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When Thoughts Leave the Mind (More on the ALI Community)

So I love talking about the history of the community, mostly because writing posts like that means that I get to revisit old bloggers who have stopped writing as well as their posts so I can grab their url.  I have been reading blogs in the ALI community on a daily basis for 9 years, writing one for 7 years. (With 2213 published posts in a little over 2372 days… it means that for the last 7 years, I have written and posted on average one post per day.  There are also hundreds of posts that are still in the draft folder.  Whoa.)  My Reader has always been at a couple hundred blogs; people stop writing, I add new ones… it all evens out.  I also still like to read in the way I started, jumping from new blog to new blog by clicking through comments on someone’s post.

So I like to think that my view of the community comes from a long walk around the community vs. just dropping in on a few houses (and is therefore not unique; anyone who has been around a while has probably taken their own walk).  My feeling is that we are a very supportive community.  We tend to break down into smaller groups, sometimes by experience or situation (male factor groups or open adoption groups) but more often by how long you’ve been blogging or who your friends read.  Back when the community was smaller, we did a great job of circling the wagons when someone was going through a tough time.  It’s harder now that the community is so much larger, and people can’t possibly read every member anymore.  It used to be that you could say a blogger’s name — Jenny from the IF Block — and even if you didn’t read her and email with her, you knew who she was.

But think about it this way: for some people, this community is the only community that remembers their child existed.  That while they move through the face-to-face world without anyone suspecting what happened in the past, the people in this community not only know your child’s name (or the name you hoped to bestow), but they were the ones who were there in the middle of the night with a virtual hug when you were awake, crying at the computer after a loss.  And even if you never meet them, they are walking on their earth with that name tucked somewhere in their mind, helping you carry that burden.  For some people, this community is the only community that knows how far they’ve come.  Who knows how dark their life felt two years ago, and how different it is now (or, conversely, how light it felt two years ago, and how dark it feels now).  All those ALI kids that exist now — I remember back when their parents were starting to prep for an IVF cycle.  We’ve known each other’s kids in a sense from before they were conceived, back when they were constructed out of hope instead of cells.

I’ve seen members of this community donate gametes to one another (and have children born from each other’s donor eggs, sperm, or embryos).  I’ve seen members fundraise for one another so they could afford to cycle, and yes, have seen children born because of those funds.  I’ve seen candy exchanges and card exchanges and get togethers and sleepover parties.  There have been a few who have died, there have been a few who have lost their partner.  There have been divorces and marriages.

And there have been some huge explosions that stretched across dozens of blogs.  There have been people who have fallen through the cracks.  There have been a handful of fake bloggers who created fake stories about fake infertility diagnoses or losses.  There have been trolls from outside the community who have left comments across the ALI blogosphere, and there have been trolls from inside the community that have done the same.

Once, when I was teaching middle school, some kids ran inside during recess to tell us that a kid got a piece of mulch in his eye.  The kid ended up having to go to the hospital, and the kids were upset over the thought of him hurt.  A bunch of them cried.  Josh couldn’t get over how the kids reacted to the other kid getting mulch in his eye.  Most bloodthirsty, cruel middle schoolers would welcome the distraction and subsequent opportunity for rumour-mongering that comes from a kid having to go to the hospital in the middle of the day.  They’d relish it like any good trainwreck, chatting by the lockers about how he would need to have his eye removed and wear a patch for the rest of his life.  But instead, our middle schoolers cried.  They were a good group of kids.  They saw Mulch Boy as an everykid — any of them could have ended up with mulch in their eye, on the way to the hospital with their mother an hour away.  They were worried about him.  And that was how they were in general.  That said, they also sometimes bullied each other and excluded each other and did the normal dickish things all middle schoolers do.  But overall, if I had to describe them, I’d say that the mulch incident summed up who they were for the most part, the part that spoke loudest.

I think we’re fairly mulchy too.  In both the mulch incident sense of the word, and the fact that we generally help each other grow and stay rooted in the chaos that is adoption, loss, and infertility (ALI).

That discussion on the history of thoughts about the Pain Olympics in the ALI community brought up the truth — most people engage in comparative pain or comparative grief at one point or another.  But what we didn’t distinguish between was whether the thoughts remained in the person’s head or whether they came out of their mouth or in a blog post or in a comment section.  On one hand, I sort of see a difference between thinking something and yet squelching those thoughts because you recognize that they’re hurtful (so you — in that case — are the only person who knows that you are playing the Pain Olympics).

On the other, we are (or become) what we think, right?

