I currently have shingles. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s essentially chicken pox rearing it’s ugly head again – except in a condensed form that trades itching for nerve pain. It’s typically seen in people 50+, but hey, I’m an early bloomer.
When I was in the shower this afternoon, I noodled over how people have been saying that I’ve been doing so well with the pain. And it came to me – they don’t actually know how tough I am.
Or, conversely, how wimpy I am.
I’m not saying that the pain is worse and I’m tougher than they think. What I am saying it that they simply don’t know if it’s excruciating pain and I’m holding it together really well, or if the pain is pretty mild and I’m being a big wimp about it.
True, they ask how it feels, but my response it totally subjective. If I had a high pain tolerance like my dad, I would hardly notice what would put someone else on bedrest. If I had a lower tolerance, I would report truly that it hurt a lot, even though others could have handled it without batting an eye.
Even seeing the rash, as gross and unpleasant as it is, still isn’t an indicator of how much pain I’m in. There are plenty of things that look way worse than they feel, and likewise, plenty of things that ARE way worse than they look.
So, truly, nobody knows how tough OR how wimpy I’m being.
Showers have a way of inspiring revelations, and as I thought about how nobody knows how big or puny my strength has been, I realized that the same is true of life in general.
We can really never know how well or poorly someone is handling a situation, because we don’t know what they’re overcoming – pain or otherwise – in the background.
I think back to darker days when really “easy” things were hard. I was diagnosed with depression in college, and there were days when getting out of bed truly was difficult. I had an eating disorder at one point, and there were days when eating a healthy amount was really, really hard. How heart breaking it would have been for me if people had looked at those small victories and said, “What are you so proud of yourself for? Those things aren’t hard.” As if saying an arm shouldn’t hurt because it isn’t bleeding – never mind the broken bones inside.
Conversely, people have praised me for accomplishments that came easily. For example, I’ve had the blessing of traveling quite a bit (travel blog), and a lot of it was independent. In conversations about travel, I often hear, “Wow, you’re so brave!”. I never felt like braveness was a prerequisite for travel. I never felt like I had to muster my courage to get on a plane. While I appreciate their compliments, I don’t feel like I earned them.
The point is, as onlookers, we have no way of knowing what pain, trials, or fears someone has overcome or is overcoming. We don’t know if what comes easily to us requires courage or strength for others.
While I’m not advocating withholding compliments on the off-chance that what we’re about to compliment was easy, what I am advocating is that we hold off the criticism. The (probably cliche) quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” seems an appropriate call to action. We simply can’t know how much pain someone is in by looking, or even by asking. There’s no way for us to know how tough someone is really being. So let’s always give grace and kindness.
Just in case.
What about you? Was there ever something that was hard for you that was easy for others? What about the opposite – easy for you and hard for others?