Coping With MS: Is ‘It Could Be Worse’ Good Enough?
Note: There is no judgment intended in this post. If “it could be worse” works for you for now, good on you! I do, however, believe that it’s time to address this method of coping. TLG
Whenever I pose a multiple sclerosis question — be it about symptoms, dealing with a bad day, or any number of probes I’ve sent out over the years — I can always count on at least one reply of, “It could be worse.” I have to wonder if that appropriately honors ourselves and others.
“It could be worse” seems like a pretty logical place to begin coping with a less than optimal situation (how’s that for making MS sound like it could be worse?). In fact, when I was in a clinical research study on pain and the mind’s reaction, it was the first thought we were given to stop a negative slide.
When the PhD leading the study told our group (which consisted of a wheelchair-bound man who had broken his neck when he fell from a roof, a below-the-knee amputee/cancer survivor, a Vietnam War vet who lost his entire leg to a landmine, and myself) to use that very thought — “it could be worse” — it was very effective at stopping the negativity from gaining the upper hand.
Always known for my “dark-ish” sense of humor, I said to the doc, “Yeah, a couple of one-legged men, a guy who broke his neck, and someone with MS. . . we’ve kinda got that one figured out. We know it could be worse. Could you give us the next step?”
“It could be worse” is usually followed by (either in thought or word), “I could have _______.” I have to say, as a person who has overheard “It could be worse. I could have multiple sclerosis or something,” that the people living with the diseases we put in that blank space would likely not want to hear you saying you’re glad you have MS rather than their condition.
If we’re to be honest with ourselves, the full thought could be, “It could be worse. It has been worse… and it’s been better. It will likely be worse, and I hope it will be better.”
Maybe it’s just me — and I’m still working though it all — but, for me at least, “it could be worse” seems like a grammar school answer to a graduate school question.
It could be used as a quick conversational diversion to move away from the subject if we are uncomfortable talking about MS. I get that. I’m all about pat answers to get me out of speaking to a topic I’d rather avoid. But is avoiding the topic really getting us anywhere?
I guess I’m also struck by the number of people who think “it could be worse” is a way of thinking positively. If your kid gets a less than satisfactory grade, do we say, “It could be worse, you could have failed.”? NO. We encourage them to do better. To see the positive in a bad grade is to point out the opportunity for progress.
I don’t see the positive in pointing out that we’re only halfway down the well . . .
There’s an old story which I love to use to highlight several points (and several toasts for that matter):
A man falls down a deep hole and cannot get out. His doctor walks by and the man yells up, “HEY, DOC! It’s me. I’m down here in this hole.” The doctor writes out a prescription, tosses it down and walks away.
Then, a priest walks by and our man yells up, “HEY, FATHER! It’s me. I’m down here in this hole.” The priest writes a prayer, drops it in the hole and walks away.
An old teacher of the man’s walks by, so the man yells up, “HEY, PROFESSOR! It’s me. I’m down here in this hole.” The professor jots down a reading assignment and sends it down.
Then, the man’s friend walks by. “HEY, PAL! It’s me. I’m down here in this hole.” The man’s friend jumps down in the hole with him. “WHAT are you doing? Now we’re both down here. . .”
“Yeah,” says the friend, “but I’ve been down here before. I know the way out.”
We have all been down this hole before; some of us are down there now. Let’s not toss a note that says, “It could be worse.” How can we help one another find a different way to cope?
Wishing you and your family the best of health.