The truth is that unless the thoughts spill into actions or words, we have no idea what thoughts are tucked into someone’s mind, and frankly, I sort of like that bliss that comes with ignorance.  I wouldn’t want the power to know what you’re really thinking.  I assume that sometimes you think in your head, “what an idiot!” when you read something here, and then click away without leaving a comment.  And I thank you for that… the not leaving a comment part.  I don’t really need to know that you think I’m an idiot unless you can express that thought in a helpful manner.

So I do see a difference between thinking in your head “what an idiot!” and then squelching the desire to utter those words, and those who write blog posts or leave comments telling people they’re an idiot.  And therefore, I see a difference between playing the Pain Olympics in your head, but then squelching those thoughts in order to either click away or leave a comment of support, vs. those who write screeds on their blog telling others in the community that they don’t know real pain or belittling someone else’s grief in their comment section.

Ideally, we would never think, “what an idiot!” or “you don’t know pain” in your head at all, but we’re human.  And I think part of being human is not to deny our humanness but to work to balance our humanness (the desire to hoard, the every man for himself mentality, the mine mine mineness of being a person) with our need for community (it takes a village, we can’t do this alone, what’s going to work… teamwork!).

My only fear is that those thoughts — the ones we squelch — are a hidden gun.  Let’s say that you’ve decided that your child won’t go over to any house where the parents keep a gun.  Those who are open about having a gun are easy houses to avoid.  Those who are equally vocal about not owning a gun are easy to trust (in this analogy, everyone is telling the truth).  And then there are the houses you don’t know.  They are not clearly posting an NRA sign out front nor are they wearing a Million Mom March t-shirt.  These people may have a hidden gun in their house, even if they don’t participate within gun culture.  Most likely, your child will never see or know of that gun.  Which seems both safe and unsafe at the same time.  On one hand, if the hiding spot is really good and even their child doesn’t know it exists in the house, there is pretty much no chance you or your child will ever know of its existence.  It can’t do anything to directly hurt you if it never comes out of its hiding place, if that’s why you fear guns.  But on the other hand, a gun in a house is always a risk.  Always.  100% of the time.  In the same way that a knife is a risk, and a hammer is a risk, and all sorts of potentially lethal objects are risks.  We can’t pretend that a gun in a house doesn’t have the potential to be found and used.  So if your fear is sending your child into a house with any gun, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s an openly owned gun or a hidden gun, it’s still a gun; it still has the potential to hurt.

Is a squelched Pain Olympics thought just a hidden gun?  I don’t know.  All I know is that if those thoughts come out of their hiding place, they have the potential to hurt.  But if they remain in their hiding spot, they don’t really affect another person.

I’ll leave you with this thought.  I heard a great lecture on the Ten Commandments last weekend, specifically about the last commandment which is the only one that isn’t action-oriented.  It’s pretty apparent to the community if you steal, commit adultery, or murder if you’re caught in the act.  But only you know (unless you express it to others) that you covet while you’re coveting.  It’s all happening in your head.  You could stand in front of me and covet, and I would have no idea.  Unless I allow the thoughts to leave my mind or spill into my actions, I am the only person hurt by my coveting, as opposed to stealing, adultery, and murder which by definition involve hurting others.

I don’t know what to make of that, except to admit that I struggle with coveting and have always reassured myself that it doesn’t matter much because I don’t allow it to affect anyone else externally.  It’s that aspect of humanness that I struggle with the most in terms of working with it in order to be part of the community, to follow a religion.  The other 9 commandments are pretty much cake.  That last one is a killer.


1 SRB { 02.06.13 at 11:48 am }

This discusses much of what I was thinking and feeling yesterday reading the posts and the comments, but frankly was afraid to say. I do believe that most (I won’t say *all*) of us play the game in our heads but make a concerted effort not to let it spill out – we just simply adjust our readers accordingly. (Although, maybe that is just me. When I feel my “trigger finger” getting itchy, I just disengage from that blog. It is healthier for both of that way, in my opinion). Pretending that we don’t compare pain internally doesn’t help us cope with it though. Sometimes it spills out subtly in our posts and comments we leave, and sometimes it spills out openly, even explosively. Perhaps if we own it more, admit to ourselves that we *do* do it (or have in the past) in our heads will help us to cope with it, and our own pain more effectively and appropriately as it affects others. But I’d be a lying liar if I said I didn’t do it in my head and in my heart. I do. I’m not proud, but it’s how I’m coping, and healing.

