I come across this everyday - I look after people who are absent from work with various illnesses and conditions and the truth is that yes, there are people who are worse off than you are. It’s not my day job but one of the duties of being a union steward, so I support them as they go through my companies absence process.
This puts me in a unique position; I have a disability of my own but deal with people who have a range of conditions and illnesses who think that their situation, and how they’re feeling, is the most important thing in the world. Some are unable to see beyond their condition, others are, and more than once I’ve really wanted to tell someone that they have nothing to complaint about but I don’t, because that would be unfair on both them and me.
Yes, MS can be an extremely unforgiving condition and I know what I’ve personally had to give up over the last 12 years. But it’s also increased my understanding and empathy for others, and made me extremely grateful for what I do have. It’s allowed me to look at and consider the context in which I live my life.
If someone comes to me for help I don’t compare that person to me, I do my best to understand how they’re feeling and the impact on their life. How does their illness affect them in then context of their situation - family, work, friends - compared to when they weren’t ill? And sometimes the impact is devastating, even for what might seem like a relatively minor conditions.
So yes, the reality is that there’s always someone worse off than I am.
I take no pleasure in knowing that but it helps me keep my condition in context: I may not have a lot, but I am grateful for what I have and who I have in life. I’m not bitter about my condition or what I’ve lost, but thankful for having been fortunate enough to do those things in the first place.
I also take time to explain to people what my MS means to me and how it affects me. I ask for understanding and not sympathy because I don’t need sympathy. Sympathy won’t make allowances for being unable to open a bottle or for needing 5 extra minutes to get somewhere, but understanding will. But never assume that someone else will automatically understand how you feel, even if you’ve known them for years. All relationships take work and it’s easy to become complacent, so make sure your friend truly understands how you feel by explaining it to her. Don’t assume she just knows.
I make sure that my wife, my family, my friends and my co-workers all know how I feel. It takes effort on both my part and theirs, and some of them conversations are difficult and uncomfortable, but it makes life easier and if someone is unable to understand, or more importantly chooses not to, then they have no place in my life. I choose to have people in my life who support me, help me, understand me. They don’t feel sorry for me, molly-coddle me or say I can’t do something, and they get the same back. My core group of friends is very small as a result, but the relationships I have are very rewarding.
When people say there’s always someone worse off, they’re right. That’s a fact. It’s how we deal with that ourselves which is more important and that’s a state of mind. It’s not always easy, it’s sometimes frustrating and upsetting, but as Ghandi also said, be the change that you want to see in the world. Be the person you want to be.