What Could Be Worse?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2012 Nancy Virden

What reached out of the car window was a limb of bright pink with more pale shades scattered about in patches of varying sizes. Five fingers, also bright pink reached for the package of food their owner had ordered.

“That will be $5.50, ” I say toward the window.  Then glancing up, I see anxious eyes peering out from behind more pink. Bright, burned pink.

The woman had been in a fire.

If she had hair, I do not remember it. Facial appendages were distorted or missing. From the top of her head to her lower neck, and down both of her arms to the fingertips was a mass of discolored scars. 

Facing the driver from the passenger seat, was a concerned looking, professionally dressed woman who spoke gently to her companion. I could see this visit to the fast food drive-thru was a pivotal moment. The burn victim had probably just been released from a hospital.

As they drove away, I turned to see an older teenager peering over my shoulder and toward the retreating car.

“Did you see that poor woman? She’s been in a fire,” I commented.

“I know,” he paused. “She’s my mom.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry. What happened to her?”

His young eyes grew dark, and he turned to walk away. “She set herself on fire in front of me,” he said.

I have seen tears, heard gasps, and watched the horror on people’s faces when I tell that story. My emotions in the moment fell to shock and sadness.

Surely, this young man has had reason to struggle emotionally for the rest of his life. His mother was obviously tormented. By now he would be in his mid-forties;  she will have lived with her scars for over twenty-five years.

Could there be anything worse? 

A fellow support group member once said to me, “I hear your problems and I think, ‘what do I have to worry about?’  But my problems are horrible to me.”

He’s right. There is no purpose in or means by which to weigh the enormity of another’s grief or despair. Pain is pain, and while one person will react differently than another due to a number of factors,  pain is still difficult for anyone to bear.


NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness.  In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

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