One of the hardest things to overcome is the fact that our experiences are immensely personal. This makes it hard for us to walk in someone else’s shoes, at least without conscious effort. It’s even more difficult to reach understanding on some topics than others.
Menstruation is a minefield, in part because it’s something all biologically female persons do. (Apologies if I phrased that wrong; cisgender female here.) I noticed early on in my menstruating days that women were far less sympathetic towards my complaints than men. If I told a female teacher I was cramping, she’d roll her eyes and tell me to go sit back down. (The exception: Mrs. Nute, my accounting teacher, kept a stockpile of menstruation supplies in her classroom, and let me sit in the restroom for the entire class if that’s what I needed to do. Thank you for that. You restored my faith in women.) If I told a male teacher I was cramping, he’d let me go to the nurse to lie down. It wasn’t until I was much, much older that I figured out the distinction: most women don’t cramp the way I do.
I’ve read that endometriosis pains can be more severe than heart attack pains. Having never had a heart attack, I can’t vouch for that. I can say they’re more severe than any labor pains I’ve experienced (though I had an epidural a few hours in to my induction, so my labor didn’t really get very far). My cramps, at their worst, are so bad that I’ve wondered how a person could hurt that bad and not die. They are by far the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve had two major abdominal surgeries.
The other day, I chimed in on a discussion in a menstruation-related group on Facebook. This woman was looking for suggestions for pain relief, as she was having severe cramps and had a class to attend that night. She had already tried heat and stretching, so I suggested my standby nonprescription remedies: Aleve (though I did not mention that I take the prescription dosage, because I’d rather not cause a stranger on the internet to OD) and knee butterflies (opening and closing your knees like a butterfly’s wings while sitting — these have gotten me through many a class and commute). She clarified that the class was a martial arts class, so the butterflies would be impossible. Someone else remarked that taking pain relievers only invited ulcers, and the original poster replied that she refused to take them because she felt cramps were a natural pain to be dealt with by natural methods.
They probably didn’t intend it to come across this way, but that felt like a slap in the face.
I replied that I was glad they had that option, but that some of us have no choice but to risk ulcers.
It was then I realized why all those teachers rolled their eyes at me. At 15, I was experiencing pain like they’d never felt. At 15. The pain, of course, only got worse as I got older.
I get it. I am not immune to the judgy. I am particularly disdainful of my fellow drivers when I get behind the wheel. Listening to my daughter snark at the car ahead of me for having the audacity to stop at a yellow light, I realize what an unmitigated bitch I can be at times. I have been practicing reframing my thoughts: When a driver zooms past and cuts me off while talking on his cell phone, I have been trying to think not “asshole” but “He is probably a daddy, on the phone with his sick baby, and she’s crying for him to come home.” But breaking decades-old habits is hard, and I am far from perfect.
Facebook highlights the judgy in us all. Conversations that used to take place in private settings with like-minded individuals are now broadcast to a town square of people who often have nothing more in common than a person they knew years ago, and everybody feels entitled to add their two cents. Should someone point out that some of the things being said could be construed as hurtful, they are immediately accused of being special snowflakes and derided for having hurt feewings. And the judgement spiral begins.
I blame social media for the great divide in this country. And I’m only half kidding when I say that. We all got along a lot better when we didn’t know how our neighbors felt about stuff.
Joe Hedges, an artistic crush of mine since the late 90s, said that he is in an abusive relationship with Facebook. I laughed out loud when I read that, but it was an uneasy laugh because that’s the most fitting metaphor I’ve encountered yet. Seeing such vitriol spewed by people I consider friends, or at least acquaintances, makes me want to retreat entirely from the world.
So I filter out everyone who doesn’t think just like me, and then I feel like part of the problem.
It would be very easy for me to just flip the proverbial table and give up on people as a whole; I was misanthropic long before FB came along. But this year I am trying to do things differently. So I am instead working on reframing my thoughts and actions.
Embrace hope. Radiate love.
When they go low, we go high.