The “not as bad as” syndrome

I just got diagnosed with Shingles.  I am just 28.  And I have shingles.  (Wonder if they are helping keep my internal organs dry from all this rain in the NorthEast lately…hah.)  It is such an unusual thing that the nurse brought in another doctor to verify and observe.  Talk about feeling great to be a sitting side-show of amazement in a johnny sitting on an exam table.  Yeah.  Fun.

BUT the nurse is amazing (I love this nurse practitioner) and really went over everything that it was and what it wasn’t.  Basically it seems that stress has triggered the dormant chickenpox virus from my youth to flare up in a very painful rash.  I haven’t slept in 3 days now.  When I called my mother to explain and just give a heads up about the freak occurrence of shingles in a young (and otherwise perfectly healthy according to the nurse) woman; she asked, “Well what do YOU have to be stressed about?”

And you know what?  I freaking hate questions like that.  It is right up there with “Oh, you think YOU’RE fat, just look at me!”  Like this one-upmanship of feeling shitty or having the most to worry about is a battle to win some trophy of “deserves the most pity” or something.

Well I’m sorry folks but I’m not TRYING to play the smallest pity violin here.  In fact, when the doctor and nurse explained that this is usually caused by stress I kinda laughed it off; thinking “I didn’t THINK I was stressed”.  But after my mother asked with such laughing scorn what possible things could even bother the life of a 28 year old fat white woman I stopped and actually mentally cataloged what is going on in my life.  And you know something, it is a pretty long list.  So maybe I am feeling a bit frantic over all I have to do and am planning to do and just what is going on through my mind and life lately.

The assumption that nothing someone else feels could POSSIBLY match what you are going through is a type of self-pity parade lingo that I don’t feel like taking part in.  Sure, the old adage “there is always someone worse off then you” might hold true.  That doesn’t make your own trials worthless or any less painful.  Just knowing that you might be better off than someone else doesn’t always make your finances any looser or your meals any fuller or your rash any less inflamed.  Living in such a construct of constant comparison is what gets us whipped into the diet frenzies (I have to look/be smaller than THAT) and it creates this sort of mentality where acting or showing how frazzled or sick you actually are is shunned or scorned.  “Bah, stop faking it.  What could possibly be so hard about your life/health/body?”  Why do we try to play such games of “that isn’t as bad as THIS” all the time?

Sometimes don’t we just deserve to take a break and cry and feel as lousy as our body is telling us we feel without always having to put on a freaking happy face and pretend to the world that all is peachy-keen?  There are days when I feel fantastic, full of energy, as healthy as doctors tell me I am, and every moment of my youthful age.  Then there are days like today when I feel burning pain, stuffy headaches and overall malaise should mean that I don’t really have to be Miss April Sunshine to the rest of the world.


24 thoughts on “The “not as bad as” syndrome

  1. I had shingles… when I was 17… on my FACE. So yeah, I totally know what you mean! I also had the chicken pox twice before the age of 6. (Man, I sound like I’m one-upping here, and I promise I’m trying to… just relating my own experience!)

    And as far as deserving to feel bad sometimes… absolutely. I have been sober for 14 months, and I must say that I am grateful for the ability to FEEL, good AND bad… to be present in my own life. Without the bad, we don’t have a barometer for the good. And no one has any right to demean your personal trials and tribulations because it may not be bad in their eyes.

  2. Err… promise I’m trying NOT to one-up. Yay for coming out of lurk mode only to not pay attention to what I’m doing! 🙂

  3. On your face? Yeah, that is pretty bad Muppette. I wouldn’t know from experience but if what I’m feeling now is any indication it sounds sucky just the same.

  4. “Bah, stop faking it. What could possibly be so hard about your life/health/body?” Why do we try to play such games of “that isn’t as bad as THIS” all the time?

    I think it’s partly that our culture tends to value self-sacrifice and martyrdom. That clicked into focus for me when I saw the movie The Ref, and the adult son told his mother: “You know what I’m going to get you next Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices, you can climb on up and nail yourself to it.”

    I’m glad you know what’s going on with the shingles (knowledge is power!) and I’m sorry your mother gave you grief! Some of how we react to stress depends on our own attitudes and viewpoints, but that does not mean it’s our fault!

  5. We call this the “Martyr Olympics” at my house–my family-of-origin contained some truly hardcore competitors in this particular sphere.

  6. Ack! Shingles! I have had shingles twice now, once when I was 31 and once when I was 38, both times in the same place– by my left eye! The face part sucked in some ways but in others not as much– at least it’s usual not to keep your face covered up, so there’s no pain from fabric touching or chafing. Shingles seems to run in my family (my grandfather, aunt and uncle all have had it) and I think the person among the four of us who had it worst was my aunt, who had it on her breast and still had to go to work (I can’t imagine what a bra would have felt like! She just says, “yeah, childbirth was hard, but shingles was bad”).

    The one piece of advice I would have is don’t be shy about the pain meds. From bitter experience (and a childhood in which I was taught that suffering is always somehow better than, gasp, taking a pill to feel better– speaking of martyr complexes), I can say that it seems to be much much easier to head pain off before it gets really bad than it is to try to make it go away once it’s become so. That, and I guess be patient because it really does seem to take a while for shingles to clear out.

    And yeah, what’s with the “Martyr Olympics” (love that phrase, JupiterPluvius!)? The thing that gets me about that is the assumption that a declaration of hardship is equivalent to some kind of claim the speaker is trying to make against the sympathy of the listener. And that for the listener the sympathy they are “supposed” to give the speaker is some sort of victory for the speaker, such that the listener has to lodge a counter-claim to get the sympathy back.

