It’s a game mothers engage in from time to time: the Pain Olympics. It’s easy to play — you just have to believe that your pain is greater, or more relevant, or harder earned than anyone else’s. Why are we trying to win this game exactly?
Infertility. A child who bullies. A child who is bullied. A child with disabilities. A husband who strays. A messy divorce. A husband who dies. Secondary infertility. Financial hardship. A job that
doesn’t pan out. A career that tanks early.
We suffer. All of us suffer. Sometimes, our suffering is splayed out for the world to see. Sometimes it happens at home, behind closed and locked doors. But we all suffer. And some of us have
gotten good at it.
What does it mean to be good at suffering? You know. You’ve got that friend — we’ve all got that friend — who always has it harder than you do. Your car broke down? Hers was stolen. You’re tired?
She has fibromyalgia. Your kid failed history? Hers has bona fide special needs. Top that!
What’s the prize?
We’re women. It’s in our nature to comfort and support each other, but it’s clearly also in our nature to compete with each other. Why we want to win the Pain Olympics is unclear. What are we
gaining by discounting each other’s pain and reveling in our own? How much stronger would we be if we stood side by side with our sisters instead of scoffing at their excuses for pain in the face
of our own more significant tragedies?
A fundamental truth to remember is that my pain, my crappy situation — no matter how bad it is — doesn’t make your pain any less relevant. In other words, even if my son has a rare genetic
syndrome, you can still be devastated when you find out that your daughter needs glasses. My pain doesn’t have to trump yours — and you don’t have to try to out-do me.
Why we play
Perhaps it’s that we mistakenly believe that wearing our pain as a badge of honor will give us credibility or elevated status of some sort. Really, though, what are we getting from bravely
shouldering our burdens alone, aside from sore shoulders?
Our intentions aren’t always sinister. Sometimes, we’re trying to empathize. “Your cat is sick? My mom died! I feel pain, too!” But think for a moment about how you feel when you’re hurting. How
alone you are, even in the middle of a crowded shopping mall. It’s not that misery loves company — you don’t want to hear about how someone else felt when it happened to her. You want to feel
heard. You want to feel loved. You want to feel not alone anymore.
You want to hear, “I’m sorry. I’m here if you need me.”
You want to slide a little of that burden off your shoulders and onto those of your friend.
Be the change
Guess what? All those things you want? That’s what your friend wants from you when she calls you and asks if you have a minute. That’s what she’s trying to say when she tells you she lost the baby,
but it’s okay, because she’s not sure she wanted another one anyway. She’s too old, right? This is not the time to share how sad you were when your turtle ran away. This is the time to say, “Oh,
God, I’m so sorry. This is the time to listen, to let her talk, and to concede your title.
There is no prize
There’s not actually a prize in the Pain Olympics. All you get is — hurt. Understand that this is a game no one ever really wins. So let go. Grab hold of your friends. Shoulder that burden
together, and you may just see gold.