It is a simple, four-letter word that can have both simple and complex meanings.
It’s a word we use with everyday jargon. “Man, [insert task] is such a pain.” It’s a term we use to describe someone who is getting on our last nerve. “John is such a pain in the butt!” Or it’s a term to describe the tension that radiates from a wound or injury. Doctor: “Ok, where does it pain the most?” A simple, but complex word that holds so much value.
For me, living with a mental health issue, pain is a word that is reiterated frequently in my vocabulary. Physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain. It is a word that has many levels of complex feelings and emotions; containing raw and “painful” memories, both past and present; a term that can be used so loosely yet can detonate a bomb within seconds.
For me, pain can be a loaded word. Living with PTSD, I’ve had to deal with all types of pains. The mental anguish of being battered by vivid flashbacks and horrible reminders of the hurt my father caused me. The emotion grief of coming to terms of living with a mental health issue, the emotional strain of trying to sort through feelings that had yet to have names, the complex sadness of watching my loved ones and friends come to terms (or denials) of how my illness affects my life. And the physical hurt, when my PTSD decides to rear its ugly head in the form of panic attacks, migraines, body aches, and sickness.
For me, living with PTSD is, in all sense of the word, a pain.
But as I mentioned before, pain can be a relative term. Pain has a board spectrum that encompasses so many events, so many situations. There are thousands upon thousands of ways a person can feel pain.
And yet, somewhere along the way, we have decided that we need to start comparing our pain to others. As human beings, it is in our nature to find similarities to each other, to be able to relate to others in a way, to form connections and bonds and friendships through sharing similar experiences. And we have all been through painful experiences. Hurt or broken a limb? I’ve done that. Heartbreak? Had plenty of those. Lost a friend? Many. Watched my parents get divorced? Sure did. No matter the situation, somewhere along the way we meet people who have been through “similar” experiences.
But somewhere along the way, we decided to view certain experiences as “more painful.” Now don’t get me wrong, what I have gone through in my past and the aftermath of hurt left in the form of my mental illness has, no doubt, been difficult and at times unbearable. Living with PTSD and all it entails is no easy feat, yet while I am proud of how far I have come in the last six years, I by no means use it as a bragging right. I don’t view it as a free pass nor do I wear it as a badge of honour. I’ve been through some terrible and terrifying things, and no doubt I have struggled, but I never intended to share these experiences because I am egotistical. I genuinely want to help make a difference for people who felt isolated and alone. I wanted to reach out to someone, anyone, who felt they were misunderstood or felt ashamed of their pain.
Was I abused? Yes. Was it horrific? Yes. Do I suffer from a mental health issue? Yes.
All painful experiences, yes, but my “type” of pain doesn’t make me hold first place on the podium of shitty life events.
Unless of course, your town was wiped out by titans and the survival of humanity rested in the palm of your hands.
(Sorry! Attack on Titan joke. Cue loud groaning.)
And in the scheme of things, who has the right to decide if my pain is “more painful” than somebody else’s? By what means can my pain be deemed “top-scale”?
It can’t, and at the end of the day, no one, no one has the right to make that decision.
Because we are all biased to our own pain. Unless someone was witness to those events or can attest to the suffering, no one has the right to diminish that hurt, no one has the right to make your experiences feel inferior because of someone else’s story.
I had a friend who was really close with her grandfather. A tale I’m sure many people can relate. They did almost everything together – cook, bake, go fishing. They were inseparable; a loving bond that cannot be replaced by anything else in this world. And tragically, a story many of you I’m sure heard too many times, he passed away. She was devastated, absolutely heartbroken. Without him she felt lost. She couldn’t believe he as gone. She didn’t only lose her grandfather, she lost her best friend, a man who idolized her and would have given her the sun and more. And without warning, he was gone.
She felt a pain I couldn’t relate to. I’m still thankful to have both my grandfathers, but she lost a loved one, a family member. She was broken. She grieved for months, and eventually she found some form of “acceptance.” Is she still hurt? I cannot tell you, but she lived through that pain. She felt a loss so deep it will follow her around for the rest of her life.
So who is to say that her pain is any less than mine? Why in the heat of an argument would someone decide to clash those events? They were different circumstances, different experiences all together. And yet, society still decides to rate pain on some proverbial scale. She lost her grandfather. Yeah well, you were abused. Abuse trumps death.
In any situation, when a person is hurting, I try to be empathic. I sit and listen, trying to console them as much as I can, regardless of the situation. If a friend is hurting, I try to help in any way I can. It’s human nature. It’s life! It’s how we love. Never once have I ever saw a friend suffer and thought, Jeez maid! Get over it! Could’ve been worse! Could have had an asshole for a father! I am not that person, I never will be that person. I would never expect a person to view my circumstances in that way, so why would I impose that ideal on somebody else?
And on the flip side of the coin, for my friends going through mental health issues of their own, I would never, ever compare one mental illness against another. An illness is still an illness. Who am I to say that my PTSD is worse than my friend’s GAD disorder? Who is to say her constant strain of pain attacks and irrational thoughts is more or less crippling than my flashbacks?
So why have we decided to start comparing different types pain? Why have we come to accept that some people have it worse than other’s? When did it become acceptable for us to diminish our own experiences for the sake of making others feel better, to make certain types of pain more superior than others?
We can’t keep comparing our hurt and suffering to others, because by those standards, someone will always have it worse than you. And maybe by blind ignorance this has become acceptable because it helps alleviate one’s own suffering, even just for a little while? Is it ok? Hell no. But by those social standards, you’re letting others have one over on you. You’re letting someone else decide if it’s ok for you to feel a certain way.
And at the end of the day, no one has a right to tell you how you feel! I don’t care if your heartbroken over a partner, or the death of a pet, or even losing your favourite pair of earrings – NO ONE can tell you how you are supposed to feel. You are allowed to feel as much hurt and pain until you are ready to move on. You do not have to justify why you feel a certain way to anyone. And no one has the right to tell you how long your allowed to grieve for. They are not in your shoes, they were not a witness to your pain. No one ever has that right.
So, was I abused? Yes. Was it painful (in all sense of the word): Yes.
How painful was it? The answer is irrelevant. Because no one else experienced my situation. No one else felt what I did in those terrifying moments.
And while I am bias to my own pain, I am not disrespectful to someone else’s suffering. The circumstances and situations are irrelevant. If it caused you any sort of pain, then you are allowed to hurt, and you do not have to let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Because pain is not comparable.
Is it relatable? To a degree, but it is not comparable.
Pain is pain.
So why should anything else matter?
And as always,
Fight the good fight.