Tonight a friend was complaining to me about something that had happened that made her have "a meltdown" (her words). Plans she had been looking forward to and depending on were cancelled at the last minute by someone who didn't realize what a big deal it was to her. And while I could understand frustration, the level of anger and emotion she was displaying ("Fuck this. Fuck today. Fuck absolutely everything.") seemed so far past the point of melodrama that I found myself literally rolling my eyes. I didn't let it on to her when I responded, stuck instead to the Supportive Friend script of, "Oh no! What's wrong? I'm sorry... That sucks," and so on. But inside my head while this all was going on I kept thinking, Your life isn't really as bad as you think it is. Why are you whining so much?
But then I remembered one of my last conversations with Mandy. Mandy is the former friend I referred to anonymously in some of my blog posts back in November and December of last year. I don't have any qualms mentioning her by name now, because fuck it, what's she going to do? Not be my friend anymore? That ship has sailed. Anyway, Mandy was going on and on about how I had no reason to feel sad or upset because at least I had parents who were alive and cared about me, unlike her with her dead dad and "racist" (her description, not mine) mom, and siblings who were nice, unlike her "asshole" brother. She was basically trying to make me feel guilty for not having had bad things happen to me, and trying to make me feel like I could never possibly have anything to complain about because her life was so much worse.
And I didn't reply to that part of her message. By that point communication had dissolved a great deal and would soon cease altogether. But this is what I wish I had said to her:
Pain is not a competition. Even if the conditions in your life are worse than mine, that doesn't cancel out my feelings or make them any less legitimate than yours.
Here's the deal. Feelings of frustration, weariness, helplessness, sadness, anger and dissatisfaction - they happen to all of us to varying degrees depending on the situations we face. Everyone's experiences are different, but our emotions and reactions are often very similar and that's part of what connects us as human beings. The death of someone you love is a terrible tragedy. Feeling trapped by debt to the point that you work yourself literally to exhaustion week after week to pay it off is wearying and sad. If you compare the two, obviously death is going to outrank debt in most people's minds, but honestly what do we get by comparing? What purpose does it serve? It doesn't help anything. Both experiences are legitimate. Pain is not a competition.
So thinking about it that way... Losing your job and having to live at home with parents who think you're a Jezebel and a demon-worshiper and do what they can to constantly remind you of that must be frustrating and emotionally traumatic. So of course the opportunity to escape this for a little while would be the sort of thing you get your hopes up about, and if it were to fall through I can see being upset. The histrionics? A little much, sure, but who am I to dismiss the pain behind them?
So I'm glad I at least went through the motions of being a supportive friend instead of being bitchy and sarcastic. No one needs that. No comparisons or rankings. How about just plain old compassion?