A dear friend recently asked me how lupus patients feel about otherwise healthy people who talk about a minor illness or injury. Honestly, it’s a hard question to answer. On the one hand, any friend who is suffering deserves my sympathy. On the other hand, any friend who goes on ad nauseum about a sports injury sustained doing something I desperately wish I could do will make me reach for my cane.
Inevitably, this is an issue that comes up. Whether we’re talking about a cold, a broken arm, or a sprained ankle the same phrase comes up. “Oh, but I shouldn’t talk about that in front of you.” It is, equally inevitably, always meant well; it’s an acknowledgment that a cold isn’t much of anything compared to an incurable and life-threatening disease. That being said, it bothers me. The fact that I am extremely sick does not make a friend’s sore throat any less sore. I don’t like sinus infections anymore than the next person, so I feel sympathetic towards someone who has one. Nobody should have to apologize for being less sick than I am; that's just dumb.
So what’s the answer? Well, there is no answer. It’s all a matter of degree, circumstance, etc. Instead of giving an answer, I ask you to put yourself in my place. If every joint in your body hurts and you’ve been running a fever for the last month, do you feel bad for somebody who sprained her ankle? Probably, yes. After all, your own ankle hurts, so you can totally sympathize. If that same somebody, however, goes on and on about how (s)he won’t be able to participate in sports for a whole month, are you likely to be sympathetic? Probably not. Are you likely to resent the fact that this person is complaining of a month-long break to someone who may never be able to do sports again? Probably.
So the non-satisfying answer to my friend’s question is that it always depends. I will always feel sympathy for someone in pain. Period. My sympathy, however, is going to be tempered by the fact that I know my friend is going to get better, while I am not. If you keep that in mind, it’s not that hard to guess where the appropriate boundaries lie in terms of complaining; it's just a matter of degree and sensitivity. It’s fine to complain about hurting. It’s not fine to feel unduly sorry for yourself in front of someone else who is hurting even more. I will do whatever I can to help the sick or hurting friend, but I really don’t want to hear details about the temporary activity-related repercussions of some minor injury or illness. Because every time I do, it drives home to me the fact that my repercussions are not temporary.
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