Tonight (or today, depending on where in the world you are), I’d like to discuss the concept of struggle. During our lives, many of us will be confronted by an assortment of bullies, losses of loved ones, break-ups, financial and educational stresses, trauma, physical ailments and mental illness. Struggle is an unavoidable part of our lives, and I don’t think there is a single human being who hasn’t experienced it in one way or another.
This could be construed as unfortunate, since in times of struggle things can just get downright unpleasant; or it could be seen by some as a good thing, since difficult times often help us to learn, cope with the world, and mature.
There are many ways of managing life’s difficulties: practising self care and self compassion, talking to someone kind and trustworthy, taking sufficient time to grieve or move on, and not judging your emotions – you’re allowed to be sad during Christmas, upset on your birthday and feel hopeless during New Years. (Of course, it would be nice to not feel rubbish when everyone else seems happy and celebratory, but we can’t change the way we feel, so we may as well not make ourselves feel worse by criticising our feelings.)
Less helpful ways of coping include attempting to solve the problem through overthinking, disordered behaviour and substance abuse. If you notice yourself leaning towards these in an attempt to cope with distressing thoughts, see if you can find someone to help guide you in a healthier direction.
But while some people can be sympathetic in our moments of struggle and give us the patient support and steady love we need, others maintain a harmful outlook that makes it much harder to be vulnerable and open about personal problems.
For instance, they might say “it could be worse.” Well of course it could be bloody worse. It could always be worse. Example: You have depression and anxiety, and every day is a struggle. You are tired of fighting, struggling to keep a brave face, tired of all the appointments and suffering from the exhausting constant sense that something is deeply wrong. But hey, could be worse, you could have cancer too. Well, depressed cancer victim, at least you can afford treatment. Hmm, financially struggling depressed cancer victim, at least you have a loving family and friends who stick by you. Why are you complaining, lonely person? At least your human rights aren’t being violated and you have access to internet to complain about it! Oh, you’re so stressed about exams that you can’t eat? Well at least you have access to education and aren’t a child slave, be grateful! …OK, so this paragraph is getting a little out of hand, so I’ll try to sum it up.
The truth is this: while we can categorize some struggles as ‘worse’ than others, people can only rely on their own personal experience to build a view on what is a difficulty and what isn’t. And so while someone’s struggle with an eating disorder could be seen as trivial compared to poverty in developing countries, for this person it is their whole life and the most difficult thing they have ever fought so far. And it just doesn’t help them to be told that their struggles aren’t significant because others have it worse. It just perpetuates negativity and guilt. This person with an eating disorder, in turn, might scoff at their friend who is distraught after breaking up with her boyfriend of 6 months. It’s a break up, they’ll get over it, at least they aren’t anxious about food and loathe their appearance… but again, for this newly single friend, they are in their own frightening world of loss and heartbreak. I’m not saying we should be selfish and feel justified in being upset about really trivial things, such as spilling a drink or damaging the car, nor am I saying that all struggles deserve equal attention and support, but I do think we should be more patient and compassionate to each other, because what may seem like a trivial situation to one person might cause another person to have a massive break down.
Others might say “everyone is going through their own struggles,” and this is also unhelpful. I know, I am getting a bit hypocritical, as I basically just suggested this concept here, but hear me out! Because while this statement is kind of true, it’s not helpful at all to actually say it to someone who is struggling and has just opened up about their problems. Why? Because it invalidates their feelings and situation.When someone talks about their problems, they want support, and not to feel like they should be focussing on others with their struggles too – when they themselves can barely keep it together. They want to focus on themselves, to have someone to listen to them talk, and not just be informed that everyone is struggling too. Obviously this should be balanced, as there are some people who just won’t shut up about themselves, and additionally it sometimes helps to know that you are not alone in a particular type of difficult situation… but everyone now and then needs a little time to have their world revolve around them and feel worthy of support.
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Take care, dear reader.