There has been a lot of discussion lately in the ALI community about “the Pain Olympics.”
I despise that term being applied to this community. I really, really do, and here’s why. By likening the comparison of ALI pain from one member of the community to another to an olympic sport, it is implied that there is a judge. Well, from what everyone is saying about “the Pain Olympics,” there is no judge of the event, so no one really wins or loses (which is accurate when it comes to pain). What sport in the olympics does not have a judge? Not a one. In fact, each sport in the olympics has specific criteria to which the event is judged, balancing out the playing field. What people so despise in the ALI community, and term “the Pain Olympics,” has no such criteria or playing field. It has no judge. It is not a sport at all and does not even resemble one, in my opinion (and I am aware that my opinion tends to be rather simple).
But taking it a bit further and beyond my literal interpretation of “the Pain Olympics,” I still tend to resent mention of it in the ALI community for other reasons.
We all compare our pain to those around us. If we don’t do it out loud, we do it in our own minds. This has been made abundantly clear in Too Many Fish To Fry’s post earlier this week. Her post was thought-provoking (and stirred up some emotions in myself) and what I liked most about it was that so many of us came out of the woodwork and admitted that yes – if “the Pain Olympics” is what everyone seems to call the comparison of pain, then yes, many of us have taken part in them in some capacity, even if just in our own minds. We admitted very openly that we don’t normally verbally state how our pain was worse than someone else’s via comments or hateful emails, but many of us have often thought, ‘I sure wish my road was as easy as hers.’
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comparing our pain to the pain of others. I think it’s human. I think it helps us process what, truly, is going on in our minds and how those thoughts are affecting us. I think it helps us keep things in perspective for ourselves.
And I think it helps us find our own tribes.
When I was cycling for Matthew, I wasn’t blogging. I read a ton of blogs and could not get enough of them, but I wasn’t writing myself. I didn’t have a blog.ger or word.press account. If I commented, I did so anonymously not to hide behind something, but because I didn’t have anything to put my name behind. I didn’t really know how to comment and I didn’t do it often. But I did do it once on a blog that I found so offensive and hurtful to me, and I’ve regretted that comment from the moment I hit publish. It wasn’t even a “Pain Olympics” type comment, but it was a comment that stemmed from my own pain. (Comments that stem from our own pain should probably not be published!)
I quickly learned that I didn’t want to follow blogs belonging to people who weren’t in the same IF diagnostic camp as me. I needed to build a community for myself. I needed to learn from others before me what I could be doing with my own cycles. I needed to see others in my similar situation succeed so that I could feel like that was a possibility for me too.
I needed to find my tribe.
Blogs of people doing clomid cycles were off my radar, because clomid was not an option for us. People cycling with IUI’s upset me, because I wished so much that IUI’s could work for us too. I took them out of my “favorites” (because remember, I didn’t have a blog.ger or word.press account). Once we failed with our first IVF cycle, it was hard for me to read about people who were successful with their first IVF cycles, because that was supposed to be me. I didn’t whittle down my “favorites” because I felt my pain was worse than theirs, I whittled down my list because I needed to surround myself with stories that could lift me up, and not make me feel like a failure. I needed to read the stories of people who needed a few IVF cycles to be successful, and I wanted to revel in their successes because it gave me hope that I would get there one day too.
I found my tribe, for the time-being.
Now that I’m parenting, I follow all sorts of ALI bloggers with very different diagnoses and treatments than ours. I am at a place now where I can simply be truly happy for the gal who is successful with clomid or an IUI without thinking, “I sure wish that could work for me.” That thought has not crossed my mind in years, and it feels so good.
What we saw in Too Many Fish To Fry’s post was many, many women saying, ‘hey, I’ve been that bitter person and was able to move past it, but it was not easy at the time.’ I hope we can all remember what it was like to be in such a dark place, that even if we didn’t write nasty comments on blogs that triggered deep sadness and anger in us, that often times, we really did feel and think those things. It has been made clear that many of us have felt insanely jealous of someone else’s pain that we perceived to be far less than our own. It is obvious from the discussions going on this week that many of us know how these “hateful” commenters feel because we are ashamed of our own past similar thoughts.
When “the Pain Olympics” do come up again, rather than fuel the fire, I hope we can all be compassionate enough to take a step back and realize that many of us have been there, and that the pain that is being lashed out will hopefully pass for that person. I hope we can all remember what it was like to “find our own tribe” back then and appreciate the tribe that we get to be a part of today. I hope that rather than admonish a nasty commenter for “playing in the Pain Olympics,” that we will respond kindly to her with a comment wishing her peace and happiness.
