I am a freelance columnist for Friedreich's Ataxia News. I was recently published on my column, My Darling Disability, and I wanted to share it here, too. You can either read it by following this link, or just keep scrolling below.
Hardships are a part of the human experience. Everyone has gone through or is going through something they’d rather not face. We don’t get to choose the struggles we encounter; we can only choose how we respond.
For many people, that involves sharing — talking to friends and loved ones about our concerns, seeking advice or support, and trying to do the next right thing.
For me, a consuming and constant hardship is Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), along with the havoc that its far-reaching symptoms impose on my life. FA is always at the forefront of my mind. While I try my best to navigate my responses to FA, I can’t always control my initial knee-jerk reactions.
For example, whenever I hear people complain about a physical hardship or inconvenience, I unconsciously compare their struggle with my own, or I compare their injuries with those I’ve suffered due to FA.
I strive to keep that reaction to myself, as my thoughts aren’t usually compassionate or helpful. I remind myself that people aren’t engaging with me to start a one-upping competition. They’re likely seeking validation, sympathy, advice, or companionship. It’s my responsibility to be a kind human in that situation.
Escaping the comparison trap
We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t compare apples with oranges, and I think that applies well in this situation.
Since I’m vulnerable, honest, and transparent in sharing my journey with FA, my “apples” are pretty well known. Most people I interact with are familiar with FA and its effect on my life. So I need to let my FA apple stay an apple so as not to belittle or discount someone else’s oranges.
Everyone is dealing with something, and their journey, feelings, and requirements are just as valid for them as FA is for me.
Being a vocal person navigating life with a disability has put me on a stage. I don’t know if it’s out of comfort, obligation, or companionship, but many people don’t have reservations about sharing their hardships with me.
I’m certainly not an authority on hardship, but I do have a lot of experience with it. So I feel it’s my responsibility to make my journey positive and help people along theirs. Comparing and one-upping are counterproductive to that.
Who am I to say that my ankle break and reconstruction were worse than someone else’s broken bone? Who am I to judge whether my FA-induced fatigue is more severe than someone else’s fatigue? Who am I to determine if my need for an accessible parking space is more pressing than anyone else’s?
Validating someone else’s struggle doesn’t diminish my own. My apples don’t compare well with their oranges, so why try? Instead, I should take a beat to recognize what would most benefit the people I’m talking to. Do they just want to vent and have someone say, “Man, I’m so sorry. That’s awful”? Do they want advice? Are they seeking common ground and companionship?
Whether I like it or not, living with FA makes me a target for people sharing their hardships, and I’m trying my hardest not to take that responsibility lightly. It’s an honor that people seek me out to help them navigate their way to a better life, so I’ll strive to honor that responsibility by turning my negative into something positive for someone else.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” — 1 Peter 3:8 (New International Version)