I get it. I mean, I catch myself doing it too. You want to be the good friend and want them to feel better, so you do your very best to provide some sense of comfort. I know that I catch myself going into advice-giving mode, because sometimes it’s the only way I know how to help… even if it’s not actually helping, even if it’s not what my friend actually needs right now.
Sometimes, all your friend needs is a sympathetic ear to listen as they talk their way through their situation. Sometimes, they just want to feel like someone cares about them and is there whenever they need them. Maybe all they want is a hand on the shoulder and a nice cup of tea.
When I turn to someone and discuss some of the struggles I’m going through, like the tyranny of the third shift, a very common response that I receive is that “it could be worse.” They’ll remind me of all the people who have it “worse off” than I do. And I get it. They mean well when they say that. They’re trying to help put things in perspective.
They might say something like, “At least you don’t have to worry about paying your bills each month.” Or they may try to console me with the fact that “at least you can work from home and spend time with your kid.”
The truth is everyone is struggling, even if some people’s problems are much more dire than others. You can be suffering through intense bouts of depression even if you are rich and famous. Absolutely, it is much harder if you can’t afford to put food on the table and a roof over your head, but reminding the person with “first world problems” of this fact does not provide any comfort.
Telling me that “it could be worse” or that “at least you’re not (fill in the blank)” does not make me feel any better. If anything, it makes me feel worse, because now I feel bad. I feel guilty for feeling bad, because I’m all too aware of my relative position of privilege. I know some people have it worse, just as I know some people have it better. I also know that I should shift from a mindset of entitlement to one of gratitude.
I know that. But I still feel bad about it. And then I feel bad for feeling bad.
As my fellow blogger Louise Chapman from Talk Nerdy to Me says, we should stop ranking our pain and struggles. This becomes even more apparent when many of these struggles are self-inflicted, as is the case with my life as a work-at-home dad. I chose this for myself. And it’s hard. But I also know that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m probably ahead of the curve.
I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I wouldn’t write meandering blog posts like these. But at least I can write blog posts like these, I guess. It could be worse.