It’s going to be one of those cycles, I can tell. The kind where no matter what I do, I feel like death on a stale cracker. And if the previous 15 years of my life are any indicator, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It kind of sucks in its own right, yes, but it’s also confusing when juxtaposed with societal scripts for dealing with pain.
For example, there’s the succinct, “No pain, no gain,” which seems to view pain as something productive and beneficial. Now, when I am running the last minute of a cardio workout or pushing myself through just one more traveling plank, I understand this mentality a lot. If my purpose is to build strength or endurance, then it makes sense to push myself to explore beyond what I can comfortably endure right now. The hope is the next time I push myself to that same place, the pain will be less; that is my gain.
However, this really only seems to work when gain is part of the intent and when the pain involved is self-directed and controlled. I don’t mean that I tell my running body, “Shins, you will hurt like fuck now, and through the burning in my legs, I will become a faster athlete.” But I do make the choice to run faster. I decide how much faster and for how long, and if something is not going the way I planned, I can alter that choice at any time and have my pain subside accordingly.
When the pain is out of my direction and control, I don’t know WTF I’m supposed to be gaining.
The flip truism is, “Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong,” which brings with it the assumption that the “something wrong” should be found and then fixed. Because, you know, bodies in pain are “wrong.”
And I can’t get behind that, not as a universal. Certainly there are causes of acute pain — wearing ill-fitting running shoes, backbending without enough support, etc. — where a relatively quick fix is a good and viable option. There are also other causes of pain, some acute, some chronic, that can be managed by various means. I am a big fan of pain management, trust me.
But all medicine has limits and costs. Sometimes the limits mean the pain is unmanageable. Sometimes the costs are unacceptable. I’m having some of those days. But as much as I am not enjoying dealing with this, the pain does not mean that my body is “wrong.” Treating my body as a problem-solution essay — embarking on a quest for Magic Pain Relief that may not exist — doesn’t do me any favors and usually wears me down in the long run.
Which is why the adage, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” scares me. It’s back on the, “No pain, no gain,” bandwagon, only it goes several steps further. Now, not only am I supposed to be embracing pain in hopes of gain, but I am supposed to be doing so up to the point of death?
I’m sure there are plenty of folk who’d say (complete with italics), “It’s just a saying. You don’t have to take it so literally.”
And maybe I don’t.
But maybe I’ve had dozens of medical professionals either deny pain outright or else acknowledge it but fail to help. Maybe I’ve spent countless sleepless nights wondering how I’m going to function the next day and keep my job and/or stay in school. Maybe I’ve found myself crying by the side of the road because I can’t sit up and don’t know how I’m going to drive home. Maybe I’ve found myself desperate, looking at those two pills I know really shouldn’t be taken together, and tempted, hoping it might be okay, just this one time.
So maybe I do have to take it a little more literally than most.
Also, while none of these thoughts and experiences have killed me, I don’t know that they’ve made me stronger, which is sort of the issue — a lot of these lines, they are bullshit. I’d just… I’d like a way to mentally cope with pain that doesn’t make my body the enemy but also doesn’t delude me.