We don’t know what someone else is going through

Someone recently said to me that they thought they managed tiredness better than I did. I thought this was an interesting observation and here’s why:

When they’ve had a bad night, not slept well, they feel pretty tired, exhausted even – they manage to get up, go to work and they’re only moderately grumpy. I’m not denying, they manage their tiredness pretty well.

However, they experience my tiredness making me very grumpy, fuzzy headed, lethargic, at times not able to string a sentence together and struggling to do simple daily tasks. What they don’t realise, what no one can understand, is that when my tiredness has got to this stage, I’ve come to the end of my spoons, I’ve borrowed spoons from tomorrow and probably the next day. I’m not just exhausted, I’m completely drained and I’m at a negative level of energy reserves!

Their experience of tiredness is my experience of normal. Even if I manage to sleep I still do not feel refreshed. Chronic fatigue means just that, I permanent state of exhaustion – everyday, I have to wade through thick fog but I function like anyone else. I go to work, I socialise and I go about my daily life and manage to hide how little energy I have. This is my normal, I’m completely exhausted every single day of my life but most people think I’m “fine”.

What this person experienced as me “not coping as well as” them was me experiencing an extremely debilitating symptoms of chronic illness.

I’m always intrigued by the question asked by physicians when managing pain. “Can you rate it out of 10? 10 being the worst pain imaginable and 0 being no pain at all.”. Some say child-birth is the worst pain and woman can experience, while others say renal colic is worse. Others would say nerve pain such as trigeminal neuralgia or 2nd degree burns are worse. I think most people would agree that many factors influence our experience of pain, such as how long we have to endure it and the outcome.

2 people fighting

I have not experienced the pain the causes people to writhe in pain (such as renal colic) but I have experienced fracturing my spine so severely I couldn’t move and simply breathing was painful. Surely, the only conclusion we can draw is that one person’s experience cannot be compared to another?! (The physicians question is, of course, just a guide, and it is useful when assessing whether pain management is working.) I. do sometimes wonder if they remember that they asking a relative question…when I answer that I’m experiencing 5-6/10 pain and they shrug that off as fine. I’m comparing my pain to having previously fractured my spine and ongoing nerve pain. If I’m complaining of new 5-6/10 pain, it’s not nothing, if it was nothing, I would say 1-2/10!

My point is simple – we may think we know what someone is going through, from their behaviour, we may think we know how they feel but we can never truly know. Don’t judge how someone else is coping against what you think they’re going through.

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