Somewhere in the history of humankind, complaining became a sport. A game. And I’ll admit, I play it. Willingly.
It starts innocently enough.
Someone asks, “How are you?”
And I reply, “Oh, so-so.”
I believe in honesty. Why pretend I’m feeling chipper when I’m in pain?
If, for example, I’ve just had a second cortisone shot in my hip, and the doctor slid a long needle deep into my inflamed bursa, and then moved that needle around before the cold numbing spray took effect, and my hand shot out for her wrist and she asked, “Have you had enough? Should I stop?” and I squeaked, “No. Keep going,” and she continued grinding the needle around, and my hand continued grasping air, and she repeated, “Have you had enough?” as if she wouldn’t let up unless I yelled UNCLE! If I’ve just endured an afternoon of torture in the doctor’s office and someone asks how I’m doing, I say, “So-so.”
And the other person commiserates. “Yeah, me too.”
That’s not what I want to hear. I want to hear, “Let me buy you a chocolate truffle.” And so I elaborate. “I just had a cortisone shot from hell, and let me tell you…that doctor did things with a syringe that should be illegal.”
Do I get a sympathetic clucking? No. The other person one-ups. Pulls out an even more painful scenario—a torn rotator cuff—and the game is on.
“I can barely hobble around,” I say.
“I need surgery,” she says.
And on it goes until one of us backs down…usually the other person…because I’m hooked, I’m seething, I’m determined to win this match if it means I have to admit that I’m at death’s door.
I’m exaggerating of course. But I’m well aware of the game, and aware, sometimes, that I’m playing it. Especially when I start hauling in evidence to back up my opinion.
“Studies prove that cortisone can damage…”
This is not a wise tactic, because the skilled player will fire off five studies via email that contradicts the point I’m trying to make, and list five experts that she personally knows (or invented) to back her up.
There are degrees of complaining. Some people have a Master’s. There is no winning with a Master Complainer. I’ve tried. Oh yes, I’ve tried.
I can choose not to engage. I can look at the bright side. I can say, “I survived a needle. It’s a good day,” and leave it at that. But the truth is, I’m in pain. And I’ve got to share it with someone, like a weather report from my own personal universe. “I feel rotten,” I whine, as if whining will make me feel better. And someone who doesn’t play the game may respond, “Good for you!”
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If you feel pain, it means you’re alive. Congratulations!” and they’re gone.
Yes, I admit…I’ve played the complain game. And I’ve won. I’ve conquered. And then I’ve looked around and there was no one left to conquer. Everyone had vanished.
And what fun is complaining if there’s no one to hear?