After I sent out the news that I face a strong likelihood of needing corrective surgery on my pelvic pouch, one of my relatives reminded me that in spite of the gravity of my situation, it could be worse. His exact words were, “The phrase ‘could be worse’ provides little comfort, I know, but I throw it out there for, if nothing else, completeness.”
It’s a phrase that I’ve reflected on many times over the last six or so years as I’ve dealt with ulcerative colitis and now the complications of bowel surgery. In fact even before I began shitting bloody diarrhea, I reflected on the phrase during some less-than-happy times when I was living in Halifax. There were times when I missed my friends, times when I was unsatisfied with my job, and even times when I missed my hometown, Toronto, a city I wouldn’t mind escaping from now, even just for a little while. During those dour moments, I used to ruminate about all the people around the world living horrid lives. People forced into refugee camps because of civil war. People starving to death because of droughts. People living in fear of being slaughtered at the hands of drug cartels. The list of horrors goes on. Compared to those unfortunate human beings, I was pretty well off. I suppose that compared to a Syrian refugee or a malnourished Kenyan or a Mexican police officer, I still am. Also, how sad is it that the problems I pondered six years ago still exist?
As I type this post on my MacBook Pro, I’m sitting at my desk in my room within my dad’s house. A house that’s an… ahem… fixer-upper in a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful neighbourhood in suburban Toronto. I have a closet full of clothes and football shirts. I have shelves filled with books. I have three framed pieces of paper on my wall from three exceptional post-secondary institutions. There’s food in the kitchen and cable TV in the living room. There’s a lush, green backyard behind me. Somehow, I even have a girlfriend. Things could be worse, yes, but that remains a minor comfort when things could be, and have been, better. When the memories of living independently and working and running and eating freely are still very fresh.
What’s more, reminding yourself that other people have it worse opens the door to the realization that there are also people also have it way better. There are the obvious pro athletes and celebrities and models, who of course never date anyone but other pro athletes and celebrities and models, leaving you to merely fantasize over your desktop wallpaper of Candice Swanepoel. But then there are the more “ordinary” folks who despite not having rockstar profiles, are in good health, dress well, work important jobs, live in nice clean homes, and drive Acura TLs. I probably spend too much time comparing myself to others, especially those who can afford ponies.
What I really want out in life right now is to feel healthy, to work full-time, to live in an apartment with absolutely no roommates, and maybe own a car. Hell, that last thing isn’t essential; I could get by with public transit. Those aren’t overly ambitious desires for a 28-year-old, are they? In fact they’re quite basic things to folks like me who are lucky enough to live in a developed nation. Yet my surgery and subsequent recovery have left me in a position of dependence, and my modest dreams remain unfulfilled. That’s why it’s hard to just say, “Well, it could be worse,” and feel okay.
I do feel some sense of good fortune in that I don’t have it worse. I’m not fighting some other, more aggressive, more paralyzing, more life-threatening condition. But I’ve still had the misfortune of having to deal with a quality-of-life-threatening condition, and really, what good is life without quality?
Image via New York Natives