When I Compare My Life With Invisible Illness to What I 'Should' Be Doing

Earlier this week was the Boston Marathon. I know more than one person who successfully ran the race. I am amazed because running this race means that not only have they run marathons before and survived them, but they’ve actually gotten good at it. When I clicked through their pictures, and in general when I click through pictures of friends my age who do incredible things like finish these races or climb great mountains, a few things go through my head: First, I am so happy for them. If I’m particularly close to them, I also feel proud of them. Slowly, though, the comparisons start to creep in. I start to think about what I “should” be doing at my age. I can’t help but think about the fact that people I know are running marathons while the idea of running any distance is laughable for me at this point in my life.

I know it’s not atypical to draw comparisons between yourself and others. I know from working in education that it’s human to compare your children or other loved ones to others their age. I know from personal experience that the urge to draw this kind of comparison may be strong when you have a disability and want to know what’s “normal.”

Making comparisons can be damaging, though. It can hurt. Even making comparisons to others with the same disability can be dangerous. Of course, people with all sorts of disabilities do stunning things like run marathons, climb mountains and become CEOs. But let me tell you a secret: They do these things because they are people, and people do amazing things. They don’t do them “despite” their disability.

woman standing in ocean looking at horizon
Sara looking for shells at the beach — something she excels at and is grateful to be able to do.

So if, like me, you ever feel the urge to compare yourself to others around you and think about the things you “should” be doing, do yourself a favor and stop. Everyone is running marathons and climbing mountains all the time. I say this not to take away from the accomplishments of all those who are literally doing these things, but to bring light to those whose obstacles are different. Just because my mountain is getting through the work day, and my marathon is living with an invisible illness that brings constant pain, that doesn’t make my victories less valid than others’. It doesn’t make your victories less valid, either.

I may not have run in Boston this week, but I, too, have become skilled at doing hard things with grace. I bet you have, too. Screw “normal,” and be proud.

Follow this journey on ZebraWrites.

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