2 Peg { 02.06.13 at 11:57 am }

I think sometimes I do the reverse of “you think you have it bad” when I participate in the pain olympics in my head and think “wow, that really sucks what they’re going through and I am so lucky it’s not me.” I think that helps me not get so caught up in my own drama. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved to read blogs.

I like the idea of the pain/grief bonfire (or marshmallow roast if you are so inclined). We all share our stuff and get what we need…sometimes it’s giving empathy, sometimes it’s receiving it, sometimes it’s just the feeling that we’re not alone.

3 a { 02.06.13 at 12:27 pm }

In this case, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that even if people manage to not say it, they might be thinking it in one way (What are you complaining about? You didn’t have to XXX!) or another (Thank God it’s not me!). I think that’s just how human beings work.

Even if it gets out sometimes, I can sympathize if someone is at the end of their rope.

(And I’m getting better, because I just edited out about 3 sentences that were not useful. They’re better off in my head!)

4 Shelby { 02.06.13 at 1:54 pm }

I really like this topic and love how you get us thinking deeper about it! Something like this is not surface deep, that’s for sure.

So, I commented yesterday and I realize now my comment referenced only the action part of the Pain Olympics, as in, do you (as in, the hypothetical ‘you’) comment, blog or speak about either yourself or someone else as having greater or lesser pain than the next person? Are you actively making comparisons for all the world to see? No matter how much license you feel you have in being honest, I am not a fan of the Pain Olympics and still am not. I still stand by that if you do that, your purpose (to me) appears to be an effort to diminish others’ pain by making it somehow less worthy of support than your own (or someone else’s), even if that’s not your intent. So, anyone reading who perceives their situation as less painful than yours is automatically alienated and therefore harmed.

But then your post made me ask myself, do I play the Pain Olympics in my head? You bet I do! I play it with IF/loss as much as I make any other comparison, whether consciously or sub-consciously. It’s a fatal flaw of mine (and many others, I suspect). And while I use my blog as a tool to work through my own stuff, I still always remember that there is an audience (albeit a very small one!) and that unlike a private journal, I can do harm with broadcasting my thoughts if not properly edited. So, I will not make known all of the Pain Olympics that bounce around my head because I know there would likely not be a single person reading who would not walk away feeling kinda icky, or worse.

I think this is what it boils down to: how honest are you about what’s in your heart when there are listeners/readers? Anonymous blogging allows for tremendous honesty, but I still believe that there has to be a slight pause on our stream of consciousness considering who might be taking it all in. It’s the duty I feel I have to my readers, an extension of my support to them. Do no harm.

You asked, “Is a squelched Pain Olympics thought just a hidden gun?” I think squelching anything is a hidden gun. But that doesn’t mean you have to make those thoughts known. You just need to be aware of them and how they might effect your words or actions. I realize this is not always possible (no one will ever be fully aware of everything beneath their motivations) but even having this conversation helps boost our insight. Thanks for it! (and sorry for my novels!!)

5 Finding My New Normal { 02.06.13 at 2:10 pm }

I know you said lots of profound things about the pain olympics and if those of us who say we don’t compete are still secretly competing in our heads…… but I got stuck on this statement.

“But think about it this way: for some people, this community is the only community that remembers their child existed. ”

This statement really touched me. It’s been almost 2 and a half years since my son died and was born and I often feel like the people in my real life have forgotten about him, especially since my daughter was born.

I know I’m off topic and onto an entirely different tangent,,, but I sometimes forget the main reason that I love this ALI community.

I love this community because we do remember each other’s children, long after they are gone, and long after rainbow babies enter the world. We remember each other’s struggles with infertility long after babies are born, or adopted, or after a decision not to parent has been made. It’s really gotten me thinking and perhaps I will explore this topic more in a future blog post.

So thanks for reminding me!

6 persnickety { 02.06.13 at 5:51 pm }

On the squelched thoughts- I have been squelching some of mine on my blog for the past 6 months or so. After about 4, I realised that the bitterness leaked through in a couple of ways- that the reasons behind some of my reactions and emotions were not fully explained, so I certainly didn’t give the whole reason for particular actions, which was confusing for me and anyone who read those posts and it made me less likely to post, so I internalised a lot of issues, which was not health.
My blog is not anonymous, which makes it harder, and eventually I did post the issues I had, but I put them behind a password. If the person involved ever asks for the password, they will be told they can’t have it. Those hurt feelings will be less fraught than the other ones. It’s a relationship that isn’t going to go away, and it is already damaged by the squelching. I don’t need to express those issues to the person who inspired them, but they need to be let out somehow.

