Could you fill in the blank?
It's a sentence I've heard a lot during the past 18 months. It's not only when I've been chatting with friends and family, but it sometimes echoes around my own head when things are feeling tough.
The thing is, it's been really very easy to compare our own situation with that of other peoples as we have all been trying to navigate our way through a pandemic. For example, both my husband and I have had the good fortune of being able to continuously working throughout it. He without much choice (a key worker) and myself because I have a workshop I could escape to when the home schooling got too much. Our children have remained healthy and only one out of the four of us have had Covid, and that wasn't too serious. All that means I have no cause for complaint, right?
Erm, well actually, it has been hard in other respects now you mention it. The aforementioned home schooling, of two primary school age boys, is an experience I sincerely hope I never have to repeat. Ever. Again.
As parents, we found it both stressful and soul destroying. Not one of us wanted to be in that situation and the pressure put on us by their school added to the headache. To hear the phrase 'PE with Joe Wicks' almost brings me out in hives (if you know you know!) and I look back on photographs of my eldest from that time and he looks tired, depressed...with bad hair thrown in for good measure.
After the initial shock that the world went into in late March 2020, my business experienced an unexpected increase in bespoke commissions, leaving me feeling very fortunate indeed. So who was I to complain, when I knew of so many businesses suffering heavy losses as a result of Covid 19? But we struggled in other ways. My team had to work reduced hours and being self employed, financial pressure lay on them. When they were working, we would go for months without physically seeing each other in person. We communicated through email and notes left on each others benches as we tag teamed because only one of us could be in the workshop at any one time. Despite the fact that I was busy flitting between home schooling and the workshop, it left me feeling disconnected from those that I was used to working so closely with.
So it seems a skewed reasoning that because we have a roof over our heads, a steady income, good health or we are fortunate to have someone to share the roller-coaster of emotions that the pandemic has thrown at us somehow how should negate any sadness, loss, anxiety, pain or worry that we might be feeling.
But it doesn't and it shouldn't.
Sound familiar? Well this unhelpful thinking actually has a name. Comparative Suffering is something I first learnt about last summer whilst listening to a podcast by the brilliant Brene Brown. Whereas I'd usually take the train, I was driving to and from the workshop during the first lockdown and listened a lot to her Unlocking Us podcast as I drove. (I really recommend checking out Brene Brown if your interested in learning a little more about what it is to be human).
In this particular episode she interviews David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief and loss. They talk about the 'rank-ordering' of suffering that we often do as humans; the "Oh, he has it so much worse than me, I really shouldn't moan" line of thinking.
But here's the thing; following this train of thought serves no one and nobody actually benefits. We just end up feeling bad about feeling bad!
When Kessler is asked “What is grief?” he responds, “It’s the death of something. It’s the death of a loved one, it’s the death of a marriage, it’s called a divorce. It’s the death of a relationship it’s called a breakup. A job loss, is the loss of that work world you had. This is a collective loss of the world we all lived in, before the pandemic. And we, like every other loss, didn’t know what we had until it was gone. Later he goes on to say "We want to always compare losses....but the worst loss is always your loss".
That last line really hit me square between the eyes. Immediately I thought back to the miscarriage I had experienced before the birth of our first child, Rufus.
I was about 11 weeks along when it happened and although I was admitted to hospital, it wasn't necessarily as physically traumatic in comparison with other women's experience of miscarriage that were further on in their pregnancy. Christ it still hurt, physically and emotionally, yet even this many years on (Rufus has just started secondary school - scary) I still find myself negating this pain and loss by thinking "Well, at least I didn't have a still birth". It's true, I didn't experience the unimaginable heartbreak of a still birth, but I still lost a child. And the loss my husband and I felt will always be the worst, because it's only us who experienced it.
Bringing our experiences back to the present day, we have all experienced loss of some description during the past 18 months. It may not be a loved one that we've lost, but losing connection with people, losing our job security or opportunities, our children's loss of education and socialisation during their formative years, all count as loss.
And as we have seen during the past few months, the adjustment back to 'normal' (which arguably doesn't, and possibly may never, exist again) has found so many people I've spoken to fatigued and worn out by the expectations thrust upon them to be social, active and running their children around to all the after school activities that have now resumed. Can I let you into a secret? I actually miss the slower pace. I miss the absence of extra curricular activities. For all the collective grief the world was experiencing, life actually felt simpler and less hectic.
This winter, whilst we do have more freedom, our brains are being asked to continually re-adjust to new ways of living; what we are and aren't allowed to do from one month to the next, how we manage other peoples behaviour that may be incongruous with our own during a continually changing landscape and the relentless uncertainty what lies ahead. It's exhausting.
Acknowledging our own personal struggles, whatever situation we find our self in, in whatever way we might be experiencing it, won't diminish, minimise or take away that of others. So, please know that it's ok to cry, feel frustrated, to worry or feel sad, because quite frankly, we have enough on our plates without adding guilt into the mix as well.