Support groups on social media can be an important source of comfort when you are living with a chronic health condition that affects your life in ways that normally healthy people might not be able to understand. When you are able to find a community of people who share your frustrations and offer helpful advice they learned from their own experiences, life with chronic illness feels less isolating, and good mental health is essential for overall health.
I am in a number of amazing support groups on social media, and the ones I have chosen to remain in have been invaluable to me. Unfortunately, though, they are not always sources of positivity. I have noticed that in many support groups, it isn’t uncommon to create a post expressing your hardships only to have someone comment with “Well, at least you don’t have _______.”or even worse, comparing your illness to their own in a way that makes yours sound less valid. I have seen it so many times, and it needs to stop.
“Chronic illness” is a label that covers a litany of different diagnoses, some physical, some chemical. Mental illness can be chronic and debilitating, but it is often stigmatized worse than physical disabilities and seen as less serious as some more physical disorders. Some people even ignorantly dismiss conditions like depression, anxiety, OCD, and others as minor issues that can simply be willed away. Thanks to modern medicine, we now know that that is not the case at all. Still, there is an odd reluctance for some people to accept this fact.
This is why generic “chronic illness” groups don’t always work. I have seen instances where someone writes a post venting about their experiences with depression only to be shot down by someone else commenting on their post expressing how much harder they have it with their condition. While there is no doubt that losing your mobility or becoming deathly ill is more extreme or intense than someone who struggles with depression on a daily basis, that does not make the hardships experienced from mental illness any less valid. I have even seen people with a life-threatening diagnosis receive comments such as “at least you can still walk”, etc. Careless comments like these can be devastating, causing shame and guilt in the person who originally posted it, and can make a person feel unwelcome in a group they joined in order to feel less ostracized by society. If comparing your condition to someone else’s is your way of coping, please take a moment to consider how much emotional harm you are bringing to others when you do that. There are more healthy, less divisive and destructive ways of coping. The point of this article is to remind people that their comments do have an impact on people. Everyone should be more mindful.
I remember that I once made a post talking about all the different medications that I have to take to treat my pituitary disorder. It was not to brag or complain about my condition, but to share what my long-term care is like. Someone commented telling me about how they have to take so many more pills than I do. That in and of itself is not problematic, it was the way in which this person continued to push how their struggle is more difficult than my own as we continued on in the conversation. It’s one thing to share your own experiences with long-term care, but it is another thing entirely to keep pressing on and on about how much harder you have it. I enjoy sharing stories with people about our experiences, but some people seem to want to make it a competition, as if admitting that someone else also struggles somehow invalidates the severity of their own experiences.
When someone is expressing their hardships, it is not helpful to reply in a way that invalidates the challenges they face, even if the intent is to make them grateful for not having something more serious. That kind of comment, while well-intentioned, more often than not makes people feel ashamed for expressing their frustrations rather than providing comfort.
In short, before you comment, ask yourself this: With this comment, is my intention to prove that my hardships are more difficult than their own? Is the point of my comment to compare their condition to another in a way that could make them feel ashamed for venting about their experience? Could my comment be seen as dismissive of their struggle in any way? If so, maybe you should consider leaving a comment that is empowering and supportive instead, or move on without commenting at all. You don’t have to talk about yourself to sympathize with someone. Sometimes, a simple “I understand what that’s like. Hang in there!”, or “That sucks.” Can be more effective than you think.
Next time you see someone venting about their frustrations, listen compassionately, and comment with something supportive. Their post is about them, do not make it about you unless they are expressly asking you to do so. If you need to express frustrations about what you go through, make your own post talking about it, and hopefully people will return the same courtesy to you.