How self-comparison can lead us down the wrong path in life

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by Brianna Albers |

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Every once in a while, I’m seized with unbearable jealousy.

That’s not true. It isn’t jealousy so much as a sense of falling behind. Social media, while great for some things, is horrid when it comes to self-comparison. Every day, we come face to face with the many ways we’ve failed, particularly when we compare ourselves with our peers. While we may have succeeded in one area, what about all of the other things we’ve struggled with since we were young?

Everyone has experienced this kind of self-comparison at one point or another. But from what I’ve seen on social media, it’s especially prevalent in my generation. We were told growing up that we could be anything we wanted to be, could do anything we wanted to do, if we just put our minds to it. The world was our figurative oyster. But that world changed, and with it, the futures that were dangled in front of us like carrots. Many of the things we were promised as children became, in a word, unattainable.

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Our 20s are our worst decade for a reason. The people around us are achieving their dreams and increasingly living glamorous, visible lives, all of which are live-blogged on social media for public consumption.

This output is a byproduct of the digital age. A side effect of the internet, if you will. “It is,” as my mom says, “how it is.” But lately, I’ve been thinking about self-comparison as it manifests in life with SMA.

Me against the world

I never go on Facebook anymore, to protect my sanity more than anything else. But the other day, I found myself scrolling through the profile of someone in the SMA community. I was surprised to learn that she’d achieved a milestone that I consider unattainable. I was, of course, happy for her, even as a small part of my brain threw a massively hysterical fit.

I wasn’t jealous. But I was momentarily taken aback by how different our lives are. While we have the same disease, you wouldn’t know it from the outside looking in. She has things I’ve always wanted, things I was socialized to believe were unattainable for me as a disabled woman. Things I don’t have to this day, and not for lack of trying.

SMA manifests in different ways for different people, and frankly, it’s such a sucky disease that I think comparisons are unfair to all parties involved. But it’s one of those things where two people on seemingly similar paths diverge completely, to the point where you’re left wondering what happened.

I’ve done all the things she has. Maybe not in the same way and to the same extent, but I’ve at least tried. So why does my life look different? Clearly, the only plausible answer is that there’s something wrong with me. I’m simply the wrong kind of disabled.

Right and wrong

My disability affects me too much. I have too many mental health problems, too many hang-ups that affect how I engage with the world. If I just tried harder, I could overcome every limitation. I could become the person I’ve always wanted to be. I could become, for all intents and purposes, “nondisabled.”

Does your brain tell you something similar? That, because you’re not living the SMA life like everyone else, you must be doing it wrong?

In this game my brain plays, no one wins. Not me. Not my peers. Not even the community at large. We all lose, because we’re wasting precious time and energy comparing ourselves to others instead of focusing on what really matters: making the world a better place for people with rare diseases.

I’m so tired of comparison. And not in an “Instagrammable,” motivational, “tag three friends who need to hear this” way.

I’m tired of comparison because it makes me hate myself. It makes me hate the life I’ve painstakingly built over three decades. It makes me discredit the things I’ve accomplished because they’re not the milestones we associate with being an adult in the 21st century. It makes me sad and angry.

I’m tired of being sad and angry.

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Note: SMA 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 SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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