‘It Could Be Worse:’ A Teachable Moment

Teresa Wright-Johnson avatar

by Teresa Wright-Johnson |

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It could be worse. Or could it?

Patiently Awakened
Have you ever had someone tell you “it could be worse?” They are making a valiant effort to comfort and console you. However, there is not much consolation in the words. They almost sound a bit insensitive. I have been told this several times. I think many people have had heard these words. They are not reserved exclusively for those of us with chronic illness, however, as an MS Warrior and a heart survivor, I can  share how I feel when I hear this aphorism.

There have been days that are really difficult. These past two weeks have been. Pain and depression have been trying to defeat me. My friend had told me I was heavily on their mind. I divulged my current state and heard those treacherous words, “it could be worse.” The friend proceeded to tell me how I should be thankful that I don’t look like how I feel. The friend reminded me how I could be totally incapacitated or that I could even be dead. Apparently my friend has not read my column, or any other columns that talk about chronic illness.

Here is the disclaimer. I KNOW that things could be worse. I acknowledge this every day of my life because I am the person going through the difficulties. I feel the pain, I struggle with the depression and I am standing face-to-face with this beast called multiple sclerosis. I acknowledge that my disease can manifest more severely and, by all means, I am thankful for the abilities I currently have.

I asked my friend “How would you know?” I asked how anyone could determine what is worse, better or best for me? How can that assumption be made if my pain and mental anguish are not endured by anyone other than me? A person who is not in a situation cannot determine what may or may not be worse for anyone else. We are as unique as our illnesses and experiences. We each have different coping mechanisms and our reactions vary.

I further explained to my friend that saying that to someone who is suffering, regardless of the ailment or circumstance, can be dismissive. It devalues and detracts from the sufferer’s experience. When I say to myself, or aloud, that things could be worse, I am desperately trying to ward off those spirits that are coming to destroy my peace of mind. I am reminding myself to try to stay in a place of gratitude regardless of what I am facing. I am standing on hope and summoning my spirituality for strength.

Coming from you, the words do not have the same meaning. I know my friend, and therefore know the words were not intended to hurt or pique me. I know it was an act of encouragement. I also recognized this was an opportunity to teach. When I apprised my friend of how I felt, my friend was required to see a different perspective. My friend was able to recollect going through a tough time and someone patronizingly said “it could be worse.” That moment also reminded me there are times when people really don’t know what to say, and in trying to comfort you, they may unknowingly offend you. I am certain there were times when my intentions to help may have caused someone angst.

Multiple sclerosis is teaching me more than I could have imagined. Living with heart disease was, and is ,difficult. However, I had an entire lifetime to adjust and accept that. Multiple sclerosis is a totally different fight. I have just recently joined this army and already I am amidst a raging war. My faith employs me to believe that I will win this war in one way or another. I also know things could be worse, but they are difficult enough at this moment.

Please be reminded that some of us believe things cannot get any worse because we already have lost so much. There also are those of us who are cognizant that our situations can worsen. The gist is we are all fighting as best as we can. You don’t really know what a person is struggling with physically, mentally, spiritually and/or financially. When you are searching for words of comfort for a friend or loved one, “I am here for you” may suffice.

“I cannot carry your burdens, yet I can be with you through it all,
In the essence of friendship, I will answer whenever you call.” Teresa Wright-Johnson

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Tonia Hodgins avatar

Tonia Hodgins

At 43 I am a 21year MS veteran. Needless to say my journey with MS has taken me down many many many roads! At this point I need to travel down these roads in a wheelchair or as my 13year old son was taught when he was a toddler "mommy's Gogo cart! I live 20min outside NYC and my Gogo cart and I hop on the train and go from one side of manhattan to the other ( sometimes faster than a cab would take!)

Raised by 1st generation Catholic Siciliano/Italian family I was use to never complaining because I learned from them "poor me my feet hurt, poor me I have no feet!". I didn't say how depressed I was because that would've been ungrateful for what I do have and would've given myself bad luck!

They are all my true supporters and are amazing. They have changed so much and now realize what having a chronic illness means. So yes I am blessed to have them!

This was my personal lesson I had to learn on my own. Yes! I am blessed. Yes I also have an illness that doesn't allow me to be the teacher, mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend and many other roles in life I worked for and loved then were taken by MS!. It gives me pain, muscle stiffness, depression, instability, bladder issues, fine motor skill weakness and so on. Financially it has drained most of what my husband and I had and the home we had saved and hoped for.

So yes I am blessed. I also feel cursed because I always fall down and work my butt off to get back up only to fall many many many more time! I'm not that old therefore I have a lifetime of this ahead of me. So yes sometimes it's impossible for me to see my blessings!

Like you I am the person who shocks people because "you don't show it at all!" The best is in restaurants! I sit in a regular chair and they hold my Gogo cart until I leave. The people we met&talked with at the next table are always blown away when I transfer to my Gogo cart!

Tim Bossie avatar

Tim Bossie

Strength and courage. The two most important character traits every MS warrior needs to get through the simplest of tasks. You go well and beyond that in order to make life as "normal" as can be. Thank you for sharing your story... we are sure it is going to be an inspiration for our readers.

Teresa Wright-Johnson avatar

Teresa Wright-Johnson

Hi Tonia,
Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration to me and many others. I admire your courage. We are strong and we will endure through adversity and change. Blessings to you and yours.

Terence Hardwick avatar

Terence Hardwick

I am a non-walking PPMS sufferer "It could be worse "have been my personal inspirational words and all I have is the love of my wife and children and pets but hearing the words from you who has and is doing so much good work is very belittling to me well done keep up the fight!

Tim Bossie avatar

Tim Bossie

Sometimes those words are not the ones that we want to hear when we are hurting or in a dark place where our thoughts overrule our will. However, those words are also a path that people try to stay on during this journey of MS. We are so glad to hear that you are one of those who choose to look ahead and be uplifted by these words. Keep up your good fight Terence... we know you are an inspiration to others.

Teresa Wright-Johnson avatar

Teresa Wright-Johnson

Hi Terence,
Thank you so much for the encouraging words and for sharing your story. I admire your courage. Continue to have hope. Love matters and it helps us through. Blessings and strength to you and your family. Your words have inspired me.


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