, I began to realize it’s all the same. My feelings, my scorn for others — and yes, my shame, too — they all stemmed from drawing comparisons that should have no place in our lives. My situation is mine, and my coping skills, challenges, and feelings are uniquely mine as well.
Naturally, my situation is hard(est). And that’s because it’s mine. Similarly, your situation is hardest because it’s yours. And that’s not mutually exclusive in the slightest. Your struggle may seem more glorious in comparison, or pitifully non-complex. And yet, it doesn’t make a difference. We all deserve support. More than that — we all deserve admiration. All of us are heroes with whatever it is that we face.
I realized something else. By constantly comparing my situation to others, I was isolating myself, and blocking out any chizuk I could have drawn from those around me. By accepting that what I’m going through is really, really tough — irrespective of everyone else (or, as Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “Because it happened to me!”) — I was able to put things into perspective and realize that while I may be in this alone, others are alone in their situations as well.
And then a strange thing happened. I found myself gaining strength from people in places so different from mine. My single friend, who’s always smiling despite the years… The mother whose child has Down syndrome, who parades her kid around proudly during Simchas Torah although I’m sure her heart aches… I realized I don’t own pain, and through seeing others deal with their circumstances, I can effectively learn how to grow in mine.
But there’s more. Along with the comparison game used to come feelings of tremendous guilt. I haven’t been in this as long as so-and-so, why am I not coping as well as she is? Why do I fall apart each month, when I should be thrilled we still have a chance? I don’t deserve to be as miserable as I am. (Okay, being miserable is, frankly, not recommended. But you get my drift….)
Why can’t we be alone together? So much of the hurt each of us feels is from being the only one — the only one waking up at the crack of dawn, the only one enduring physically, emotionally, and financially depleting challenges on a regular basis, the only one facing constant disappointment day in, day out, the only one struggling with something that comes so effortlessly to others…
Perhaps by reaching out of our respective little boxes of pain, we can realize that none of us is unique in being alone. We’re really not the only one. Our situations don’t need to be identical for us to connect; we can all grow from one another. And maybe in doing so, the aloneness will dissipate a little — just enough to let a touch of comforting togetherness light the way.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 650)