Is Comparing Yourself to Others Always a Bad Thing?
Let me answer the question my title poses: I don’t think so.
I learned early on in my recovery two similar phrases that have served me well:
1. Compare self to self, not self to others
2. Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides
Overall sage advice, and it can be especially relevant this time of year, when there is an endless to do list, followed by a scroll down Facebook lane to see all the things “others” have done that you have not. It was a true revelation to me when it was pointed out that what people are presenting to the world is not necessarily what they are living, and that knowledge assisted me a great deal in letting go of the worry of what other people may (or may not) be thinking of me.
The corollary of comparing self to self is that you are seeking self-improvement in a continuous way; you are able to not only look at what needs improvement, but also celebrate that which has been improved. All in all, an incredibly useful tool.
Sometimes, though, and maybe this is so obvious that it is almost silly to be writing down, sometimes it is necessary to compare myself to others, at least that’s the lesson I’m coming to learn.
Here’s an example: last weekend, I was in New York for an annual get-together with my husband and friend. As we typically do, my husband and I take my friend’s bedroom; my friend sleeps in his living room. It is, as most in Manhattan are, a small apartment, and as such it is important to have respectful awareness of the people around you.
So we go to bed on the later side, and within 30 minutes I am awoken by a vaguely familiar feeling of discomfort, followed with lightning quick speed by a feeling of panic, and I shoot upright in bed. My heart is pounding, and I am fighting the urge to want to jump up and create more space for myself.
In other words, I think I had a panic attack.
I say I think because, frankly, I do not feel remotely qualified to diagnosis myself with these types of illnesses. I am, blessedly, free of disorders such as anxiety, or, for that matter, depression, so I’m not really even sure I know for certain what a panic attack looks or feels like.
Semantics aside, I am fighting to get a grip, and it occurs to me that it would not be disrespectful if I had to get up and use the bathroom. So I did, and the ritual of doing so calmed me down.
For about 10 minutes.
After 3 trips to the bathroom, and worrying all the while that I am disturbing both my husband and my friend (and, to a lesser extent, the people who live below us), I sit up and try to take some calming breaths.
Now I know that sitting up will eventually call attention to myself (the bed is small, so anyone sharing the bed will eventually feel the difference between a prone person and an upright one), and soon it will be truth time: do I tell my husband what’s really going on, or I just gloss it over with a half-truth (I’m uncomfortable/I can’t sleep/I’m not feeling well)?
There is a reason this decision is a difficult one: the only other time I have experienced this anxious feeling was as a direct consequence of my active addiction. So now not only am I panicking because of an apparent panic attack, now I’m panicking at the thought of alarming my husband about the status of my sobriety. Seriously, sometimes it is tough to live in this head.
Of course, my program of recovery forced me to tell the truth, and, as usual, the truth did set me free. Somehow, talking through the symptoms I was experiencing, and really just the simple admission, “I feel anxious, and I feel anxious that I feel anxious,” had a calming effect, and after a time I was able to fall back to sleep.
But what’s been dogging me in the days since is the wondering… why? Why did that happen? Was it a sign? The only other time this has happened to me was when I was chemically altered, so why would it happen without the aid of chemicals?
I have a tendency towards claustrophobia (again, I hedge on using this term, it is completely self-diagnosed), and so when I am in crowded spaces I get those panicky feelings, and, if severe enough, I am compelled to find more space for myself. One example is when I’m in the middle of a bed between two people, sometimes it gets bad enough that I feel like I’m almost propelled out of that space by some internal force. That being said, I at least have some understanding of root causes. Being woken up by it seems extreme, and random, and scary. I do not feel stressed, there is nothing in particular on my mind, my sobriety is strong, and I am not at odds with anyone in my life. So back to why, why, WHY?
This circles around to my original question, and my answer should be obvious: sometimes comparing yourself to others is a good thing. Because when I look at that incident, and compare it to stories I have read on various blogs, heard from friends and family who suffer from diagnosed anxiety, and even read about in magazines and books, I realize that I am not unique, and I am not, as Monica Lewinsky would say, patient zero with panic attacks.
And knowing that allows me to take a deep breath, and let go of the vicious circle of unanswered questions.
Heading out to see my three-year-old nephew in his first pre-school theatrical performance, a sure-fire way to get into the holiday spirit!
Posted on December 18, 2014, in Recovery, Self-Care and tagged Addiction, Anxiety, comparing self to self, comparison, panic attacks, panic disorders, Recovery, Sobriety. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.