We all have problems…so obviously mine don’t matter

I came from the doctor’s office yesterday afternoon with devastating news. Basically, my life has to change completely in the next few weeks (actually, the previous few weeks even before I was told the news, but my reaction sort of added some time), or things will just get hugely worse and then that will pretty much be the end of that. From an economic cost-benefit-analysis, the obvious approach is to just do it. But from a lifestyle perspective, that’s never going to happen.

Now, there’s a fraction of a chance that the next test can turn positive, much like the Titanic could have been fortunate enough to just end up in shallow water towards the end there, but let’s just say that historically my luck has never really run that way. If I’ve been unable to influence the final vote, fate has had a really fickle approach of taking me as far down the rabbit hole as theoretically possible.

But this isn’t really about that. I can go through the five stages of grief and acceptance at another time. What I thought I would talk about is how bad people are at responding to such situations.

First, let’s start with the doctor’s assistant who sort of ended up being my first encounter upon knowing the news that my life was probably going to suck a whole lot in the future. Normally, this is a somewhat friendly person, but on this day, every moment of conversation with her was almost like I had done something to upset her day. And this is even before the proclamation was made by the doctor.

You see, I’m very good at reading people. And what I noticed were a whole lot of questions that all seemed to condemn me for something or other: “Do you smoke?” Answer, no, which got rolled eyes as a weird response. Usually, no I don’t smoke and never have results in a positive response. “How much do you drink?” (I don’t, which got a breath of air that exhaled from her before she started typing). She also wouldn’t make eye contact. Once. Instead, after she asked me her slough of questions, she went silent and typed for nearly six minutes with a very loud tack-tack-TACK series of clicks. Not once did she ever even look up at me. And then, without eye contact, she got up and said: “The doctor should be in to see you shortly.”

The doctor was probably the only person who was straight-forward and non-condemning. He did ask me over and over if there was someone who could come in with me and help me through this transition (to which there is no one), so there was that.

Since that moment, I’ve had people who hear about the situation and then start to tell me how it’s not that bad, that other people have had to live through so much worse. This leaves me with this sense that so many people see life as some kind of comparison or competition, so that if someone has a situation that is much worse, your situation must be pretty awesome.

What I have discovered since this whole thing is that the most minute thing that happens can feel so much more overwhelming than it probably should. I came into work this morning and the faculty parking lot was completely full because someone from Security didn’t bother to put down the barrier that you need the card reader to open, so all of the students immediately filled up the faculty parking lot next to my building. This meant having to walk completely across campus just to get to work.

Not a big deal. But when you’re dealing with “stuff”, those sorts of things seem to make a difference. I told someone else about the parking situation, and he just ignored me, going on about how he once had to walk across a parking lot because the Disneyworld parking lot was full. Sometimes, it’s no fun trying to complain if someone is just going to try topping your complaint with one of his own.

I don’t really have an end to this essay because part of me is hoping it doesn’t have an end. But I’m at one of those places where I don’t know I’m going to be able to keep saying that. I just know that it’s pretty unclear and unresolved.

Author of Innocent Until Proven Guilty and 15 other novels. Writer, college professor and computer game designer.

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