spoonie envy, or why my disease is worse than yours

I overheard something that makes me me angry, frustrated and really sad all at once. A woman was talking about her rheumatoid arthritis, something a (younger) family member has as well. But then she said, offhandedly, “Oh, her RA is nowhere near as bad as mine.”

I have several problems with that statement.

First, how can any of us really know the pain someone else endures? Most of the time, I look—and act—100 percent pain-free; many would not guess that I have psoriatic arthritis, that I’m multiple drugs just to keep me functional though hardly without pain. Since none of us can actually slip into another person’s skin, not a one of us can say with any certainty, “My pain is worse than yours.” Period.

Then, of course, is the fact that it’s not as though it’s a competition, as if there’s only a finite amount of pain in the world that must be gobbled up in order to garner the sympathy of others. The fact that someone else is hurting doesn’t actually have any impact on the amount of pain I’m in—which is why I’ve never understood when people say, “Oh, you shouldn’t complain. [X person] has it sooo much worse than you.” I always want to bop people who say that on the head; my aches and inflammation aren’t conditional upon those of someone else. My pain doesn’t diminish because someone hurts more.

But perhaps more import than both of those points is this: We could all do so much good if we weren’t so concerned with who gets to wear the pain tiara or with maintaining the division of diagnoses that run between us. Separately, those of us with various kinds of autoimmune arthritis—or even just autoimmune diseases—don’t have the numbers to have as much clout as, say, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. But together, we number in the millions; the many can do more than the few. Why not pool our resources so we can really get some stuff done? Imagine if as many people who donate for breast cancer research or to the American Heart Foundation knew—and, more importantly, cared—about autoimmune disease. That would be huge. But we’re certainly never going to get there—or it will be a long time coming—if we can’t all work together.

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