When Muscles Get Damaged

So, yesterday, I started writing about pain. In particular I wrote about the pain fallacy – that is the idea that the more pain you have in your life, the more pain you are capable of dealing with. As I said, in this view, our tolerance for pain is like a muscle which gets strengthened with use. However, we know for a fact that often just the opposite is true. People who have already dealt with a lot of pain are often less able to cope with additional challenges than others. Today I want to go back to that muscle analogy and explain why this is.

Now, the idea that pain tolerance operates like a muscle is actually a pretty good one. Infants are born with basically no pain tolerance. But after 15 years of dealing with bumps, bruises, the odd illness, hunger pang and injury, you often end up with a kid with ridiculously high pain tolerance. He can practically rip half his flesh off in a dirt bike accident and continue goofing around for hours without stopping to tend to his wounds. A kid who was once devastated to be denied another scoop of ice cream works through the loss of a dear pet or even a relative like a champ. Clearly, pain tolerance, like a muscle, does get stronger with time and use. The problem is that not all use is created equal and not all challenges have the same results.

When you life weights, the goal is to create tiny tears in the muscle by forcing it to bear a weight greater than its current capabilities. Your body then creates additional muscle tissue to fill that gap and heal the muscle, thus increasing the strength of the muscle. But anyone who knows anything about building muscle will warn against attempting to lift too much or tax your muscles too heavily, lest you cause damage which is destructive rather than helpful. Continue reading

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All About Pain: The Toughness Fallacy

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but it’s cold, rainy and windy here by me so I’ll use that as my excuse for being a Debbie Downer here. Cuz we’re going to talk about pain today. Then again, if you are the sort of person who only wants to read about unicorns making skittles droppings, you probably aren’t reading my blog. So just another day here in The Upside Down World.

It seems to me that when Christians talk about pain they talk about it either very existentially, “why does God allow suffering?”, or we talk about it very personally, “let me tell you my story about being in pain”. We start from the assumption that pain is a valid, important topic, but even our most sincere efforts to address pain from either an existential or personal perspective tend to fall short. When they do, we almost always turn to attempting to minimize or dismiss other people’s pain. And let’s not even talk about the nonsense that comes out of our mouths when we try to moralize about pain or the behavior of people in pain!

In order to do better, we need a better understanding of what pain is, how it works, why it matters. Which includes getting rid of several dangerous misconceptions about pain. Even people who are personally familiar with suffering tend to believe a lot of false, unhelpful things about pain. Nearly all of us internalize our culture’s prejudices, erroneous assumption and ignorance about suffering and when life goes south, these internalized ideas just make things worse.

Obviously, this is a subject which could be a book, but you’ll just have to make do with a few blog posts. And I’m not even going to put them in the right order, so nya!

Anyhow, I wanted to start today by addressing probably the most common misconception about pain. That is once you’ve been in serious pain, additional pain will not affect you as much. You will have gotten used to it. Continue reading

Suffering as Service

I don’t know why, but from the time I was a kid, I have had this idea that there is a certain amount of pain and suffering in the world that gets distributed across humanity. Like suffering was an actual thing with quantity that could be measured in cups and miles. Or maybe tears and hours of agony. Some people are dealt a larger portion of this suffering than others. The way to reduce the amount of suffering in the world is to process what comes to you and let it go. Pain and suffering that doesn’t get dealt with, gets passed on to those around us. It can even be multiplied in this process. The ability to suffer without passing it on to those around us is part of how we can serve the world. A person who can endure a lot of suffering without passing it on is performing a real service to humanity.

Like a lot of highly sensitive people, I have spent my share of time crying over people, circumstances and suffering that I do not know, have not encountered and can do nothing about. (I wrote about how I learned to stop doing this so much here.) Even as a kid when I would find myself crying over people and events that affect me not one whit, I would pray, “please let every tear I cry be one less that those going through it have to cry.” It doesn’t make much sense and I have no reason to think that it works that way, but I hope it does. The burden of grief should be shared, not multiplied after all. Continue reading