The pain olympics.
This is a term I keep coming across online, mostly from people defending themselves by saying, “it’s not the pain olympics!” when someone tries to dismiss them for being sad about something that’s not the pandemic in “these unprecedented times”.
Person A: “I’m so sad that I lost my job / broke up with my girlfriend / burned my dinner”
Person B: “Just be grateful that you didn’t lose your life to this virus!”
Person A: “OK, OK it’s not the pain olympics!”
People trying to quantify and compare pain obviously didn’t start with COVID-19, but the virus has certainly provided lots of opportunities to do just that. It’s the classic kind of bad logic you hear from people trying to be supportive of depressed people.
Supportive friend: “Why are you depressed when you have so much to be happy about! You have a great job, wonderful partner, house, children, etc….”
Depressed person: “Why am I so depressed? I have a great job, wonderful partner, house, children etc. What’s wrong with me?”
Spoiler: the depressed person winds up feeling more depressed.
Deep down we all kind of know that it’s not that simple, or logical. There’s almost always someone out there who has it worse off than you and that doesn’t make you feel any better. That’s why, even in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s still really disappointing you had to cancel your birthday party. That, sure, you might not be dead, but missing out on that big trip you’ve been looking forward to hurts. That even though you might not be sick, worrying about how to pay the rent is horrible. It sucks to lose your job, even if you didn’t like it that much. It hurts to be dumped. It still sucks to lose a pet. It’s not the pain olympics – you don’t have to be a professional to partake. There is PLENTY of pain to go around for everyone.
Grief is a really personal thing. You can’t predict how it’s going to affect yourself, or others. Like, remember that episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry’s girlfriend doesn’t cry about her grandmother dying but completely loses it over a dropped hotdog? I really wish I could remember where I heard the following story, because it always stayed with me. It was told by someone who worked with newly arrived refugees. She said that when she spoke to young people who had been on very long, uncomfortable, treacherous journeys to escape dangerous places, that quite often when they got to their destinations and spoke to her, quite often what they talked about was relationships. This boy on the boat dumped me, or this fellow refugee girl cheated on me. You can be literally fleeing for your life in the most dramatic way imaginable, and it’s the matters of the heart that really get to you. Heartbreak, crushes, love, betrayal, even in the midst of catastrophic events.
And so now, in the midst of a crisis that stretches across space and time, even COVID-19 has not managed to monopolise pain.
Jimmy was a stupid dog, there’s no doubt about that. It’s maybe not nice to say, but as Voltaire said: “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”
If you threw a stick at Jimmy it would hit him square in the face; fetch was out of the question. Tricks? Ha! But as my mother said more than once, “What do I want a smart dog for? What’s he gonna do, read me the New York Times? I just need him to love me.”
That he did very well. Jimmy was always obsessed with my mum, and only became more dependent in his last years. Which worked out great for both of them. To be fair, he did kind of owe her. Mum rescued Jimmy from a gas station in Sydney around 16 or 17 years ago. He was one of two abandoned dogs she found, mistreated and malnourished. She rescued them, took them to the local vet. Weeks later, the cuter dog was eventually adopted, while scraggly Jimmy, with his profound underbite, found himself on death row. If no one adopted him, he would have to be put down for lack of space.
The thing is, I grew up in a pet-free household. Unless you count the handful of guinea pigs and the one rabbit that we managed to kill over the years, due to dogs or foxes or escape or negligence and stupidity. My brother and I always begged to get a dog or cat, but my mum was always “allergic”.
Well, that was miraculously cured with Jimmy. Technically first with Kitty, the imaginatively named cat who was also a rescue, and then shortly after with Jimmy. It was perfect timing really, as my mum was dealing with an empty nest, and newly living alone. Jimmy quickly became her favourite child. I did get to name him before I left though. I tried to name him Maynard, after the lead singer of Tool, but mum couldn’t pronounce that so he became Jimmy, named after a Tool song. He looked like a Jimmy .
He was a very good little dog, and he lived through some shit. Like the time a bigger dog viciously attacked him in the park and we nearly lost him. Various house moves. A couple of close calls with cars. Being tormented by Kitty, while she was alive. He was a real sweetheart, a loveable fool, and he made us laugh a bunch. I miss him.
Jimmy was old and lived a good and really long life, so even though it was very sad to say bye to him this month, it was also not unexpected. It’s interesting timing, cyclical almost, that Jimmy has passed away in the same year that I will be returning to Australia, after 15 years of living away.
Saying goodbye to a family pet while in the middle of a global emergency is weird. There are so many layers to grief right now. It’s kind of hard to identify that layer in amongst all the others. Layers for the dog, my job, my old life, all the sick people, the dead people, sad people, overworked and under-appreciated people, the city I live in, the despair for cultural life that made the city worth living in in the first place, the worry about all the musicians and artists and cooks and bartenders and small business owners, the terrible governments we don’t deserve, the awful elements of humanity that bubble to the surface in times of crisis.
It’s painfully obvious to point out, but almost everything about my life has changed over the last 2 months. And although not everyone has been affected to the same degree, everyone’s life has been affected to some degree. I am fine, in so many ways, but I wonder about the people who aren’t. I know they say that this virus unites us, but I don’t feel that. I feel as close as ever to the people already in my life but in terms of wider society, I really have no idea. Layers of reality on top of layers of grief; the political, the social, the emotional. I think so much about the future but I’m trying to focus on right now. I can’t stop wondering about how people are adapting. Wondering in what ways this is changing us forever. It’s fascinating, this feeling of living inside a historical moment. It feels to me like the global moment where we could catch the glitch in The Matrix, or sneak a peek behind the curtain. If we’re paying attention.
I spoke to a friend about this and we agreed that now sort of feels like the moment where the music stops in musical chairs. Wherever you were when the music stopped, that’s where you are frozen, indefinitely. In the process of getting a visa to move to another country? In the middle of a divorce? Just started seeing someone romantically? Very much single? About to open a business? Hate your apartment or your flatmate? Well, you are frozen in time. You have to double down on the decisions that led you to wherever you were when the music stopped. On one level things are shifting in a monumental ways, and on another level we have less movement than ever before.
It’s…a lot. I know enough to know that I don’t really have anything meaningful to add. I’m pretty tired of opinions and hot takes by this point. However, I also know that even as these tectonic shifts are happening, we will still be dealing with the dramas of our interior lives and of the everyday. And that some days dropping our hot dog will feel like the worst thing in the world, and that it’s ok to cry about it. It’s a really annoying phrase but it’s also irritatingly true: it’s not the pain olympics.
If you want a portrait done of a loved one, Kate is your lady! Photography, illustration, mechanics, she is good at everything: www.crossbowphotographic.com/painting-illustration