I've spent a lot of time cataloging suffering. Even before I was sick, I tried to sort out which was worse -- depression or estrangement, being left or being widowed, extreme poverty or extreme narcissism. Then when I got sick, and moreso when I got better, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to turn me into a heroine. I was "so brave" and "an inspiration." But I never felt that light was meant for me. I wanted to point out that other people are surviving much worse and not getting nearly as much support as my family and I were.
I've often wished that there was some outward sign (like crutches or casts or baldness) for people who were suffering (a bad marriage, a lost child, chronic pain) so that we'd all know to make way for them, to let them cut in line or give them half our sandwich or drop off a pot of daises. It weighs on me, how support seems to go more to some than to others. We are only as good as we are empathetic and it's hard to know where to give yourself without some kind of signal.
What do you think makes someone a survivor? Do you think it's easier to help someone who is clearly sick, rather than someone whose suffering is more difficult to see and comprehend?
Editor's Note: For more on Kelly, please see her memoir, The Middle Place.
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