“It hurts because it matters.” – John Green
I scrolled past this quote on Monday night, hanging out with my mom, doing something I rarely do- missing things in life I’ve lost. This time specifically, the loss of my big sister who would have been 41 today. It’s been 7 years since she passed, and when that does sink in, it becomes too big to handle, very quickly. The quote felt like the right message, at the right time. Almost like my hurt validates her importance. And it does.
I’ve written about pain before, about what happens in the body, and how ALL pain is a warning- an alert to your brain that something isn’t right. It’s a very primal indicator that something is about to threaten you, and you need to get the heck outta there. It doesn’t matter if it’s emotional pain, physical pain, psychological pain, something is trying to tell your brain that there is a problem.
Pain is a trigger that starts off a stress signal in the body. On a positive side, that stress signal is a safety feature, meant to get us away from Sabre Tooth Tigers, or in a more modern twist, an emotionally or mentally draining situation our body would rather not be a part of.
On a negative side, too much time with pain, and we get overburdened with stress, also… it hurts.
Not to be cliche, but imagine your life is a rollercoaster full of highs and lows. See your joys as the highs and your challenges as the lows. There are climbs, slides, and falls in between, and some are bigger than others.
It’s pretty rare to hear a rollercoaster enthusiast say “I wish there was a rollercoaster with only big drops and no climbs” because that’s what makes it a roller coaster. The ups and downs. Otherwise you’d basically just be riding a train.
That’s the important part. We need to acknowledge the journey as a whole, and then embrace and appreciate the experience of pain and joy. If we hang on to, or obsess over the joys, and the highs, we end up with a struggle at our lows, and if we hang on to the lows, we resist enjoying the highs.
This same idea applies to physical pain and movement. If we are always stuck on the times that everything is “pain free and perfect” we have a hard time accepting and modifying when it’s not. And if we’re always focused on our pain, we become afraid to move, and afraid to enjoy those times we don’t hurt.
All pain is pain because it matters.There would be no point in a signal to address a problem if the problem wasn’t important.
As I’ve learned about pain I’ve gotten to know it from almost every angle. The most important thing I’ve learned about pain, is that it happens, and it has the potential to be disruptive, but we do have control over how we process it, as an alert to our brain. My best advice is to tune into your body and your needs. This is something I help people with every day. Learning what their body is trying to tell them.
Acknowledge it, understand it, address it, and then move forward from it.
As much as there is discomfort and possible loss in pain, it’s very rarely expressed in a positive light. Pain has also brought me positives. It’s brought me closer to my family, friends, and community as well as a personality shift, and a confidence to speak my mind and express my needs. Things I might not have found without it.
The key is that there is always more to come. The next climb, the next high, the next Cha-Cha.
Dr. Deborah Mechanic is a chiropractor,
and health writer practising in Toronto.
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