February 6, 2013 at 11:26 pm
Hear, hear my friend.
February 7, 2013 at 12:46 am
I just scheduled a post that is SO SIMILAR to this. It’s going up tomorrow morning. I’ll comment here tomorrow too, when I have so time to really write.
February 7, 2013 at 1:36 pm
Wow – how strange that we’re bothing thinking so similarly about this right now! You said it much better than I did though 😉 I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one frustrated by this discussion.
I loved your post today!
February 7, 2013 at 4:38 am
I’ve never heard if this term before, but I know what you are talking about. Personally I have never been into the comparing what I have been through to what others have been or are going through, or feeling jealous/envious etc about some else’s circumstance in comparison to my own. You never truly know what someone has been through. Just because someone doesn’t have your troubles doesn’t mean they don’t have their own.
We all deserve peace and happiness 🙂
February 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm
Yes we do!
February 7, 2013 at 7:47 am
A couple of things.
First of all, I think it’s wonderful that you’ve been able to really expand your tribe as time has gone on. I do understand what you mean about finding people in similar situations. For me it was/is the same, although from the opposite perspective. I rarely follow new bloggers that I find who are already doing IVF (as opposed to those I followed previously who move ON to IVF) because I fear that my comments, my opinions will be ill-received. I don’t want to be the negative reminder to that blogger that many people “have it easier.” That’s probably silly because, c’mon, who DOESN’T want comments?! But it’s my own insecurity showing through.
Second, I happen to think that the “Pain Olympics” isn’t all that bad of a term. Well, no, I hate it as well, but mostly because of its overuse, not because I think it’s inaccurate. I actually think it’s a fairly apt description for the sort of “competition” that goes on between people sometimes, everyone wanting to be “the best” at something as shitty as IF. You could call it the “Pain Super Bowl” or the “Pain Biggest Loser” or whatever. But, like you said, we compare and, sometimes in our hearts, we compete. Ideally it shouldn’t be that way, but I think it’s only human nature.
Third, you are right – we need to take a moment to find compassion and kindness when faced with this “competition.” But, to be sure, it is a two-way street. Both the gold-medalist and the bronce-medalist (because, hell, none of us are lucky enough to DQ in the IF Olympics) need to stock up on humility and sensitivity. As a bronce-medalist (just an IUIer, for the time being) I have the right to be both proud of my achievement (struggle with my IF emotions/pain, etc.) and jealous of your gold medal (be intimidated by your IVF, DEIVF, late-term loss). And as a gold-medalist “you” need to be both proud of your achievement (honor your journey and your pain) and humble of those around you who also trained and fought to make it. (I hope this makes sense – it’s a convoluted metaphor since winning at the real Olympics is good while “winning” at the Pain Olympics is “bad.”)
And, finally, one thing that sticks out to me with this idea of the Olympics is the fact that you surely cannot (nor should you) ever forget either experience. And the person who has fought and trained and sacrificed to get her gold medal (BFP) but then goes on to throw it in a drawer and forget about it (pretend like the IF journey and the support she had during it didn’t happen/matter) is doing a disservice to herself and to those who cheered her on.
And, that’s it. 😉
February 7, 2013 at 8:01 am
I just chuckled at “Pain Biggest Loser.” So apt. Yup.
February 7, 2013 at 9:23 pm
I fear the same thing when I follow a gal who has done more cycles than I did. You and I have talked about that – that I worry that I don’t know how to support those people enough in their journey.
I like your point about not forgetting either experience. It’s so important to remember what got us to where we are!
February 7, 2013 at 8:16 am
I’m a bit out of the loop on the recent wave of Pain Olympic posts, so I’m kind of playing catch up at this point. I’ve generously whittled down my reader over the year or so in an effort to remove a lot of that noise from head because, like you, I was on the hunt for my tribe. Or, rather, a tribe that was evolving in the same way I was. As much as I want to bear witness and support others through their pain, pain is contagious. As is judgement. (You gotta know when to fold ’em and when to walk away sometimes. Sigh. So, so hard to do sometimes.)
I do love your point about extending a greater amount of compassion and empathy to people who employ that kind of judgement about others’ pain–because what these folks are communicating in their comments is much deeper than the offensive surface of their words. It’s a rough place to be in–we have all been there, and it’d be a service to ourselves to admit that we’ve all done that judging and quantifying on some level, whether we vocalize it on our blogs or in comments spaces or not.
