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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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Sunday
Feb202005

Here's where I get all preachy. You can skim this one.

Here on the Internets, some or other bloggers have been criticized for talking about their troubles when others have it worse. This is an all-too-familiar routine on many blogs—the ol’ My Pain Beats Yours So Shut Up number. It goes a little something like this:

1. You shouldn’t be sad because your child has a scraped knee—my kid had to get stitches.

2. You can’t be upset about your kid’s stitches; my child is sick.

3. My child’s disease is worse, therefore you don’t deserve to bitch.

4. Shut up. My child is sick and I’m sick and also I’m writing this on a computer made out of cardboard because that’s how poor I am.

5. At least you’re alive. I’m writing this from my grave. Stop whining. Stop it. Booooo.

6. God, can you shut up, dead person? At least you’re not suffering. My life is a never ending festival of torment. Also I have hives.

(Please note: I’m not trying to make fun of anyone’s suffering. I cannot fathom how much suffering is out there, and I can’t begin to imagine the pain that other people withstand. Imagining such things would mean weeping and that would make the keyboard soggy, and the circuits and the whatnot would short out and cause some kind of Electric Dreams scenario, and people, I cannot afford to have my computer fall in love with me. )

And now for a story:

A while back, a friend of a friend was injured in a stupid, tragic accident that resulted in the loss of her leg. At the time she was also writing an advice column for teenagers. After I heard about her accident, I would at times wonder if she had ever responded to another complaint about the Tragedy of Bad Hair or The Heartbreak of Loserdom with, “I know how you feel. Because I LOST MY LEG. Which is just like losing your homework and getting a D. Except, you know, it’s a LEG.” Because I like to kill time with pointless activities, one day I went online and read a bunch of her columns. Week after week, she gave patient, compassionate advice to problems that the best of us would deem awfully silly. She never compared anyone’s pain to her own; she never even mentioned her pain. I know part of this was just her being a professional. But also, she clearly knew that pain is relative—just because you could hurt more doesn’t mean you don’t hurt.

That’s the thing about pain: perspective doesn’t necessarily ease it. Say I stub my toe: if you grab me and scream, “What if I had chopped that toe off with a cleaver! THINK OF IT!” I may be distracted by your odd behavior, but the pain in my pinky toe will not miraculously dissolve. When someone writes in their blog of some misfortune that’s befallen her, she is not necessarily writing her definition of the Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen to Anyone. Just because she could hurt more doesn’t mean she doesn’t hurt.

When I spoke to the New York Times, most of what I talked about was how the parenting blogs are, most of all, authentic. That’s all we’re after (I think)—some representation of authentic experience that we’re not getting elsewhere. We sure as hell aren’t getting it from the parenting magazines, which provide canned information about vaccinations and discipline and baking nutritious muffins that look like kitty cats, but will never help you feel less alone, less stupid, less ridiculous. This is the service we try to provide—we share our lopsided, slightly hysterical, often exaggerated but more or less authentic experiences. If one blogger writes about her traumatic doctor’s visit, then maybe at some point, some freaked-out new mother is going to read that and feel a little better—less stupid, less ridiculous—about her own breakdown at the pediatrician’s. Or maybe not. But what service are you providing when you tell her to shut up?

I now return you to your discussion of my son’s itchiness. He’s itchy! It’s the worst thing that could ever happen!

Reader Comments (92)

I just read through all these comments and am so fascinated by all the anger that seems to run through some blogger comments, but congratulations for being able to apologize for saying hurtful things. I have really only seen this happen on Dooce and a few others, so I don't really know all that much about trolls, and I'm sorry for bringing up Dooce again. However, I think that what actually sparked all of this is the fact that the words that Heather used in her post are very dramatic. Surely no one REALLY thinks that people aren't entitled to hurt when their children are hurting, but I just think that it is all the DRAMA that makes people think "get over it". Of course, on the flipside, Dooce wouldn't be nearly as funny, nor have nearly as many readers if she didn't use drama, covered in sarcasm, to get her point across. I hope this isn't coming off sounding judgemental, and believe me, I believe in using drama and humor and sarcasm to make things bearable. I just think sometimes people mistake all of this for taking everything so seriously. Daddy Jones was obviously not in a place where he could see using drama and sarcasm as a way to deal with something that hurts, and hopefully people can just be more sympathetic when someone like him points out the difference in pain. BTW, I am knew to your blog, and have really enjoyed it. Thanks!
February 23, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterapril
Er, the quote about 20 posts ago: "Be kind for everyone is fighting a great battle" is by Philo (not Plato), the early Jewish scholar, philosopher, and mystic, sometimes referred to as the first theologian. 30 B.C. - 40 A.D. Clearly this has been the subject of debate for centuries, and that alone is worth thinking about.
February 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRedhead
I wanted to add a story to one-up your story about somebody trying to trump other people's pain with their own: when my laptop computer was stolen in October of 2001, someone said to me, well, at least you weren't in the Twin Towers. Now that's what my husband & I say to each other whenever one of us complains about having a cold/too little sleep/car maintenance issue, etc. It might be annoying but hey, at least we weren't in the Twin Towers! [Oh, and did I mention that the person who pointed this out to me was a nun?]

