|Note to Patient||The results of your recent tests look fine. We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment.|
I was bracing myself for different news because I haven’t felt well for about a week and COVID-19 is on everyone’s brain. My head and throat hurt. I have a dry cough. My breathing is labored. And the big sign that something’s off: coffee doesn’t taste good. I can barely drink it.
But it’s only allergies. And I am very grateful. And I’m still staying home and washing my hands and cleaning my doorknobs with antiseptic wipes.
In all of our lives at this very moment people we love are dealing with positive test results about everything from COVID-19 to lung cancer to COPD to strep throat. All suffering is suffering. It’s never a competition.
Brene Brown addresses comparative suffering in her new podcast series (which is excellent by the way) and comparing my pollen issues with someone else’s coronavirus is obviously ridiculous in terms of basic misery quotients and mortality issues. Comparative suffering also makes us discount other people’s (and our own) pain.
NOTE: I am simply allergic to things. I’m not going to lie. It’s miserable but it’s also not fatal. I have no desire to compare how terrible my sinus allergies are against your skin allergies – or whatever. If I lost my mother at age 32 and you lost your mother at age 73, both of us are allowed to feel pain. Grief is grief.
Wise words about comparative suffering according to Brene Brown:
What’s crazy about comparison when it’s triggered by fear and scarcity is that even our pain and our hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked, so without thinking we start to rank our suffering and use it to deny or give ourselves permission to feel. ‘I can’t be disappointed about my college graduation right now. Who am I to be sad that I’m not going to be able to have this great ceremony ’cause people are sick and dying.’
But this is not how emotion or affect work.
When we minimize our feelings, we get shame (and we all know what Brene says about shame.) We are not bad people if we are lonely in these days, even though some people are lonely without a roof over their heads. Empathy is not a zero-sum game.
These are really, really difficult times for everyone. We are all suffering in an array of ways on many levels and with many layers. But our feelings are real and we need to allow our feelings to be felt. Suffering is suffering. Grief is grief. Hurt is hurt.
I’m really thankful that I tested negative for COVID-19 but I still miss human touch. Instead of comparing my misery with yours though, let’s allow each other to express boundless empathy towards each other and ourselves. It’s a good time to be empathy giants all around.
And let’s keep washing our hands.
Image of beautifully dyed pollen samples.