“It Could Be Worse”

When anyone is going through a hard time, it can be hard to know what to tell them. Someone gets a diagnosis of cancer, or hears that a loved one has been injured or killed in an accident – what can you say to comfort them? “I’m sorry”? “It’ll be all right”? “You’ll come through it”? “They’re in a better place now”? What could possibly recognize the shock and the pain someone is going through, the horrible situation they’ve been cast into?

As an epileptic, probably the least useful such phrase I’ve encountered is “It could be worse.” You tell someone, maybe someone close, about something that’s perhaps destroying your life, or maybe only providing a series of unwanted obstacles. Their response? “Well, it could be worse”.

“I had a seizure, I can’t drive for the next six months.”

“Oh! Well, at least you’re not in the ICU. It could be worse.”

Well maybe this could be worse. (Photo copyright US Navy?)

Well no, it couldn’t. It COULDN’T BE WORSE DAMMIT. Thirty years ago I was in college, healthy, feeling like I could do pretty much whatever I wanted and looking forward to a life of staying that way. I was not looking forward to taking six pills a day, getting blood sucked out of my arms two or three or four times a year before mandatory doctor appointments, spending thousands of dollars a year on medication required for me just to function pseudo-normally – and let’s not get into the side effects, we’ve done that already.

I mean, sure. I don’t have the brain tumor the doctors initially feared. I’m not going into the emergency room or the intensive care unit once or twice (or more!) a year. I’m not taking four or five medications, I don’t need a bed rail when I sleep, I can even drive in reasonable safety. There are loads of other people I know who are worse off than I am.

But “it could be worse”? What does that do for me? I’m not always as badly off as I think I am, but I’m not always as well as I could be either. I don’t need to be babied. I don’t want to be babied. But my epilepsy is real, and it has real effects on me, and I need you to get that.

Look, I get that you might not know what to say. And yes, saying something is better than saying nothing. Saying nothing at all is just cold. But you want to know what to say? Try these:

“That’s rough. Need anything?”
“I hear you. Can I help?”

Just something to let me know that you sympathize, that you’re listening, and that you’re willing (sincerely) to be there and help out as much as you can if needed.

Life’s not usually hard for me. (Like it can be for my friends Daisy and Nichole.) But it can be, and your recognition of that fact is a very basic way to help me, a way to affirm that what I’m going through isn’t insignificant and harmless. Could you at least give me that much?

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