Pain is Not a Competition

Abridged version of my pain:

I have had a hard life. I won’t sugarcoat it. If you’re familiar with ACE scores, mine is 7. When I was 7, my parents divorced. When I was 10, my dad remarried. When I was in 7th grade, my dad called the cops on my mom, she was arrested for the night, and a custody battle began. We were required to have supervised visits with her and see a court appointed child advocate. When I was in 9th grade, she legally lost her parenting rights. There was all sorts of abuse and neglect in my family. I lived in 30 different places before I graduated high school. I live with anxiety and depression. I have brainstormed self-harm plans. I was brainwashed by some youth group leaders. Meanwhile, this whole time, I also had to go to school. I didn’t have that much fun in college. I worked, studied, worked some more, studied some more, and graduated in 3 years. My applications for being in the student government and to be a RA (resident assistant) were both rejected. I had to apply to 9 school districts before someone would let me teach there. I got pregnant without planning for it at 22. That baby has changed the trajectory of my 20s. Meanwhile, during my twenties, I am a full-time public school teacher getting my master’s degree in Education. I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks and had to have a surgical abortion. Fast forward, I work full time disrupting systemic racism and full time raising 2 kids without parents of my own and I often still wander the world as an emotional orphan.

And honestly, before I went to therapy, I was leaking my pain out on everyone: my family, my friends, my students, my coworkers, my neighbors, my social media accounts… I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dripping my toxic uncared for pain everywhere I went.

It’s a sad story, right? It is. I am probably jolting you with the level of casualness I am giving to each item, but each sentence has its own chapter, where many tears have been released, many words have been written, many therapy sessions have been attended, and much healing has occurred.

I am in the believing that more than one thing can be true at the same time.

Yes, the above life events are sad for me and other people have experienced different life events that have been sad for them. I can’t pretend to know what it is like to be someone else.

But I know what my pain felt like- it hurt!

So I choose to believe that when other people tell me about their pain, they must be hurting too. And I have reached a place where I don’t need to have more or less hardship “points” in order to start my own healing process.

Just because I am in pain doesn’t mean other people aren’t also in pain.

Here’s where I see this play out most recently in my life:

  • I was chalking this quote at the park near my house this summer to honor George Floyd when a middle aged white man stopped me and asked about it. He told me something along the lines of “You know, generations before you had it much worse. They got sent to wars. They survived the Great Depression.” My response: Pain is not a competition. I know times have been hard for many. Times are still hard for many.IMG_5876 3
  • An old friend messaged me paragraphs about her husband’s difficult upbringing and how eventually through joining the military he was able to get an education. She then asked, “Are these same opportunities not available to the black community?” My response: Your husband’s story has similar threads to my own- I also had a very traumatic childhood. I’m sorry he had to experience so much suffering in his upbringing. I’m going to send some more things for you to ponder. I believe systemic racism will be solved one conversation at a time and that there will be a lot of discomfort involved.
  • I made a comment to a neighbor about how sad I am for the class of 2020. She responded “Well, think about the class of 2021! They might have their whole senior year taken from them!” I offered my feeling that the pandemic has taken something from everyone, and how all of that loss is sad.
  • A teacher I know questioned that I might have it easy right now as a coach during distance learning because “At least you’re not teaching through a computer.” My response: Actually, my work is different than yours. I believe we are both working hard at the assignments we have been given, even they look different. (Side note- I have never worked harder than during distance learning!)
  • I notice myself complaining a lot to my friends who are single. I’m so jealous of all of their alone time and free evenings to do literally whatever they want and not have to take care of small children. I’ve been convicted of this lately because maybe they would love to have little kids around to give them people to be with during these pandemic quarantined times. And so I’m asking myself: what if I currently have what someone else is longing for?

So what do we do with this information?

As we enter into Christmas week, whatever you are feeling is valid. In fact, I would strongly encourage you to name those feelings with someone you love, in your home or virtually. Use this resource to help you name what you are feeling.

Be gentle with yourself. Hold your pain closely. When we’re hurt, we need to care for our wounds. Don’t rub dirt in it. Don’t pretend it isn’t there. Start the healing process for yourself.

Show compassion when someone else tells you about their wounds. It doesn’t feel good when I say “Look at my knee! It’s all banged up. I fell again!” and they respond with, “Oh you think, that’s bad? Look at this!”

We can both be in pain.

Let’s believe each other.

And let’s think about the systems that have been created to allow these conditions to exist for both of us instead of blaming the other person in pain for causing their own pain.

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