An interesting blog title caught my eye the other day. Comparison is the Thief of Joy by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
How often do we compare ourselves to others? As a young mother, a teacher, family member, a writer? I’m sure we’ve all had occasion to compare ourselves to someone else. A fellow teacher’s class is better behaved than mine; a friend’s kids are smarter than mine; my brother makes more money; an author friend sells more books. I could go on, but you get the picture.
What does this comparing do to us?
Make us jealous? Resentful? It steals the joy from what we are, what we have.
Shortly after I started writing as a career, I attended an all-day conference with Emma Merrit. What a great writer. She told a story of perseverance. How, when her husband was dying, she sat in his hospital room and wrote her story that was on deadline. Even though I hadn’t published and knew nothing about publisher deadlines, I thought “Wow!” That’s dedication.
As I’ve written before, my husband has had a lot of health issues that started during (but not related to) covid. So, as I became his full-time caregiver and did all the household chores he used to take care of as well as my own, my writing tapered off. Not an abrupt halt, just a petering out of creativity and energy. It was too much to open the file on my latest WIP. As he grew worse, and I spent hours in the hospital with him, I felt numb. I could manage the household, the bills, the visits during which he slept, but I couldn’t open a file.
And I thought about Emma Merritt. She wrote while her husband was dying, and I couldn’t even open a darn file?
I didn’t think about what I was accomplishing. Since we both retired, we’ve always shared household chores. I left the physically hard work to him, while I made sure we had clean clothes and meals. I cooked, he cleaned up, and vice versa. Even through lower back pain that makes walking difficult, I went to the hospital every day, sometimes twice, and walked down long corridors to his room. We didn’t talk much. He’d ask about the kids then doze off, and when he awoke, asked the same questions.
On top of all that, covid kept us locked down. For the first half of this year when he was in rehab (2-3 weeks at a time), I wasn't allowed to visit. When he was home, we didn’t go anywhere. Our daughter and daughter-in-law worried so much about us, they kept the grandchildren away so we wouldn’t catch the disease. Isolation changed how we interacted with family and friends. Hubs was told to combat what we thought was the beginning of dementia, he needed to be physically, mentally, and socially more active. Socially? Yeah, right. I’m sure many of you can identify.
And, like most writers (there I go comparing myself), my book sales tanked. Without a new book, readers forgot about me. Without a new book, what was the sense of promoting? And I still couldn’t even open the file and finish a story.
When stress reared its ugly head, I made a decision. I could let covid isolation and Hubs’ illnesses eat me up inside or accept what was my new norm. No more comparing myself to Ms. Merritt. Or anybody. I would do what I could do. And enjoy my new life.
I discovered binge-watching Netflix and Prime. I read and read and read. I played computer games. All passive activities. I didn’t have to think or open any darn files.
Accepting the reality of life freed me to enjoy what I could. This summer, as Hubs recovered and became the man he used to be, I knew I’d made the right decision. I hadn’t allowed comparisons to steal the joy of my life.
As we return to a more “normal” life, I’m slowly getting back to routines and writing. Resentment that I wasn’t as strong, as creative, as energetic as others would have stolen the joy of the last two years. I’m my own person. I do what I can do and enjoy it.