My thoughts on hidden weapons (of any kind) are that ultimately they are more dangerous than the openly acknowledged ones. If someone is hiding a gun, you cannot be prepared for finding it, you cannot prepare others, and when it is found, the consequences may be worse. I don’t like the gun owning culture in the US ( i understand the roots of it, i just thionk the modern iteration is not a good thing), but the concept of concealed weapons is one the bigger issues.

And wow, that was a wander off tangent.

7 Mali { 02.06.13 at 6:34 pm }

“I think we’re fairly mulchy too.” Girl, you know how to give a compliment! (laughing, but agreeing with you too)

Yes, I think most of us squelch the Pain Olympics thoughts. Don’t we do that in our lives all the time? The person with more money complains about the cost of maintaining their swimming pool (tough – their house costs 10 times what mine cost), I complain about the stress of trying to decide where to go on my next trip (tough, my sister can’t afford to go on a next trip this year), a beautiful woman complains about hating her new hair style (I’ll never be as attractive as her on her ugly days). We all have Pain Olympics thoughts, and we all swallow Pain Olympics thoughts throughout our lives. I think it’s called being polite.

I don’t think squelching the thoughts is necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps we have another outlet for them, whether that’s a diary, a close friend with a willing ear, an understanding partner. I know for example that when I squelch my Pain Olympics thoughts, I’ll either refrain from commenting (because commenting and causing an argument would hurt me more than squelching the emotions), or I’ll brace myself and offer support. Because I know that my thoughts (“you don’t know how lucky you are”) are not going to help the person in pain, and they just need to know they’re heard. That said, sometimes pointing out to someone how good they have it can help. But it needs to be done at the right time, in the right way, and by the right person, and I usually know that that isn’t me.

And you know, I think that that simple action of supporting someone, despite my Pain Olympics thoughts, actually helps diminish and calm my own negative thoughts and emotions. It helps us both.

8 Mali { 02.06.13 at 6:46 pm }

I meant to add that I do think coveting hurts us (we’re focusing on what we don’t have rather than what we have) AND it hurst other people. It hurts those who might live their lives with us – whether we’re coveting someone else instead of them, or something that they can’t give us. By coveting, we are perhaps resenting what we have, who we have, and that would also show through in our thoughts, words and actions. (Which is not to say that I never covet!)

9 Cristy { 02.06.13 at 7:18 pm }

Wonderful post, Mel. Getting a general overview of the community, then and now, is always enlightening. I look forward to more in the future.

I agree with all the other commenters: I think it’s next to impossible to not play Pain Olympics in one’s head. That said, I think a number of us do some self regulation. I have a very hard time with people who feel the need to leave nasty comments on someone’s blog. I would assume that if what a blogger is writing about annoys a reader that the reader would simply chose to no longer read verses sitting and stewing.

The idea of a hidden gun is an interesting one. But the truth is, there are many dangerous items that exist within each household: household chemicals, electrical outlets, matches, razor blades and even cars to name a few. Yet we except these risks, even though it is possible that our children could easily mix ammonia with bleach during a failed “science experiment” or cut themselves deeply on a razor left out in the bathroom.

I guess my point is that we need to acknowledge that there are risks for posting our thoughts and opinions about the world. It is entirely likely that we’ll be torn down for talking about our pain and fear to a situation that may not be that big of a deal to others. It’s all a matter of calculated risk and deciding what we’re willing to tolerate and what we won’t.

10 SM { 02.06.13 at 11:22 pm }

I know I play the Pain Olympics in my head. I don’t like it but I do it almost unconsciously. But putting it into words on someone’s blog is something I just don’t do. It seems to cross a defined line in my head.

If I read something and it irks me, I’ll generally just click away. I won’t necessarily stop reading that person (unless it happens often) but I will leave before I can convince myself to write something.

I like to think the vast majority of the ALI community thinks the same way I do. If they didn’t, this wouldn’t be such a wonderful community. It wouldn’t offer the support and the comfort that it does on a daily basis.

11 St. Elsewhere { 02.07.13 at 12:41 am }

I am going to be a very bad listener and focus my comment on this bit:

“We’ve known each other’s kids in a sense from before they were conceived, back when they were constructed out of hope instead of cells.”

I am amazed at how much ‘I’ know some children around here. Their lives parallel my children’s lives, and for some of them, they are not parallel, but yet they are there…I have seen them go from a clump of cells in their mother’s uterus, to celebrating their third birthday. I know of what their parents want more children wise, possibly more than what they would be able to comprehend of their own journey at this age.