Several of the posts I’ve read have me thinking about what comes later, beyond the pain assessments and comparisons. About healing. And perspective. Maybe there is a blog post in there for me somewhere.
Anyway, solidly good post, Mama. My thoughts are moving all around. 🙂
February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm
You are so right, that pain is contagious. It’s hard to not let it be, being perfectly honest.
I think what comes after the pain assessments and comparisons is understanding. It takes a while, in many of these types of situations, to realize that pain is pain. I remember when that happened with me, and it was very freeing. And when I look back, the pain of progressing through cycles got worse and worse for me, but had we been successful sooner – the pain would have still been there. It would have been just as bad, because that was “as bad” as it had ever been for me. Realizing that was a great thing for me – that one person’s worst pain is just that – THEIR worst pain. It is not something that can be compared to MY worst pain. Someone noted on an earlier post about this that the “pain is pain” realization seems to happen (roughly) after a year or so of being diagnosed. Looking back, I do think that’s when it happened for me.
February 7, 2013 at 10:11 am
Agreed, it’s human nature to compare to others…even when we don’t “want” to. The “pain olympics” or “Pain Biggest Loser” or whatever is real, whatever we want to call it.
Also, I agree with Arch Mama – I’ve started whittling down my reader as well. Sometimes the pain and the commitment to SO many people just gets overwhelming otherwise. I do get why you followed “like kind” bloggers while in the midst of treatments. Since I started blogging pre-TTC, I sort of started following anyone and everyone (b/c most were also just starting TTC), thus my reader was a total conglomeration of people/Dx by a couple of years in. However, I was one of the IUI ppl, so who knows if that would have changed if we had pursued multiple IVFs. At any rate, now my reader is mostly filled with PAILers, but within that subset, people who I identify with – people whose parenting styles often gel with my own – people whose life interests I find interesting. I think it’s human nature to be drawn to people we can identify with.
February 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm
I tend to follow only a few gals at a time who are still working towards their first baby for the same reason you and Arch Mama describe. Reading some of their stories can take me back to those same feelings that I had in an instant – and that’s hard on my heart. As much as I’ve moved on from the pain of our IF, subtle reminders of it can really sting and catch me by emotional surprise.
I like what you said here, that “even when we don’t want to play” in the pain olympics, we find ourselves doing it anyway. That is an interesting point that I had not thought about yet. Many things in life we don’t ‘want’ to do, but we find ourselves doing them anyway. It’s so strange, yet so incredibly human.
February 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm
Totally agree and you’ve put it all so well here… I often feel a pang of “eff you” toward the girls who get knocked up on their second round of Clomid, but as you say, it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I seriously cannot control. What I CAN control is how I deal with this bitterness — what I write in that blogger’s comments section, how I feel toward myself, how I learn from this reaction, etc. The so-called “Pain Olympics” are around ALL of us, all the time, every day, whether you’re in the infertility community or not. That’s life — it’s about dealing with unfairness and learning to be thankful or at least understanding at the end of it all…
February 7, 2013 at 9:43 pm
Yes – life is one big example of the “pain olympics.” That may be one of the reasons I despise the term and its over-use in regards to ALI.
YES – that knee-jerk reaction is the worst, and one that makes us feel like terrible, bad people.. but you’re right. It cannot be controlled. My therapist has told me that those reactions are completely sub-consious and outside of our mental control. That actually makes me feel better!
February 7, 2013 at 8:46 pm
First, I’m sorry I haven’t commented in awhile- I’ve been reading all your posts though! As I commented on Esperanza’s post, sometimes I don’t engage in IF conversations because I feel like I am not a member of the “tribe” and can’t “compete” in the pain olympics. But then people do the same with me in the special needs community, and that makes me uncomfortable.
February 7, 2013 at 9:15 pm
Elizabeth, don’t ever apologize for not commenting. Life happens – and your life is more than hectic right now with a new baby!
The thing is, there is no need to compete in anything. I think comparisons are natural in all situations, but I don’t see it as a competition except in those rare times when someone voices that their struggle was harder than someone else’s. I don’t think thoughts like, “man, I wish I could have gotten pregnant as quickly/easily as she did” is a competition at all – it’s just that person’s perception of one person’s struggle compared to her own, and she wishes her struggle could have looked more like the other gal’s. We do this every day in all sorts of situations and I think it helps us keep perspective on our own struggles when we are aware of the struggles of others. The key to all of this, in my opinion, is that we gain our OWN perspective by reading others’ stories, and not by others telling us (or us telling others) that they had it worse.
