“You Have What You Have — Good and Bad”

“If I ever have kids and they’re upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody has it much worse, that doesn’t change the fact that you have what you have — good and bad.”

This quote captures what I try to say when someone tells me that their suffering isn’t a big deal compared to all the other horrors in the world. It’s been so hard for me to put this concept into words, but Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower says it so eloquently.

Yes, the world is full of disasters and atrocities, and while you shouldn’t ignore these issues, “putting things into perspective” can do you more harm than good. It minimizes what you’re going through and keeps you from understanding and accepting your suffering as real. It also keeps you from mourning the real losses in your life.

Just thinking about what others are going through doesn’t help you or other people. You can’t help the people starving in China unless you help yourself first.

Keeping the tragedies of the world in mind is important too, but it shouldn’t interfere with how you treat yourself. Perspective does keep you from steeping yourself in sorrow forever, but some wallowing is necessary to cope with illness.

Treat yourself kindly. It is not you’re fault that you’re sick, nor are you a bad person for thinking about how your illness affects your life. Most important is that you take care of yourself so you can care for other people more effectively.

I’m writing this for myself as much as for you. Putting myself last is a lifelong behavior, just like for Charlie. I think I’m getting better at being nice to myself, but it’s not my instinct.

If you haven’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The main character, a 15-year-old in his first year of high school, is astute and charming. The themes are applicable to adult life and the novel inspires thoughts about how the reader’s teen years shaped the adults they’ve become.

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