I like the word sufferer. There’s a ring to it, and a kind of epic fall quality which is easy on the ear. It’s a gentle word, but one with a dignified air. I like sufferer

But I don’t want to be called a sufferer. If I feel like I’m suffering I might tell you. But I might not. I don’t want to be called a sufferer, and I particularly don’t want to be called an MS sufferer.

I’m a person who has MS. And quite honestly it’s up to me to decide whether I feel like I’m suffering with it. Sometimes I do feel like I’m suffering. Sometimes I really properly feel that way.

But sometimes I don’t. And actually I think it’s up to me to decide how I feel.

It’s no surprise though why people say it. Because they repeat what they hear or read.

The phrase ‘MS Sufferer’ is an example of what gets called lazy journalism. It’s a cliche, the use of which is of course itself a bit lazy. My using it doesn’t make things any better, but then I’m not claiming to be a journalist.

Of course some of the cliches really do work. I always smile when I see the word tot used to describe a small child. And then there are all those things which appear in the press but don’t get said in real life, such as love nest, love rat, sex romp. You get the picture.

But hearing about MS Sufferers does get annoying. ‘Cancer sufferer’ is much the same, though less common and maybe more forgivable, given that cancer is more obviously horrid. ‘COPD sufferer’ is a rarity, and anyway hardly anyone knows what COPD stands for.

I don’t mind ‘MSer’ as a way of identifying us, but that’s a bit gimmicky and really I prefer just ‘person with MS’ if I have to have a label. Not quite as sexy as the S word perhaps, it certainly sounds a bit bland, a bit nothing even, but it’s honest at least, it says it like it is. It says I am what I am. No airs and graces.

‘MS Sufferer’ annoys me though. It gets my goat. But I’ve recently had a bit of a moment. I’ve realised that even though I’ve banged on about it for ages, the banging on has done me not much good. For one thing, little has changed. ‘MS Sufferer’ is still everywhere, in almost every article you read about MS. But for me it has become something else. It’s become a hobbyhorse.

And hobbyhorses can be dangerous. They can take over your life. They can take you places you don’t want to go and turn you into people you don’t want to be.

You only have to read Tristram Shandy (and if you haven’t I’d recommend you do, it’s a belter) to know what I mean. I don’t want to end up spending what’s left of my little life turning the back garden into a scale model of the Battle of the Somme.

So from now on I’m going to do my best to embrace my inner sufferer. I’ll try not to bat an eyelid when I hear that phrase, I might even use it myself. Occasionally.

But PS, I have one or two more goat-getter turns of phrase. What about that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ line? Much as I might admire old Nietsche, that’s just plain wrong. Then there’s ‘but you look so well!’ and all those other platitudes people grasp onto when they don’t know how to respond to seeing illness or disability.

The most annoying trope though is all the talk of people who are ‘fighting cancer’ or having ‘a brave battle’ against it. The truth is that no one who has cancer is doing any battling or fighting. Where we are is not a war zone. Actually it’s much more as if we’ve been caught out in a really bad storm.

The wind is howling and the rain is lashing down. We have to make shelter. We need help from people who can put together a safe refuge to see us through.

My own refuge maker is good old Mr A. Me and my epiglottis have an appointment with him next month. He’s someone who knows a sufferer when he sees one.


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2 Responses to Sufferer

  1. Jos Leeder says:

    Interesting point of view Mark. I have often thought that the notion of ‘fighting’, ‘battling’ and other confrontational terms are misnomers. It might help some people who have diseases which are difficult or impossible to cure to anthropomorphise them in order to feel that they are then able to ‘fight’ them. However, it is a category error in which the notion of a ‘battle’ then becomes accommodated. I like your thinking!

    • Yes Jos, I find the aggressive tone off-putting and unrealistic. Also there have been studies which show that having a positive mental attitude when you have an illness like cancer doesn’t affect the course of the illness, though it might cheer you up a bit. Likewise prayer. Doesn’t work. I’d certainly be up for battling against someone who said they were going to pray for me!

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