I think it’s interesting that you mention people doing the same thing in the special needs community. That does not surprise me at all. I know that my mom does this when she meets someone else with MS (she’s had it since she was 27) – she feels bad complaining about her condition to someone whose disease is more progressed than hers. I guess that’s my whole point – that this is so normal and natural to human beings, that we shoudln’t be surprised to see it in the ALI community and even though it can be upsetting when people verbally compare their pain to others’, it really shouldn’t be a surprise and we should handle it with compassion.
Your little girl is a beauty and I look forward to seeing photos of her and Grayson together over the next several months. How fun will that be?!
February 7, 2013 at 10:17 pm
I love this post. You really hit the nail on the head about the fact that when someone else’s reaction doesn’t feel compassionate, that’s OUR invitation to show compassion to them. Beautiful.
February 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm
Thank you, Sara. I think the key to all of this is compassion. We need to try to check our feelings at the door when we see nasty comments and realize that the pain behind those comments is obviously very intense.
February 8, 2013 at 7:53 pm
This is such a perfect post, in so many ways. I know we are all guilty of this. It would be unnatural not to be. And truthfully, I see this topic of the pain olympics come around in cycles… it comes up again and again. We ALL want to find our tribe, and not listen to someone we deem as having it better than us complain. I think it is important to be honest with ourselves about that, without then vocalizing that feeling and inflicting more pain upon others. If that makes any sense? It does us no good to subject ourselves to it if it is going ot hurt is, but nothing is gained by telling someone else that their pain doesn’t match up to ours either.
One of my best friends has often told me that the hardest part of her infertility journey was the begining – when she didn’t really know what was wrong, and had no sense of community surrounding that. It makes sense to me. She faced years of trying and failing, before moving on to IVF and succeeding, but swears that starting point was the hardest. For me, nothing compares to the pain I felt after my first IVF cycle. The second one I felt more prepared for, but that first failure – it was like a blunt object being shoved into my eye.
We all have our different thresholds for pain and what hurts us the most. It is OK to acknowledge that, and to seek out our own tribes – because that is important. But beyond that, the pain olympics should have no place in our community.
February 9, 2013 at 9:35 pm
I love this” “I think it is important to be honest with ourselves about that (We ALL want to find our tribe, and not listen to someone we deem as having it better than us complain), without then vocalizing that feeling and inflicting more pain upon others.” That is the key to the Pain Olympics to me – go ahead and FEEL how you want to feel (feelings are normal), find your tribe and get comfortable there – but please don’t tell someone else that they have it so much better than you.
For what it’s worth, the worst pain I felt was after our first failed IVF as well. That was the darkest time of my life, and it still can shake me to my core when I think about it.
February 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm
I’ve been staring at this posts and these comments for a while now, it’s such a tricky topic to tackle! So much to respond to and so many different points made! loved your points and a lot of the comments!
It’s such a natural reaction to size up a persons journey against our own, it’s the only way we can relate. That’s what we do, even if we’re coming from a supportive place, you know, trying to understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes and how it feels so we can respond appropriately. It’s what I always do when I’m trying to comment on someone’s blog I imagine what it would be like in their situation, what would I want / need to hear, etc. I’ve had times where I knew I couldn’t read someone’s blog anymore – after my miscarriage, several bloggers went on to have successful pregnancies while I went on to have an ectopic pregnancy. I was bitter, depressed and unable to relate in any positive way to their posts anymore and I had to stop reading. (Never once though did I leave a comment that my pain was worse than theirs or my journey was worse, it’s like you said, our paths were different. I needed to find my people and I needed to protect my heart and I did.) but I had to protect myself. )
After I had L, I felt more bloggers / tweeps moving away from me which is part of the reason I started a new blog and twitter. I didn’t want anyone to feel that they had to follow me if they were still TTC #1, they could continue to follow if they wanted and were more than welcome, but I wanted to be able to write about TTC #2 while some were still TTC #1. It’s definitely changed now that I’m parenting after IF – I have bloggers I read for parenting, but it’s been hard to find people who were doing treatments for #2 as I was. No one was in my exact situation at the same time, but that was okay because I had people who understood what I was going through.
I guess it all boils down to this – we all need to respect everyone else’s feelings and if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. it’s okay to protect your heart, too. Moving past the pain is good and important.