I am thankful to be here.

12 Amel { 02.07.13 at 8:12 am }

LOVE what Mali wrote. 😀

I think another end of the spectrum is the reluctance of sharing the “pain” when we feel that we’re not “high enough up the pain ladder”. You see, in the beginning I hesitated so much to write an infertility blog (after reading so many IF blogs) or to comment on someone else’s IF blogs because of what I’ve never experienced.

I never got pregnant and we decided early on not to be tested and we have now decided to surrender to life without kids. Thus I can’t really share anything much about IUI or IVF or whatever people try to get pregnant. All I can share is my own feelings and that made me hesitate a lot when I started writing comments in other people’s blogs (as if I was scared that people would tell me, “What do you know? You never tried anything. You don’t know what it’s like to experience miscarriage or a failed IVF.” —> I know there were all only in my head, but the fear was there). That as well as the fact that we were still “young” in terms of our TTC history and people will definitely think I’m still “young enough” to get pregnant “miraculously” (going on 35 this year).

I’ve since broken through my “initial hesitancy” and just decided to comment whenever I feel like I want to comment on other people’s blogs, but it wasn’t easy to finally take the plunge (I was more like a silent lurker instead). And it does help that people don’t write nasty comments on my blog posts when I finally started an IF blog.

13 Pepper { 02.07.13 at 8:33 am }

This is why I still read all of these blogs and consider myself part of this community even though I am not still in the trenches. Love the love, even amidst the pain. I also got stuck on “But think about it this way: for some people, this community is the only community that remembers their child existed. ” Because what is more important than that?

14 serenity { 02.07.13 at 8:43 am }

My opinion on the whole pain olympics thing: I feel like you need to understand your own reasons for PLAYING the pain olympics in order to answer this question. You have to remember that the readers of your blog are seeing your story through THEIR own lenses – their worldview. And, in general, I feel like comments that deal with the pain olympics are more about where the reader is, personally, then you at all.

Squelched pain olympics thoughts are really only hidden guns to the person playing the pain olympics. Because if that pain isn’t resolved, or coped with, or dealt with somehow, it’ll come out again and again. Maybe it’ll be in the form of self-punishment, where you tell yourself that you don’t have it nearly as bad as anyone else, therefore, you have no right to grieve. Or maybe it comes out in the form of getting angry at others who are unhappy but don’t have it as bad as you. Or it comes in the form of being angry with your partner for not being on the same page… or at your doctor for not doing enough to find the reason you’re not getting pregnant.

Either way, when you engage in the pain olympics, it’s likely about your own unresolved anger/pain, not the other person.

Which means that your squelched thoughts are only dangerous until you work through them and come to acceptance of the situation. Which means that, yes, they CAN be dangerous, unless you’re self-aware enough to realize it.

And that’s why I blog: in order to work through my own anger so that I DON’T play the pain olympics. At the end of the day, pain is pain, and it’s no bigger or smaller than anyone else’s.

Also – I’m with Mali. Offering my support, in a lot of ways, eases my pain as well. Like with wanting another baby. I’ve made sure this time I’ve spent time with new babies, and I get to SEE how hard it is. It still hurts that I don’t have a baby, but I get to help people and hold a newborn and rock a baby and make them giggle. And you see: babies make me HAPPY. I might not ever have a baby of my own again, but I still get to have babies in my life. And this makes me a hell of a lot happier than I’d be if I had stuck myself in a corner of bitterness and jealousy. Taking the pain AND the happiness, together.


15 Esperanza { 02.07.13 at 9:20 am }

I think squelched thoughts can be harmful, very harmful, if they aren’t really being squelched. I can certainly squelch some thoughts entirely and then they are gone but others linger and eventually seep out (as persnickety said) as bitterness. That is when squelching thoughts can be harmful, in my opinion, when they become unmanageable and color everything else we are doing. I would venture to guess that all the times I tackle topics that are best left untackled when the squelching is becoming unmanageable and I can see and feel the bitterness seeping into my words. If I get it out, that usually stops, but a lot of the time only a good purging can do.

I do believe Serenity is right, the Pain Olympics is all about the person engaging and rarely about the person being targeted. I also wrote a post on some of my other thoughts on this topic.


Thanks for the thought provoking post.

16 Sara { 02.08.13 at 12:26 am }

I can see that I’m not the only one who has had some sleepless nights over American gun culture and parenting! What to do?

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