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We're all different, let's not compare our illnesses

Friday, 10 August 2012 Amanda

Amanda blogs on living with a mental illness and how easy it can be for people to compare themselves to others.

Living with a mental health problem can be very painful and very lonely. Social media is a wonderful tool for many people because it’s a way of interacting with others who are in a similar situation. Through social media, we can form friendships and perhaps even discuss things which we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing face to face. We can find support from people who understand the difficulties that we face, and provide support for them in return. Social media can also help reduce the pain and loneliness associated with living with a mental illness and overall make it much more bearable.

Of course there can also be a downside to this as well. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others when we’re talking about mental health problems – particularly those who have the same diagnosis as us. We can find ourselves thinking things such as:

  • “Why is it that they seem to cope better than me, when they have the same illness?”
  • “That person experienced such trauma in their lives and yet they seem to manage much better than me. I don’t remember experiencing any trauma, so why am I such a mess?”
  • “How is that they can manage a career and family, when I can barely manage to get up out of bed in the morning?”

There are endless comparisons that I could think of, and I’m sure you have plenty of your own you could add.

But why make comparisons? After all, mental illness isn’t a competition to see who copes best. And don’t we all have different illnesses? Two people might have the same diagnosis, but I don’t believe that two people ever have the same illness because everyone’s illness is individual to them.

I don’t think two people ever have the same symptoms, or the same personality, or the same experiences or support, the same skills or the same resources available to them. And it’s these things which make our illnesses unique to us.

People can also compare themselves in terms of how well they cope and they can be really worried about whether they are coping better or worse than someone with the same problem. Lots of questions can pop into our minds like:

  • Does another person’s illness leave them unable to work?
  • Are they able to maintain relationships?
  • Are they classed as a suicide risk?

But these are all external factors and we can never really know what an illness feels like to each individual person. We see what people let us see, through social media or through talking to each other in other ways, but we’ll never be able to know exactly what they are going through all the time.

Comparing ourselves is so easy to do, especially when we’re going through similar things as each other, but I think it’s really important to remember that it isn’t a competition. We all cope differently and have different experiences because each of our illnesses are unique to us, they all affect us differently and our lives are different from each other’s because of this. So let’s support each other through our problems and not feel intimidated or under pressure by people’s different experiences. We’re all different and we all need support to help each other through!

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