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Timothy L. Vollmer, MD
Department of Neurology
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Medical Director-Rocky Mountain MS Center
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Department of Neurology
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Co-Director of the RMMSC at Anschutz Medical Center
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‘It Could Be Worse:’ A Teachable Moment

Have you ever had someone tell you “it could be worse?” They are making a valiant effort to comfort and console you. However, there is not much consolation in the words. They almost sound a bit insensitive. I have been told this several times. I think many people have had heard these words. They are not reserved exclusively for those of us with chronic illness, however, as an MS Warrior and a heart survivor, I can  share how I feel when I hear this aphorism.

There have been days that are really difficult. These past two weeks have been. Pain and depression have been trying to defeat me. My friend had told me I was heavily on their mind. I divulged my current state and heard those treacherous words, “it could be worse.” The friend proceeded to tell me how I should be thankful that I don’t look like how I feel. The friend reminded me how I could be totally incapacitated or that I could even be dead. Apparently my friend has not read my column, or any other columns that talk about chronic illness.

Here is the disclaimer. I KNOW that things could be worse. I acknowledge this every day of my life because I am the person going through the difficulties. I feel the pain, I struggle with the depression and I am standing face-to-face with this beast called MS. I acknowledge that my disease can manifest more severely and, by all means, I am thankful for the abilities I currently have.

I asked my friend “How would you know?” I asked how anyone could determine what is worse, better or best for me? How can that assumption be made if my pain and mental anguish are not endured by anyone other than me? A person who is not in a situation cannot determine what may or may not be worse for anyone else. We are as unique as our illnesses and experiences. We each have different coping mechanisms and our reactions vary.

I further explained to my friend that saying that to someone who is suffering, regardless of the ailment or circumstance, can be dismissive. It devalues and detracts from the sufferer’s experience. When I say to myself, or aloud, that things could be worse, I am desperately trying to ward off those spirits that are coming to destroy my peace of mind. I am reminding myself to try to stay in a place of gratitude regardless of what I am facing. I am standing on hope and summoning my spirituality for strength.

Coming from you, the words do not have the same meaning. I know my friend, and therefore know the words were not intended to hurt or pique me. I know it was an act of encouragement. I also recognized this was an opportunity to teach. When I apprised my friend of how I felt, my friend was required to see a different perspective. My friend was able to recollect going through a tough time and someone patronizingly said “it could be worse.” That moment also reminded me there are times when people really don’t know what to say, and in trying to comfort you, they may unknowingly offend you. I am certain there were times when my intentions to help may have caused someone angst.

MS is teaching me more than I could have imagined. Living with heart disease was, and is ,difficult. However, I had an entire lifetime to adjust and accept that. Multiple sclerosis is a totally different fight. I have just recently joined this army and already I am amidst a raging war. My faith employs me to believe that I will win this war in one way or another. I also know things could be worse, but they are difficult enough at this moment.

Please be reminded that some of us believe things cannot get any worse because we already have lost so much. There also are those of us who are cognizant that our situations can worsen. The gist is we are all fighting as best as we can. You don’t really know what a person is struggling with physically, mentally, spiritually and/or financially. When you are searching for words of comfort for a friend or loved one, “I am here for you” may suffice.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by MULTIPLESCLEROSISNEWSTODAY
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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