January 24, 2007

Everybody hurts sometimes

A friend of mine says that every time you get a physical injury, your IQ goes up a few points. Her theory is that having an injury forces you to do things differently, forcing you to get new perspectives and change your patterns, opening new pathways inside your brain. I thought of her theory today as I tried to negotiate our hilly campus with an injured knee. Instead of walking along in my usual fog, I had to keep stopping and planning what routes I wanted to take.

I suppose that is why I rarely take pain medication for an injury. It seems to me that pain has a function, a reason for being, something to teach me. The pain in my knee reminds me to take the elevator instead of the stairs, reminds me not to leap off a step, reminds me to take care of that leg so it can heal.

I wonder sometimes if emotional pain can make us smarter. Does the deep sadness of a loss, the sting of rejection, or the deep hurt when you've just been insulted by a close friend – does that open new pathways in the brain? Perhaps there is some kind of silver lining to emotional pain, some way of using it to learn, to grow, to change patterns for the better.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't like to take pain medication for the same reasons (well, except for a splitting headache -- it doesn't really seem like a "useful pain").

Well, I tend to think that loss and suffering do make us grow, maybe they do make us more intelligent too!

ppb said...

I hope so.

Repressed Librarian said...

I think emotional pain can and does make most people smarter in the way you describe. But it just makes some people bitter.

Anonymous said...

I think anything we experience that forces us to do things differently opens new pathways in our brain, so I would be inclined to include emotional pain in that. What I've found with people I've worked with is that emotional pain also has the added benefit of making some of us wiser, and by that I mean better able to connect what we know with actual experience and to find ways of relating to the world that are more authentic and gracious.

Kathryn said...

I'd agree, with the proviso that while emotional pain is at its most intense it tends to dull everything else, so that initially you are diminished by the experience. ime it's only after a period of adjustment that the new ways of seeing and being become a possibility.

rageyone said...

I tend to believe that pain does make us stronger and better able to deal with it in the future. I believe that we recall what we went through in the past and try and avoid those same type of hurts in the future. I think that goes for physical as well as emotional pain.

Hilaire said...

Wow. What an amazing thought. That's all.

Rana said...

What an amazing thought! I'll keep it in mind as I hobble around today. ;)

Mona Buonanotte said...

Yes. Absolutely. New life experiences open new doors. Even if they're bad experiences.

I also hate taking pain medication. Mostly because the pain keeps me awake and focused. Or I secretly love it, in that stick-your-tongue-where-your-baby-tooth-used-to-be sort of way.

Arwen said...

I think it depends somewhat on what kind of physical or emotional pain, how many resources you had going into it, and whether or not you already have a way of coping that you'll just reapply to the new situation - addictions or compulsions of various stripes, self-hating, whatever.

kathy a said...

finding ways to get around physical and emotional challenges is useful, and makes us grow. those challenges are often ushered in by pain, but i am not a fan of pain itself, especially physical pain.

i just really don't see the sense in, for example, athletes playing on with broken bones or concussions or ligament damage or whatever. that seems to be a sports badge of pride, but people end up with permanent and painful injuries that haunt them forever.

when my dad was dying of cancer, he was in a lot of pain. he didn't want to take meds because he thought they would make him dopey, but the pain itself robbed him of enjoying some of the short time he had. it wasn't my choice to make, it was his. still, the pain didn't help him live better, and there were no grand benefits for the long-term, either. [figuring out some work-arounds, though, especially for his mobility and general comfort -- that was kind of fun.]

emotional pain strikes me as a different animal. people who don't experience emotional pain also, i think, are less capable of joy, love, growth, empathy, flexibility. it is an unavoidable part of the human condition; it can prompt us to make more thoughtful choices, to understand human life as extraordinarily complex, to bond with others, to find new paths that we never could have predicted for ourselves.

jo(e) said...

kathy a: I would argue that athletes who play through pain are ignoring what their bodies are telling them. The pain should be a signal for them to stop, rest, and heal.

Pain medication for something like cancer is tricky -- it's too bad that so many of the effective pain medications can make a person kind of zone out. And it's hard, really hard, to watch someone you love be in pain.

I really like what you said about emotional pain.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Yes! You've expressed so eloquently (yet again) something that I've long thought myself.

I dislike pain medication for the average ills unless the pain is so disruptive I can't sleep. The pain makes me so aware that I'm alive. Ditto for emotional pain.

diana christine said...

pain is indeed available to us as a teacher (as all experiences are). for me, the emotional pain i suffered in my younger years may not have increased my IQ but it enlarged my compassion, deepened my spirit, changed the direction of my faith, enriched my acceptance of the world around me, and taught me how to take care of myself. yes, it was a very good teacher for me (but i think not for my IQ).

Rana said...

This is sort of to the side of your post but... I just tried one of those self-heating wraps (not the stick-on kind) and it did an amazing job for my back, and they have them for knees...

colleen said...

I've also heard: If you want a long life get a chronic disease and learn how to take care of yourself.

I agree about pain. If you numb it how will you know how far to push it and when to stop and rest?

undine said...

Thoughtful post (and comments). Your approach respects the pain and respects the body that it's afflicting instead of trying to ignore it as insignificant. Still, I hope that the injury heals quickly.