“Comparison is the thief of joy” – this is the very commonly used phrase in plaques and posters that litter Inspirational Internet. I also get it a lot, because when I talk about comparing myself to others, it’s the first bullet in the chamber that people shoot my way. It’s a wonderful visual, that thief of joy. One can imagine a stout anthropomorphic blob with red eyes darting back and forth underneath a cowl, floating in the room and using a set of clasps attached to a selfie stick, slipping joy out of a wallet, stuck to the coffee points reward card.
At least, that’s how I picture it.
Anyone who knows me, even in the slightest, will know about my struggle with comparing myself to others. Move over sugar and other unhealthy habits or behaviours, because comparing myself to others (CMTO) is the drug and I need to score (apologies to Roxy Music). There is no gateway drug to CMTO – it just hits whenever and wherever. Mainlined into my spirit with a rush that stops my heart for a moment and then coarses through the rest of me. It’s a masochistic act, this CMTO, akin to plucking my own eyes out because I don’t like the colour of the walls in my house. Instead of just changing the damn paint, I’d rather torture myself. In the same regard, instead of simply changing my perspective on things, I am drawn towards self-abasement and feeling less than.
One area that I have been struggling with has been in the running community through social media. I love running, but I am often injured. Either I have just stopped running, recovering from injury, or just re-starting my running. The most I have been healthy in the last two years is about 8 weeks. In that same time period, I have had issues with my Achilles tendon, left foot, IT band, knees and back. Lately, I have been off with sciatica (a pain which I wouldn’t wish on anyone) and it’s been about six weeks since I last laced up. It’s been very difficult not only dealing with the pain, and the seemingly endless medication taking and medical appointments keeping, but also watching everyone else running.
I see runners who used to run at my level (slow) who are now flying all over the place, running longer and faster and really doing well. Some are getting into the Boston marathon (a prestigious race that you are invited to if you break certain qualifying times), or running ultra marathons (usually 50km or longer races) or generally kicking ass. And I’m…just sitting on my ass. Recovering, once again. It’s been hard to watch and cheerlead others at times. In fact, I had to mute words like “running”, “race”, “marathon” and other common words so they don’t make it on my social media time line. It seems petty, I know, but for now it’s the only way I can buffer myself from the running scene, to give myself some space.
My good friend Jenn ran the Chicago marathon this past weekend, her first marathon ever, and as I told her after the race, if I weren’t so damn happy for her, I would have been so very jealous. It was in rooting for her that I was able to switch things around in me a bit (a bit – let’s not get carried away!) While it was hard at times to cheer for her without comparing myself to her and making it about me, I knew I had to keep at it and keep the focus on her. Not only because I would have looked like a selfish jerk, but it also kept me in check. I had to realize that her being a part of this amazing event didn’t take anything away from where I am in my own journey. It didn’t mean I was less than her or anyone else.
That’s an italicized truth which still has a hard time getting from my head to my heart. Ironically, it’s the running community which is most supportive, as they understand what it’s like to be injured and watching from the sidelines, and I have cut them off (see: nose, spite, face.) I will probably un-mute those words soon, as I start to come out from underneath the covers of resentment and jealousy. It’s my problem and my problem alone. The good news is that I get to change how I look at things at any time I want. It’s my decision to sit in the muck and mire of my making.
As a wise person I know told me recently, I am not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my second. And third. She also suggested that I be grateful for the things that can do. These are the kinds of tools which are the antidote to the poison I put into my own head when I think less of myself, when I think that others are better than I am, when I feel that others are having it better than I am. Having these tainted thoughts is all warped perceptions of mine – I don’t know what battles others are having. I am not privy to what it took for people to get where they are, or what is going on in their lives.
So when I start to feel like I am not smart enough, good enough, talented enough and all that nonsense, I have to follow that up with the thought that I am exactly where I need to be, that the only one I need to measure up against is myself, that I am worthy of claiming space in this world, and that I have plenty to offer. Out there, someone is praying to have the kind of life I have, the one which I sometimes play victim to. I have to keep the perspective that I have plenty to offer, and that I am here to contribute to my small part of the world. I may not be world famous or rich in the monetary sense, but I have wealth that can’t be measured by stick, scale or “likes”.
Knowing all this, mentally, often doesn’t help me when I am windswept by my not-so-wise emotional side. So this is the work – to make it more of an in-the-moment practice rather than an after-the-storm mental exercise. The more I return to the center of right-sized thinking, the more I am able to weather the twister within. This will be a life-long endeavor, and that’s okay. I don’t have to perfect this overnight. The real test is how do I react when I feel this cold front coming on, when the precipitation is misting up my perception, when I am feeling the less than feeling creep in? Who do I give the energy to – the old behaviour and disturbed way of thinking, or the more balanced and reality-based way of seeing things?
Even as I write this, I feel much different than when I started this post two days ago. I almost didn’t want to post it, because those feelings have passed, and I almost feel silly talking about it, but I have because I need to let others see that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns in this new “recovereding” life we live. This is something that crops up for me often, and I need to continue to address it and get to the root of it. That is the whole peeling of the onion we hear about in recovery and spiritual circles. It’s the unveiling and unraveling of the core stuff which gets me mucked up from time to time.
Staying right-sized and keeping a healthy perspective on myself in the world is a lifelong journey. I have long stretches of it, and then I dip into these crevices of self-pity, shame, CMTO or whatever it is that wants to pull me down. But the work is in getting back out of them, taking the lesson, and marching forward. I am grateful for my recovery and for those who help me along the path and who can help me straighten out. They aren’t racing ahead, but walking path with me. We all walk together.
There is no competition in this