Posted by: Teri Simon | 2012/09/02

The Hidden Effects of a Competitive Society

competitionHello, my friends.  I blog this evening after a day of just not feeling very well.  I don’t know if it’s because of the cancer (liver metastases have made my tummy a bit bloated, and I still have to have my catheter drained a few times a week, and all that jazz), the chemotherapy I’m on (Vanilla Bean, and I started back on Tarceva as well on Friday), the fact that I’m finally weaning off of the steroid I’ve been on for a few months now and no longer need, the antibiotic I’m on (got some weird infection on the outside of my left ear), or the weather, which has been off and on rain all day, complete with more power outages and frustrations here at home, or all of the above.  I’ve been achy especially in my legs, and every little thing (like going to the bathroom) has worn me out and required a rest period, which, believe me, I’ve taken.  Heck, I’ve spent the whole day in bed! Joey has run my errands for me and taken good care of his mommy.  I am grateful.  And hopeful that tomorrow will be better.  And since I’m starting with a health update of sorts, let me tell you, too, that I have started investigating a complementary treatment for my liver metastases.  I met with an Interventional Radiologist last week, and am now doing lots of research on treatments called chemoembolization and radioembolization.  For a few minutes, I have been handed a little bit of choice, a little bit of control, a little bit of option in what has been a journey full of limits and lack thereof.  Even if this doesn’t pan out, to have that moment of option has been a real shot in the arm for me, and helped boost my morale back into a better zone since the disappointment of the Taxotere not working.  And if there’s one thing I know, my morale is a key player in this whole Lung Junk Journey.  Up is waaaaay better than down!  I’ll keep y’all posted about these treatments, and if/when I might participate– or not.
So on to the blog:  The hidden effects of a competitive society.
It’s no secret that we live in one of those, a competitive society.  It’s how capitalism does what it does and America (allegedly) thrives.  From birth, we are in the “be the best” “have the best” hopper.  We all want “what is best” for ourselves and our kids.  We all want to “do our best.” We shop for the best food stuffs, the best clothes we can afford (and stick with me here:  even if you do your shopping at Goodwill or yard sales or second hand stores, you’re not looking for the worst, but looking for the best of what is available, so I’m not talking about being snooty at Nordstrom or something), the best that whatever our money is, we can afford, of anything. My high school French teacher told us about how his mother would send him down to the fruit cellar every evening to pick out “the best potatoes in the bin,” so that every night, regardless of the condition of the potatoes, they had in their minds they were eating whatever was “the best.” We crave the best or being the best as more than just a societal symptom, I think, but maybe from a very human root, like survival.  We know if we have what is best for us, we will survive, and maybe if we do it just a little bit better than the people around us, well, how much better and more comfortable would that be?

Frankly, competition makes me a little bit crazy.  I mean, I watched the Olympics like y’all did, and was amazed at how FAST those swimmers and runners and boat racers were, and how those gymnasts could fly and contort their bodies, (and how quickly some of those competitors burst into tears!), and wondered at the rules for beach volleyball, and all, but I also wondered why, oh why, do we DO that?  WHY do people train and train and train and put their bodies and health at risk for a chance to compete to see if they can be THE BEST IN THE WORLD?  For what?  For short-lived glory, maybe a little money and celebrity, and then for someone to try at a later time to do better than they did?  How is this a good thing?  Because from where I sit, if you’ve done all that training and you DON’T get the gold, you’re defeated, you’re down, you’re forgotten, you’re toast.  And that’s not good at all.  Not at all.  Hard to get up from those kinds of beat-downs.  Believe me, I know.  As a cancer patient, I know all about the NOT getting the gold.  A lot.

The competition factor is so ingrained in our society that I’d bet most of us aren’t even aware of how many times a day we do something or say something that proves we want to be or do or have the best.  It’s like a phantom personality trait in all of us, and we just go along with it as it works its stealth magic damage on us.  ‘Cause here’s the hidden effect on us all:  that trait makes us negate ourselves, especially when we have pain or troubles. It makes us good at minimizing our discomforts and problems, and that’s not good. Not good at all.

If I had a nickle for every person who has asked me if I was a smoker since I was diagnosed with lung cancer in December of 2009, I’m pretty sure my insurance company would be asking me to please pay for my chemotherapy out of my pocket.  Likewise, if I had a nickle for every time someone has said to me while describing their problematic situation, “But it’s nothing compared to what YOU’RE going through, Teri,” I would likewise be asked to pay for chemotherapy.  And maybe radiation, too.  Like there’s some sort of measurement or scale of “gosh this sucks so much” that we must all hold ourselves to, and only the ones with the REEEEEEALLLLY  bad situations get to talk about what’s hurting them or causing them grief.  The hidden effect of a competitive society is that even our PAIN gets held to a standard, and not a very good one at that.

