When People Turn Pain Into a Competition


I hate comparisons. I think I always have. We seem to go through life being compared to others. Not as attractive. Not as clever. Not as sociable. Not as good.

There is probably nothing that can knock someone’s confidence more than being compared to someone else in that way. And to turn it around, what does it do to the other person? Does it embarrass them or do they enjoy it and become conceited?

Comparisons will always affect people in some way, which is why I hate them.

It’s the same with comparisons with health conditions.

Most people who know me understand that I live with a lot of pain. Chronic back pain. Chronic rib pain. Chronic headaches. Chronic face pain. Throw in a few other regular aches and pains, and I suppose I’d be as well changing my name to Chronic.

Trigeminal neuralgia is known as one of the most painful afflictions. Some days I agree with that. But if I’m in my bed, in agony and hardly able to walk to the toilet because of my back, then trigeminal neuralgia is a walk in the park on those days. I can’t make a sweeping generalization and say that one condition is worse than the other. Yes, trigeminal neuralgia might be up there in terms of the worst pain in the world. But don’t tell me that when my back has decided to give up on me.

Last year, I had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night because I had kidney stones. If someone told me at 3 a.m. that morning, “But it’s not as painful as trigeminal neuralgia,” I might have done something really nasty to them.

I can’t even compare my own pain conditions with each other, so how can anyone ever say that one person’s pain is worse than or not as bad as someone else’s? We can’t feel their pain. So if they think their pain is the worst pain in the world, then who are we to argue? It’s obviously the worst pain in the world to them at that particular moment in time.

If my husband is ever ill or in pain, I absolutely hate it. I feel helpless. I probably feel how he feels when I’m having a bad day. The thought of comparing his pain to mine wouldn’t be right. But what if I told him, “I have trigeminal neuralgia, and that’s the worst pain in the world!” That would mean I’m actually undermining his pain. How uncaring would I seem if I compared his pain to mine and suggested his wasn’t as bad?

Flipping the comparison thing around the other way, I’ve had people say things to me like, “I had a migraine last night, but I know my pain isn’t nearly as bad as yours.” It’s almost as if people minimize their own pain because they feel it is trivial compared to my problems. But it’s not trivial. Just because I live with chronic pain, it doesn’t mean I can’t understand other people’s pain. If anything, it makes me able to understand it more.

Living with pain isn’t a game, and it’s not a competition. But by comparing pain, it turns into that. It’s not a game I ever want to be part of. And it’s not a competition I’d like to win. I really don’t want to wear that winner’s medal.

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