There Lies Madness: Comparing Yourself to Others

It’s a common enough story/complaint: bitterly despondently watching all your friends and family on Facebook and in person getting engaged/married, having children, get stable jobs, and just being successful in general.

One of my oldest high school friends just got engaged and is on a trip to Paris (after a trip to Tokyo last year). Several of my friends are having babies. A couple friends are on child #3. All my cousins my age and several cousins younger than me are married with children. Two of my friends that I went to grad school with are now full-time professors at good universities. A friend who was a year behind me in our undergrad is now two years ahead of me on her PhD. Articles published in respected journals, poetry books released, grants won. On and on and on and on.

And then there’s me (and I know there are other people in this position, but for now there’s just me sitting here staring at my computer): stalled and bitter and despondent in a PhD program I’m not sure I can handle anymore just as I start the dissertation phase; teaching as an adjunct for pennies with no health insurance and no job security; poor as shit and not sure where I’m going to be living in a month. My mother and I rent a house together. Two months ago my mother was laid off, which is bad in any circumstance, but particularly troubling because she carried the brunt of the bills (I am after all a shit-poor adjunct). Now the landlord refuses to renew our lease, and god only know how we’d be able to afford a new lease, thus: no clue where I’ll be living in a month.

To forestall the comment: yes, I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I’ve heard all the warnings, all the affirmations (for instance, that now-famous Steve Furtick quote). Yes, I know that way lies madness. But sometimes you just can’t help it. Sometimes you can’t avoid Facebook, and even if you can, you can’t avoid your family and friends.

Yes, I know. But. But. But.

So fine, let’s say I don’t compare myself to my friend who just got engaged and is currently in Paris (yes, this is big hang-up for me at the moment). Let’s say I just look at me life. I could say it sucks. Categorically. Of course, someone will say “well, in comparison to that person living on the streets, it’s not so bad.” Totally true. Absolutely. I have a roof over my head (for the moment), I have enough food. I have a ridiculous number of books (and clothes, but we won’t get into my clothes hoarding problem right now). And yes, I often feel exceedingly guilty for complaining about life when there are people in the world who are starving or homeless or living in war-torn countries (and that’s it’s own level of hell at two o’clock in the morning).

But I thought the point was not to compare myself to others, right? Except, people only say that when you are comparing yourself to people who are better off than you and feeling jealous or envious or inferior. The minute you start complaining about how bad your life is, the same people will turn around and compare your marvelous life to the Syrian refugee who hasn’t eaten in two days.

So let’s be honest. On the grand scale, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not starving and I’m not dying. But I’m also not secure, or successful, or happy. And when it comes right down to it, the point is how I feel about my life, yes?

Well, I feel like I have done nothing with my life. I am discontent with every important decision I have ever made. I have wanted to do and be some many things, and I have failed, or worse, been too afraid or too poor or too useless to even try. I am thirty years old and still living, precariously, with my mother. I have never traveled out of the country. I haven’t been in a serious relationship since I was twenty years old. My anxiety is so bad I cannot even drive, so I’m isolated from friends and social events.

I have only ever been good at exactly one thing: being a diligent student. And now I cannot even do that well because grad school and teaching have made me so exhausted, so bitter, so disillusioned that it is almost impossible to care anymore.

Some might say that I haven’t done nothing, that grad school is something. But what has an M.A. and half a PhD gotten me? Stress. Insomnia. Disillusionment. Isolation. An ulcer. An ocean of student debt deep enough to drown a whale. A part-time contingent job that pays less than a pittance. And zero self-respect.

I am so unhappy with every aspect of my life, and I feel completely powerless to change anything about it.

And with all of that in my head, I must face family and friends with successful lives, who (though no life is perfectly happy all the time) seem on the balance to be mostly happy. So excuse me if I compare myself to them from time to time, and find my life wanting. And excuse me if I can’t help but hate them all just a little. Sometimes more than a little (like the friend who is currently in Paris without me, damn it).

Silent Sister


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