Is all pain really just pain?
I had an e-mail exchange with Egghunt that has prompted me to post on a topic I’ve been mulling over for a while. It’s a loaded topic that I’m afraid to write about. Probably I should post it on the awesome ALI Alias, but…I guess I’d rather offend people. This is also a topic that I know tons of others have written about, beautifully and movingly. I could track down those posts and I’m sure they’d shape my thinking and address my questions. But I don’t want to read those posts, because they will be better than anything I could write and I need the therapeutic exercise of expressing this.
Both here and in my comments to you, I tend to harp on the fact that I know I can’t understand what you’re going through and that my efforts to offer support might fall flat or even be offensive because of that fact. I try to note when I’m aware that I’m being insensitive or callous or when my complaining might be hurtful. And I’ve certainly noticed that the standard view many take here in blogland is that everyone is entitled to her (and his, but most of us are women–see, I’m trying not to offend men here!) pain, and the pain of one person is not greater than the pain of another. That it’s senseless to try to rank our experiences or create a hierarchy of which things are more horrible than others (The Pain Olympics, as some have called it).
I have no actual quarrel with that view. Empathy is so complicated that it is indeed awfully hard to truly understand what another person’s experience is like, and if you can’t really understand it, how can you know whether it’s more horrible than yours? (Indeed, a lot of research on empathy suggests people are pretty inaccurate about assessing the feelings of others.) And as I’ve said before, I don’t think better applies to any of us. But I do believe in more worse. And I find myself thinking that to say our experiences are not in any way comparable smacks a little of cultural relativism. You know, the same approach that lets people say things like, If a culture believes fem.ale ge.nital mutilati.on is okay, who are we to quibble with that? Okay, that’s a really inflammatory example, but I’m conflicted about relativism…
I also know that some of what we write is part of a social contract that makes this network of support possible and so very, very valuable. And I’m breaching it a little by writing about this, but maybe I was inspired by Leslie’s shit sandwich post.
I’ve read papers in journals that say things like the depression associated with IF tends to peak in the third year. In other words, we can quantitatively establish that some infertile women feel more worse, to use my term, than others. So why pretend there’s no difference between someone dealing with IF for six years, and someone like me? But then I think about the fact that a lot of the women who say all pain is just pain are exactly the women who have been through hell. Perhaps that’s just because those of us who haven’t don’t feel entitled to make such pronouncements. But perhaps it’s because the perspectives of these women are the result of their experiences. They know something I don’t.
I guess what I want to express is this. To me, to say that all pain is just pain runs the risk of denying the reality that some experiences are more worse than others. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Completely presumptions. But I’m not in any way denying that my pain is real pain. It hurts like a motherfucker. Lately I’ve been waking up in absolute terror and despair (and hoooooooot. FUCKING HOT FLASHES!). And the whole point of my term more worse is to stress that nothing is better. My experience isn’t better, just ’cause I haven’t miscarried or because I have gotten to do multiple IUIs while others are perpetually stymied. Or even because there may be a fix for my infertility.
I just know that there are some people’s stories that make me weep, and I can’t help feeling humbled by them.