Do I win the competition now, or what? ;)
February 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
Having just had my very own breakdown in the pediatrician's office this week I thought it was fate that I should discover your blog today and see this post.
February 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterWendy
i aspire to be the sort of genius that you are. i don't tend to be liberal with the compliements and so know that this is genuine. you are wise, missus, and i likes the cut o yer jib.



February 24, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterhonestyrain
I love this post and I am linking to it... RIGHT NOW!

Thank you for saying this so well.
February 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMoMMY
Well said. It's like some people think that just because their pain is worse, you don't have the right to feel any amount of pain whatsoever. Bah to that!
February 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSpring
very nice...
February 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJR
i stopped reading the other comments a long time ago, but wanted to say a big, "Totally!" to your post today. even outside of the blog world people are so so guilty of "my pain is worse than your pain" and really you only have your own experiences through which to judge your own pain and can never ever really know how other people experience their own pain, joy, etc. All pain is relative. that's all i have to say about that. thanks.
February 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterzbeth
Awesome, classy, and could we have some more please?

And how's the Sith Lord today?
February 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercarrie (the other one)
Very wise words. Pain doesn't need to be treated like a competitive sport!
February 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnn D
My sympathies to Henry - wool pants drove me nuts when I was a kid, my Cub Scout uniform gave me a rash (to the point of dispensation from having to wear it), and once, after sunning on a new, deep-dyed orange hammock, I spent the rest of the weekend in a cold-water tub, trying to keep from going mad. From either wisdom or just getting older, none of these have repeated, and I can wear those good wool pants, too.But these were very specific sensitivities for me - I'm pretty much allergy-free - and for those who have to face something more deep-seated, a slip-up or accident can be life-threatening, e.g., anaphylactic shock. The list of life's dangers becomes just that much longer for them.There has to be a categorical distinction, however, between these more or less natural threats - pains that are so acute when we are young and they are new, but which age to annoyances, all the way up to catastrophes of the earth, weather, plague, accident - and the truly unnatural ones - social violence, genocide, torture. The latter were willed by someone not unlike you, and I think that deposits a special bitterness to surviving the injury. Historically, the number of people murdered by individual psychopaths is miniscule compared to the mass slaughter of faiths and ideologies. Survivors of those slaughters are not unsympathetic to others' pain, but their own is, I think, set apart.
February 26, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergrishaxxx
O, yeah, Ogged sent me - great post, great thread!!!
February 26, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergrishaxxx
I was linked by Strong Coffee - you are my new favorite! I'm going to send this entry to all my blogging buddies. May I hot link your blog on mine?
March 1, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMOT
I agree. I think that at the end of everyone's life, we all have a "#1 worst thing that ever happened to me" to look back on. It doesn't make sense to subjectively rank hurts, especially since what we post on the Internet is *always* out of context from our actual selves, and often elaborated to make it interesting. Maybe it's our human need to have other people know how we feel (and vice versa) that causes this kind of comparison-drawing.
March 1, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
Particularly when it comes to blogging, the point is to share your perspective, not project how much worse it is to have to die in the tsunami or in the collapse of the Twin Towers. The beauty of blogging is that you can get anecdotes and opinions across a wide spectrum, from a mysteriously itchy baby to a baby facing major surgery. I don't get trolls either. If they want to read about people who have it worse, well, go ahead. Probably someone's blogging about it.

I'm not a mommy, but I love dipping into the mommyblogs from time to time. I appreciate the honesty and the detail y'all share about the day to day challenges of parenting.
March 3, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterbree
I'm so glad you said what you said. I've always maintained that just because I've suffered great pain (death of two children), doesn't mean that your pain is any less. Pain is pain. There is no comparison in pain, there is only compassion and understanding and absolutely no one-upsmanship. It bothers me when people apologize to me because they are in pain--heck, their pain is VALID. I have never played the "dead kids" card.
March 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBev

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