Jay Lake has terminal cancer. It's a given at this point that it will eventually kill him.
The disease doesn't make Jay look unwell. It makes him look tired and older than his 49 years. The tumors aren't visible outward manifestations.
The struggle with this prolonged and inevitably fatal illness bears a devastating emotional toll of its own. So on top of the disease itself, you toss all of the anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and frequent emotional breakdowns. No, having a physical illness doesn't make Jay's experience more real, or somehow less difficult.
The very notion that you need to measure your inward pain against someone else's is at fault.
I suffer from depression. It's a daily struggle for me, even with medication, even with therapy. My form of depression is called "dysthymia." It's considered a "mild" form of the illness, and ironically, the least treatable. Additionally, because to many I don't appear at all unwell, it's quite easy to dismiss the disorder as "all in my head." Well, yes, damn it, "in my head" is where mental illness takes place! I know well the mental landscape I must navigate each day. It is familiar to me, if not welcome. My grasp of biochemistry is sufficient, that I understand the psychopharmacology of my illness in more detail than most, although I'm well short of a professional's understanding of it.
I've become increasingly aware that I've lived with this illness my entire life, and will probably continue to do so.
But this does not make me luckier than Jay, who is dying, or make Jay better off than I am because he has a physical disease, and I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. Such comparisons are nonsensical.
I can't know what Jay is going through, except that he tells us (and I thank him for that). It's very helpful to hear from someone else regarding their own experiences, especially in the case of an illness like cancer.
But Jay's experience and mine are different.
Each of us bears our own inward pain, and can only imagine dimly the inward pain of others. Jay does not look unwell. I do not look unwell.
I can't count myself lucky or unlucky that I don't have cancer. Jay can't count himself lucky or unlucky that the symptoms of his own depression have his cancer and its treatment as their source.
This is a false dichotomy. Jay's pain is different from my own. It is his. It is a deeply personal thing. My pain is different from Jay's. It is mine. It too is a deeply personal thing. To engage in a "race to the bottom" is pointless. Jay is dying. He is in no sense better off than someone who is less dying. I will likely spend the rest of my days treating my "chronic mild depression." It will color everything I do, and limit me in ways I'm not sure I understand completely just yet, and already has. It will not, it seems, kill me, although one can't discount the possibility entirely.
Jay's pain is not greater or lesser than my own, just different.
Holding up a yardstick and measuring one against the other just isn't possible.