Content Note: Depression, Cancer
One of the "fun" things about depression is how easily it can downplay itself as Nothing Serious and you, the sufferer, as a Big Whiner. It does this by the tried-and-true fashion of somebody else has it worse.
Now, you don't have to be depressed to suffer from somebody else has it worse; my mother, for example, has spent pretty much her entire life vocally castigating herself for daring to complain about anything at all because, hey, somebody else has it worse. And because this is logical and objectively true, it's hard to argue with: somebody, somewhere, almost certainly has it worse than everyone else, no matter how you choose to measure things.
But the depression version of somebody else has it worse is, I think, particularly insidious, because it feeds back into the self-loathing cycle of depression. It's not simply eh, but you know, somebody else has it worse so I shouldn't complain too much but a grander, more epic somebody else has it worse and is coping better than I am and therefore I am a terrible, weak, worthless person. It's a seductive siren call, not the least because it's pretty much impossible to argue against. You simply cannot falsify the concept that someone else on this planet Has It Worse and is Coping Better; it's an unverifiable statement.
Not that you have to look that far for examples. I know for a fact -- because several of you have told me as much -- that some of the people reading my blog mentally point to me as the Somebody Else. Look at Ana! She not only has depression, but she also has chronic back pain, and she manages to put out daily blog posts, so what's my problem? And meanwhile, I'm over here crying and rocking back and forth because [Commenter] not only has depression, but zie also has to deal with [redacted], and what about [Best Friend's] sister who has been going through [redacted], and have I mentioned today that Dad is going through cancer? And he doesn't complain! What's wrong with me?
One of the biggest problems with this depression "theory of relativity" (everyone else, relative to me, has it worse and is doing better and therefore I double-suck) is that it's not something that on the face of it seems irrational. It's not like the Spiral of Suck in the sense that you're likely to snap out of it and say hang on, I feel this way because I'm depressed. "Somebody else has it worse" is something that has been drilled into many of us from our childhood, it's something that was given to us as children as a means of maintaining a healthy level of perspective (yes, you weren't allowed an extra helping of pudding for dessert, but People Somewhere Are Starving, so have some perspective), and it's something that seems so logical and true that it's hard to argue with.
But -- and if you take away anything from this post, take away this -- it's complete garbage.
Because, first of all, it doesn't work like that. I have my problems, [commenter] has hir problems, [Best Friend's] sister has her problems, Dad has his problems. Those problems can't be lined up nice and neat on a board and compared by an objective third party handing out first, second, and third prizes for Objectively Awful. I think Dad has it worse because his cancer is potentially fatal and took 35 sessions to treat and could permanently destroy his taste buds; Dad thinks my back issues are worse because they've been with me my entire life and has taken two surgeries (so far) to treat and has permanently altered numerous aspects of my life. Who is going to step up and judge between us to say who really has it worse? Nobody, that's who, because it doesn't work like that.
And if you're depressed and reading this, you probably just blew by the bold text there, because the important thing about that paragraph is how awful Ana and her Dad have it and clearly you suck because no matter which one of them has it worse, they both have it worse than you. So I'm going to say this again: it doesn't work like that.
If you are suffering -- and particularly if you are suffering from depression -- you have it bad. It doesn't matter a tinker's dam if someone else has it worse or not because bad things aren't fungible like that. Awful things are awful and they make you feel awful, and it doesn't matter what anyone else on this planet is experiencing relative to you because their experience doesn't invalidate your own. The depression tells you that it should; the depression tells you that everyone else having it worse is just another reason why you should feel better right now. But that's impossible. You can't magically feel better just with the knowledge that someone else feels bad. (How could you? These people who feel bad are very frequently people you care about. Knowing they hurt just makes you sadder.)
And then, when you can't magically feel better knowing that other people have it worse, the self-loathing kicks back up. Because that's really what somebody else has it worse is for: it's grist for the self-loathing mill. You feel bad? Other people feel worse. That didn't cheer you up? You're a big whiner. And so on.
Like before, I don't have an answer to all this, except that the whole thing is garbage. Knowing really isn't half the battle, though, since we've talked in the past that depression is adept at incorporating logic and reason and knowledge to use against you. But if you are suffering from depression, please don't use me as an example of having it worse and therefore you suck. Because there's ten-to-one odds that I'm over here using you as an example of having worse and therefore I suck. Maybe somehow we can cancel each other out and realize we both have it pretty bad that that depression -- not us -- sucks.
And if you love someone who suffers from somebody else has it worse, repeat like the mantra that it is: "It doesn't matter if somebody else has it worse. You are hurting, and that pain is real and isn't diminished by the power of relativity. And I love you."