The Pain Olympics

Today I wanted to write about something many call the Pain Olympics.  If you’ve never heard this term before, let me lay it out there – it’s the idea of ‘one-upping’ each other in something we really shouldn’t be: in who has it worst.

It’s hard not to compare yourself with others. It’s the way that we relate to people – we reach out by talking about shared experiences, we commiserate on life’s difficulties, and it takes away that feeling of isolation when you hear someone say, ‘Me too’.  Someone is telling you their struggles and there’s a part of your brain that thinks, ‘Oh yes, I know this feeling well’ or ‘my sister/husband/mother had the same situation’, and you can offer insight and comfort when needed.

But unfortunately it’s become a habit of many, however well-intentioned, to compare in a negative way. To downplay your pain because hey, someone else has it worse.




You see, infertility sucks.  If you’re reading this, it’s likely we’re in a similar boat. The myriad of negative feelings going around in your brain and manifested in your body can drive a person crazy.  The stress that comes with the procedures and tests gets added to the panic and fear of failure. The medicine may fail you. Your body may fail you. Science may fail you. You may not get your happy ending. And then what?  Where do we go from there. We’d have spent time, energy, health and often thousands from our bank accounts, and we would have no more steps to take.  There isn’t ever the ‘we got drunk and oops’ possibility.  It’s like spending your life preparing to climb Everest and then getting stopped at base camp and your guide saying, ‘No. You will never go further than this.’

And unfortunately, even starting this process, I feel like we need to be prepared for that.  We need to have other options in mind, and to know what our limitations are.  Some don’t even get treatment, either because they’re scared of the invasiveness of it all, or they can’t afford to.  Adoption is expensive and difficult. You have to consider that it’ll just never happen.

It’s devastating.  It rips everything out of you.  You can’t imagine life without children, but now you have to.

But it’s not cancer.  I know.

You’re not dying like my mother. I know.

My sister just lost a leg. That’s terrible.

My best friend is on long-term sickness benefits so she’ll never even meet anyone. I’m sorry.

My uncle was homeless. That’s awful. I hope he’s okay.

My sister was abused by her husband for years, we just got her out. Oh gosh, I’ll be thinking of you.

Can we just all agree that this is all awful? That there’s no scale of what trumps what?




My heart hurts for the world. All the time.  But by comparing, by one’upping, what are we gaining? What are you trying to say?  That because children are being bombed in Syria, my personal pain doesn’t matter? Because because because?

Let’s stop.

Let’s listen.

Let’s support each other.

Let’s share common ground.

Let’s not compare.

Because yes, it can make you feel grateful and lucky for what you have. But everyone’s personal hell is just that – their personal hell.  Missing out on a promotion 2 or 3 times in a row when all you want to do is achieve that role? Awful and destroying.  Being dumped by a partner before your wedding? Unimaginable.  Going bankrupt and starting again?  So hard.

But it doesn’t take away anyone else’s problems.  The pain I feel being isolated as a childless woman in a world filled by the beautiful children of my friends and family – it hurts. It’s a real feeling. It’s important to acknowledge it.  And yes, I’m not dying. But emotionally, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through.

We can’t put ourselves in the shoes or lives of others. But we can listen to what they say. Everyone is struggling with something, everyone has their breaking point.  I’m sending hugs to you and hope that whatever hurts will be fixed soon.

This too shall pass.

4 thoughts on “The Pain Olympics

  1. This is so well written. I try to always remember that many people have it worse than me, and even people who never say anything are more than likely struggling with their own issues. It is hard sometimes when people are moaning about morning sickness or their kid keeping them awake literally all night not to say “Well, at least you have a kid!!”, but I try to bite my tongue and remember that other people’s struggles may be different, but they’re no less real!


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