I heard an interview today with an author discussing her new memoir about growing up in Africa as a white woman during a period of civil unrest.
In the interview, she said she heard about someone who experienced anxiety, because they were forgotten at a rest stop for a few hours as a child. The author said something like how can you consider that trauma? What I went through was much worse, yadda yadda yadda.
Unfortunately, as the interview was on the radio, I can’t get you an exact quote of what she said (it probably wasn’t “yadda yadda yadda”), so I won’t bother telling you the name of the author. Who said it isn’t as important as what was said anyway.
She disparaged someone’s pain by comparing it to her own. What irritated me most about this was that her comments then made me compare her trauma to my own, even though they couldn’t be more different.
I’ve heard people, even on this blog, compare my experiences to their own, only to downplay their pain by saying something to the effect of, “What I experienced is nothing compared to what you went through…”
Which, of course makes me think, well, what I experienced was nothing compared to what Malala Yousafzai went through. I was not shot for believing that girls should have the right to an education.
I wasn’t kept under house arrest for 15 years because I believe that my country should be free like Aung San Suu Kyi.
I didn’t have to hide from Nazis for two years, only to die in a concentration camp at the age of fifteen like Anne Frank.
I live in a free country where no one skin color is better than any other. I can and do vote in every election. I have freedom of speech and I can wear whatever I want. I have just as much right to an education as any man. I could even run for public office if I wanted to.
I suppose it is human nature to compare our lives to others. Humans relate everything to ourselves. It’s how we understand things. If it weren’t for that ability to compare other people’s experiences with our own, we wouldn’t have empathy.
Still, it is not a competition to have the shittiest life. It shouldn’t be. It doesn’t matter if I have PTSD because I was bound, tortured and raped as a child, or if I have it because I was forgotten at a rest stop for a few hours. All that matters is that the damage was done, I’m still alive to talk about it, and I am not the only one.
If you have trauma, if it causes you stress and worry and impacts your life, it’s valid. It does not matter whether it’s less or more severe than another person’s. Pain is pain, period. The only reason we should be comparing our stories is so that we can try to understand each other better.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about suffering, it’s that it is universal. No matter who you are, there is always someone worse off (and better off) than you. We should never denigrate or downgrade someone’s pain. It’s bad enough that the perpetrators do that; we don’t need it from other victims.