Choosing Gratitude While Also Being Empathetic (Discussing Physical & Mental Illness + Suffering in the World)

Hi, friends. Today, we’ll discuss the power of perspective, i.e. how comparison, empathy, and gratitude affect the way we see ourselves and others.

I have two diverging thoughts on this subject:

  • “It could always be worse; choose gratitude.”
  • “Your having a broken arm doesn’t mean my paper cut doesn’t hurt.”
*feeling pensive*

As a wheelchair user with a host of specific and inconvenient obstacles (for instance, almost peeing myself when waking up at night to use the bathroom, or almost face-planting into my steering wheel or laptop when I sneeze), feelings of self-pity are easily justified. Most able-bodied people look at someone like me, see what I have to overcome, and feel inspired to be more joyful, ambitious, etc. since they could “have it worse,” i.e. be in my shoes. Though some disabled people don’t like serving as “inspiration porn,” which I’ve discussed on this blog before, I’m glad if the way I live and act pushes others to “do better” in some way.

In reference to the epidemics of anxiety and depression, I’ve been told that a lot of people “don’t know what real problems are,” implying that my physical disability is a “real problem”…while issues like mental illness are apparently trivial. On some level, I agree that being anxious can’t be as hard as not being able to walk around unassisted in a literal sense. But my reasoning is that my disability affects almost everything I do. I wonder if some people with anxiety would say that statement applies to them, too. Maybe it’s easy for me and many others to minimize problems we can’t see or understand. In a few brief moments throughout my life, usually during an FA-related-meltdown, an unfamiliar darkness clouded my mind; I didn’t know whether to scream and throw things at the wall, crawl in a hole and die, or what. I assume the chemicals in my brain were dipping into dangerous territory. In those instances, I wondered if that is how it feels to grapple with mental illness.

Yet, in the midst of comparing myself to people with able bodies and/or mental health issues, I am leaving out the majority of the world and infinitely worse problems…

At least I’m not here.

Would I rather be able-bodied than disabled? Of course. Would I rather be mentally ill than physically ill? Maybe, maybe not. But would I rather live in a war-torn country…be homeless in the winter…have a rumbling tummy and no source of food…have to work in a sweatshop to support my family…have no intellectual freedom (North Korea)…be sitting in a prison right now for worshiping Jesus…even just have any form of cancer vs. having FA? Heck no! That list could stretch on forever.

Perspective is powerful and can lead us to do different things–count our own blessings, motivate us to “do better,” and in some cases, belittle others’ problems. I’ll phrase the conclusion of my musings as an analogy: let’s say I have a broken arm. I shouldn’t condemn people with paper cuts. Maybe their paper cut hurts as bad or worse than my broken arm, but I don’t know how their paper cut feels; either way, I should believe people who say their paper cut hurts. On the other hand, if I remember how many people have more and/or worse injuries than me, I can acknowledge that I’m blessed in spite of my broken arm.

Thanks for reading! Do you choose gratitude despite whatever your “broken arm” is? What do you think about the power of perspective? Let me know in the comments.

[Interesting SN: The paper-cut-vs-broken-arm analogy is flawed because almost all of us know how a paper cut feels, and those who have also broken their arm could pretty much objectively say the broken arm hurts more. In actuality, most of us have no idea how the suffering of others feels.]

15 comments

  1. Good points and thoughts Lily!! And in the end mental or physical ailments are both forms of suffering which allows us the chance to bond, relate, and encourage one another because we all suffer with brokenness.

    The sad truth is often times physical flaws are easily noticed and seen, where as those mental flaws can be covered over which leads to suicidal thoughts, cutting, the list goes on…scary really..that’s why as Christians we need to be on guard, showing Jesus to EVERYONE!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post! Really good points! Perspective is key!

    I agree with alimw2013…it’s a sad fact that mental ailments can be covered up, practically “invisible.” Unfortunately this does lead to suicidal thoughts, cutting, etc. As a bipolar sufferer, getting remarks such as “it’s all in your head” “have more faith” “get over it” do NOT help and even make matters worse.

    As Christians we need to be a light in the world, showing Jesus in all we say and do!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Leigh. Getting those remarks must be so annoying and hurtful. You’re right that we need to be a light through all we say and do–including through listening to and believing others when they say they are struggling!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s true, when we aren’t in the shoes of others we cannot fully understand. I’ve seen anxious individuals, though able bodied, become completely unable to move or do things. I’ve heard the belittlement of, “Just get over it.” A battle can’t be achieved through “encouragement” of no sympathy.

    We all have issues and comparing can become futile when non productive and leads to more negatively. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Excellent post. I just want to point out that mental illness is far more prevalent throughout American society than we know because being diagnosed is a privilege. Also, many who have physical disabilities also have mental illnesses, (sometimes symbiotically with depression and/or anxiety issues.) I agree that comparison is futile. The human condition is the common denominator significant enough to warrant empathy amongst one another, imo. 💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good point that many of those with mental illnesses are undiagnosed. I’ve seen a sad but true meme a few times where someone thinks “I need to address my mental health” only to realize “Oh, that costs money.” Agreed that we should be empathetic to one another because we are all human (and therefore have SOME sort of struggle). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Lily Good to hear from you again! I see your point of view. Makes since to me. I think we all have a tendensy to have a pitty party at times. I get over whelmed at times with Doctor appointments for Roy and muself. Some weeks we are swamped others we have none. Roy had catarac surgery this past week. His vision has already improved a great deal. I am gratefuk for that and I know we are Blessed with Gods presence every day in some way! We all are we just got to look for it at times. Take care. Love you Deb

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true that God is near if we look and listen. We all have pity parties sometimes, but by the grace of God, we can get back up and keep bearing our cross. Love you both and hope Roy recovers swiftly.

      Like

  6. You have a beautiful spirit, Lily. You are shining brightly with His light! I have endeavored to say a prayer of thank to the Lord when my heart is hurting deeply about something. He recently also asked me to give Him all my pain, in addition to the thanksgiving, and I’ve been experiencing more of His healing of my soul in doing so. Thank you for your beautiful writing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Jennifer. Thanking the Lord while hurting instantly takes my mind to the Psalms; they’ve inspired me to be more vulnerable yet bold in my prayers. I believe doing so is also helping me experience more healing in my soul. ♥

      Like

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