  7. Ruth; yeah I have it over my right breast/nipple. Gah. The bra, in case you’re wondering, does not feel good 😉

    And I’m not sure why it is that people feel it is acting supportive to tell someone who is suffering that it “can’t be that bad”. Perhaps like self-destructive diet-chat it forms stronger bonds between folks by means of commiserating? I’m not sure but I’ve always thought it was a bit silly or if not silly at least strange that we try to down-play someone’s suffering in such a manner. I don’t know.

    But I do look forward to getting to fill this prescription for pain meds and start healing tonight, thanks!

  8. If anything, I tend to downplay what I am going through. I always take the position that my situation can’t be as bad as what someone else is dealing with. I mean, if I can handle my life, it can’t be that bad, right?

    Regardless, sorry to hear about the Shingles! I wish you a speedy recovery.

  9. Wait a sec–you can get shingles when you are young?? I am officially freaked out now, as I had chicken pox three times, the last time when I was 12. I knew shingles was inevitable, but not until I was, like, 60… Hoo boy.

  10. You have my sympathy. I got shingles in my late 30s, and it sucks. It’s painful and miserable. And if your body got them, then rather obviously, the stress was enough, or you wouldn’t have them. Case closed.

  11. My experience has been that those stress-related illnesses come on precisely when we “don’t *feel* stressed. . . ” Life is stressful–even the most balanced people have a pretty constant barrage of stimuli– and your body has to process it SOMEHOW. So, when I haven’t FELT it (emotionally) my body has found another way to process it—back spasms, a creepy infection in my elbow joint with no discernable cause, migraines. . . It seems like when I take the time to notice the emotional component, the physical is sometimes alleviated.

    You know what doesn’t help, though? “What do you have to be stressed about?” And also, “Jeez, you look really exhausted/stressed/sick.” Thanks. Thanks so much.

    I hope the shingles don’t treat you too badly!! They seem like they can really be a bear!

  12. My cousin has had this happen to her 2 or 3 times, and she’s not much older than you. She’s in her early-30’s. The doctor told HER to be careful hanging out with anyone who hasn’t had chicken pox before because they could POSSIBLY catch chicken pox from these flareups.

  13. I had shingles at 23. On my back and side.

    It felt like hot ooil was splattering on my skin. Prickling, horrid pain along the nerve pattern. Ack!

  14. “Sometimes don’t we just deserve to take a break and cry and feel as lousy as our body is telling us we feel without always having to put on a freaking happy face and pretend to the world that all is peachy-keen?”

    We don’t do martyr olympics in my (immediate) family, we do stiff-upper-lip (and we’re not even British!). Everything is “this too shall pass” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Still, the piece I quoted above definitely applies. Last week, I thought I was about to be laid off (luckily, dodged that bullet) and I called my mom because I just needed a little sympathy. She “didn’t want to make it worse” as she explained later and as a result was basically no comfort. Sometimes, you just want someone to say “Poor Baby” and not try to solve things, or to compete with your problems, you know?

  15. I got shingles when I was 19. Back and a little over the breast. It SUCKS, and I’m sorry your mother was dismissive and denigrating. Stab red-hot needles into her back and see how she likes it…

    IIRC, the meds worked pretty quickly to clear it up. I hope you enjoy relief soon.

  16. You have my sympathy too. I got shingles (on my forehead), when I was 45, during one of the most stressful years of my life. I too was stunned as all the folk I knew who’d had it had been in their 70s or 80s. I was lucky that I got to it with the Zovirax at the 11th hour and was saved from the outright blinding pain that I remembered made my grandmother’s life unbearable for weeks on end. It was more severe discomfort than anything else – though I did get the phantom pain (postherpetic neuralgia) thing a few months after it cleared up but only briefly. I hope you feel better soon!

  17. Oh, April, augh! I somehow hadn’t grokked fully that you didn’t have your script filled yet. Please take good care and I really hope you start to feel better or at least can get some sleep.

    And I’m not sure why it is that people feel it is acting supportive to tell someone who is suffering that it “can’t be that bad”. Perhaps like self-destructive diet-chat it forms stronger bonds between folks by means of commiserating? I’m not sure but I’ve always thought it was a bit silly or if not silly at least strange that we try to down-play someone’s suffering in such a manner. I don’t know.

    I wonder if there might also be some discomfort-response going on, ie “speaker is in distress, listener can’t do anything about it, that makes listener distressed, so listener (maybe unconsciously) tries to minimize speaker’s distress, thereby minimizing listener’s too.” I say this because my mom, while not a martyr, is a master at the minimizing– she’s a huge fan of positive thinking, and to be fair it’s gotten her through a lot of horrible things that she really never talks about. So anytime I tell her when something is wrong, I have to be braced for the happy talk that she’ll try to lay down. My sense is that she is saying it for her own benefit, but more out of reflex than malice.

    Cindy, pyewacketsid, Muppette: augh! Shingles are frickin’ awful. Glad you’ve all healed.

  18. I so sorry for everyone else that has gone through this burning stabbing hot-acid pain as well and thanks for all the support.

    Ruth I am feeling better already but wow the anti-viral and pain meds give me a heck of a dizzy spell for sure. I think you might be spot-on about that happy-positive thinking thing being a response of someone that can’t do anything about it though.

    Pyewacketsid you’ve given me hope for a quick ending to this weird shingles thing so thanks. Guess I’ll stop balking at that giant blue anti-viral pill they want me to swallow twice a day! O.o

  19. Just FYI. There is a vaccine for shingles now. I found that out when I got my flu shot this year. My mom had shingles in her early 60s and I remember it was very painful for her.

  20. Pingback: So, who am I? « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

  21. Pingback: Check Engine Light. Wish there was one for human stress. « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

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