— Cassey Ho
“Don’t compare your life to others. There’s no comparison between the sun and the moon. They shine when it’s their time.”
It’s so hard to not compare yourself to others, isn’t it? Especially when you are chronically ill. You may see healthy people and envy them, or you may see fellow chronic illness warriors who seem to be healthier than you or handling things better than you are. And the comparisons start.
It comes as no surprise that all those comparisons can really start to make you feel bad about yourself.
A common occurrence for me is that I tend to compare myself to others when I’m out exercising. Whether I’m jogging or biking, I’m aware of how difficult it is for me to exercise sometimes. My heart rate spikes, thanks to POTS, and sometimes I get heart palpitations or shortness of breath that freaks me out. (It’s a POTS thing.) Then, when I see other girls around my age pass me like strong, fast, gazelles, I have to admit, it’s hard not to feel bad about myself.
Why can’t I go that fast? I’ll ask myself. Be that strong? Get in shape to run a marathon if I wanted to, or maybe just a fast 5k pace? Why is it SO much harder for me?
These comparisons can be even more distressing on bad days with chronic illness. The other day I almost cried at the park because while I was biking up one of the long hills in Central Park–a hill that I had done successfully several times before–I got crazy heart palpitations and couldn’t catch my breath. I had to stop biking early.
I sat on a bench outside the park and fought back tears. More comparisons flooded my inner monologue. Why can’t I be normal like other girls my age? Why is my body like this? Will I ever be free of these symptoms? Other people do it just fine, why can’t I?
But then I just happened to scroll past this quote from Cassey Ho afterward, and it shifted my perspective back to where it should be. I cannot compare my life to others. Neither should you.
While we may be having a bad day, someone else–like a biker or runner speeding past you–may be having their first good day in a while. You can never truly know someone’s situation just by looking at them. So we shouldn’t make comparisons between ourselves and someone else when we literally know nothing about their story. Especially if those comparisons are going to diminish our drive, tenacity, or self-love.
We all shine when it’s our time. It will come, it will go, and it will come again. Just like the sun and moon do.
Here’s another thing I want to touch on: When it’s our time, we tend to not compare ourselves to others in a detrimental way. That is, we don’t beat ourselves down because we are feeling great, doing great, and exuding the watch out world, here I come! mentality.
It’s when we are struggling with symptoms and our lives have been interrupted in some negative way that we often start the unhealthy comparisons. But again, we have to stop ourselves from doing that!
You’ve probably heard it many times before, but here it is again: Healing is not a linear journey. There will be ups and downs, good days and bad, times in the sun and times in the dark. When things get rough, we cannot compare ourselves to someone else’s journey and think that we are inferior. That we are unfortunate, doomed to be miserable for life, or less worthy of healing.
Because the truth is, we’re all on this roller coaster called life with chronic illness together. Again, you can never know what another chronic illness warrior has been through unless you ask, or they tell you (maybe not even then!). Maybe they suffered for years before they got to the point they’re at now. Maybe dozens of doctors tossed them aside before one gave them a diagnosis. So you can’t compare yourself to them; you may be in two different places in your separate healing journeys!
And here’s another scenario you may be familiar with…
Some people are lucky enough to go into remission from their conditions or to be cured of them. Not everyone shares that same luck. Again…we can’t feel sorry for ourselves if that’s not us. We just have to congratulate those lucky ducks, send them love and good thoughts for abundant health in the future, and continue fighting our own battles to wellness. (And maybe also ask them how they healed their bodies, right?!)
If you need to take a break from social media to give your mental health a reprieve, then, by all means, turn off those notifications and close those feeds. Social media is great for building a supportive community and connecting with other chronic illness warriors, but quite often it can perpetuate this ugly comparison cycle. Just be mindful of how you’re feeling and what thoughts enter your head when you’re scrolling through social media feeds.
So, for October, I want you to try to not compare yourself to others, whether they are well or chronically ill. When you are shining, bask in it and remember that your strength and resilience got you there. And when you’re struggling with your illness, don’t start looking at others and seeing only your faults, perceived or real. Remind yourself how far you’ve come. Remember that symptom severity ebbs and flows. Hold on for your next day in the sun.
And as always, remember that there can still be plenty of good in a life lived with chronic illness. It’s all in the way you choose to look at things. So choose well, my friends!
Here’s to a great October! Who else is excited for spooky season?! I’m so ready for Halloween movies and scary shows!