I have to be honest with y’all and tell you how that kind of statement really makes me feel:  not good.  In fact, really lousy.  In some ways, it’s like a punctuation point:  “My situation is nothing compared to yours. Teri, you have really serious cancer!!!!!!!!”  As if I didn’t know that.  As if I needed a reminder that the sands in the hour glass of my life run maybe at a faster pace.  In some ways, that kind of statement hands me too much responsibility, as if the speaker admires me so much in the ways I’ve managed through my Lung Junk Journey, and then I feel responsible to not let anyone down and then I end up minimizing sometimes and not letting people know the extent of my own discomfort or pain.  Because I somehow “owe” people a cheery disposition and positive attitude, and truth be told, I don’t always have one.  Some days just are hard and really suck. And sometimes I hear that statement, that “it’s nothing compared to what YOU’RE dealing with,” and I want to reach out to the speaker and hug them and say, “I’m so sorry I’ve somehow made you feel like your problems aren’t real,” like I want to take responsibility for the person negating himself/herself.  And frankly, I just don’t have the energy to take that kind of responsibility for something I’m really not responsible for, if you know what I mean.

But the worst thing about a statement like that is that it negates the speaker and makes him or her qualify or disqualify their pain as something worth noting, something needing attention, or something to be contended with.  And that’s just wrong.  Yes, in social work school I learned about people who “need their pain” just to garner whatever attention they can.  Met a few of ’em like that in not only my social work life, but in my real life, too. I’m sure you know a few as well.   And that can be confusing and frustrating to deal with.  But ALL of us have some kind of pain or problem or challenge to face in this lifetime.  NOBODY gets a free pass, and no matter how much of all the “best” stuff you’ve been able to acquire, you’re gonna have something you have to deal with, go through, or contend with that will hurt you and make you suffer.  And if you hold your pain to scale in that competitive way, you’re likely going to sit in that pain for a lot longer than if you don’t.

For some people, what slows them down is a chronic physical condition, like chronic migraine.  Debilitating.  Maddening.  Frustrating.  DO NOT compare something like that to my lung cancer.  Your pain is big and real and frustrating, and so is my situation. It is not for comparison or competition.  For some people, what kicks their butts are financial worries.  No, it’s not worrying about whether or not your body will let you get out of bed in the morning, but then again, maybe it is. The concern may paralyze you!   If your pain is about being able to provide for your family basic necessities, then how is that even remotely lesser than my lung cancer?  It’s not!   Maybe there’s family drama being played out and people aren’t getting along and your feelings are hurt, hurt, hurt.  How is that kind of pain remotely lesser than the emotional hurt from  my achy legs that won’t let me do much more than go to the bathroom today?  Hurt is hurt.  Pain is pain.  It all sucks.  It sucks worse if we compete about it.  So how ’bout let’s don’t?

Now, please know that my intention in writing this blog is to bring awareness and share my opinions, and if you’re sitting there reading this wondering, “Did I say that to Teri and upset her?” just stop that right now!  I mean it! Right now, I say!  I want for people to wonder if negating themselves and minimizing their pain is something they do on a regular basis, and I want for all of you to become aware of it if you do that, and try to not do it anymore.  If you have health issues, problems in your family, your job, your finances, your social life, or any kind of pain at all, for heaven’s sake, don’t waste a lot of time qualifying it or minimizing it.  Seek people and places where you can get comfort, help, support, love, your needs met.  We ALL have our pain.  Thus we ALL deserve, dare I say it?, the BEST we can get for support to find our way through.  And that support even could come from a Flying Elephant in the Land of Lung Junk.

I really do want good things for all of us, and I send you a lot of love for the week ahead,

Teri, The Non-Competitive Flying Elephant




  1. well said dear Friend.

  2. Teri – What an amazingly insightful and compassionate posting.

  3. Great wisdom, Teri. Accepting ourselves and others with a humility that helps us be kind to ourselves and others. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Dear Teri,
    i hate to admit it, The truth for most of us, and at least for me, is that no matter what I say, deep in my heart my painful hang nail will always be more important to me than your cancer. I wish it wasn’t so, I try real hard not to perceive myself as the center of the unverse and I still am the the center of my universe. I am guilty of, hopefully not to your face & I apoliigize if I have, comparing my hardships to yours not as a way to minimize my problems but rather to put them into some perspective. Not to minimize but rather as reminder not to wallow, as a means to get myself off my butt & do something. And while I can see how unfair any comparisons my be to you, I can assure you that, at least for my part, you are giving me way too much credit.
    Hope you have a wonderful week, I am planning on having one too.

  5. very cool commentary, kim. thanks!

  6. It’s true that Americans are especially prone to turning almost anything into a competition. We buy self-help books and hire trainers and go to Zig Ziglar-ish presentations so we can call ourselves “winners.” Which means, of course, that someone else is a loser. Not much makes me crazier than people who compare, or even rank, misery. It really happened a lot here after the big Nashville flood. Some of us had a very unattractive tendency to point out how much better we handled our disaster than the folks in New Orleans handled Katrina. (Never mind that Katrina did an amount of physical damage that was several orders higher than what happened in Nashville.) Still, if it’s your house underwater, it’s a tragedy. I was in New Orleans not long after the Nashville flood and there, instead of saying that we didn’t know from flooding, they say, “We’re with you, Nashville, we feel your pain.” That was class, n’est-ce pas? Ranking misery does a disservice to everybody. Now, having said that, I do think that people are very careful not to whine around you, Teri, because they just don’t know how compassionate you are and that even if what they are whining about is a stubbed toe or being late for work because the Beamer wouldn’t start, you won’t say, “Oh yeah? You don’t know from trouble.” You’ll say, “Man, that must suck.” That’s my theory.

  7. Thank you for writing this.


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