Let’s Talk About Pain

  • by Gitabushi

When I was an infant, I had colic.  As I understand it, “colic” is basically just a child that cries for no reason its mother can understand, and the crying does not seem to correspond to hunger or filled diapers.

My mother was a high-strung individual, so she was very proud of the fact that she learned to just leave me to cry on my own in the bedroom, rather than trying to comfort me, which would lead to her frustration when I couldn’t be comforted.

On the one hand, it isn’t good to teach a child that no one cares about your discomfort, and no one responds to your cries.  On the other hand, it isn’t good for a parent to get frustrated with a child for things the child can’t control…because such frustration can boil over into abuse.

But I digress.

I’ve heard that high pain tolerance is associated with socio-paths, and that sort of worries me, because I have extremely high pain tolerance.  In my late 20s, due to a mistake in communication, I once had a tooth drilled and filled with no anesthesia at all.

Nociceptive_pain
Mechanism of Nociceptive Pain. By Manu5 – http://www.scientificanimations.com/wiki-images/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66166942

When I was about 12, I realized I often have shooting pains in my inner ear, and that some things give me heartburn.  When I was about 24, it occurred to me that neither of those were normal conditions, and I should start paying attention to the circumstances under which they occurred, and try to avoid those conditions.

Now that I’m in my late 40s, I realize: Although I’ve never been in constant pain, I constantly have pain.  It’s just little twinges.  Not every second, but every day.  I think.  I’m not sure, because I usually just ignore them.

On the way to work this morning, I had what felt like a bee sting on my left shoulder.  No reason for it.  Nothing in my clothes that might have caused it.  I just shrugged my shoulder, and instead of the pain intensifying as a bee sting would, it faded after about 10 seconds.

Just now, I felt a burning pain in my wrist, just below the heel of my hand.  This is most likely mild carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.  I’ve had mild to moderate problems with that since I began using a computer to work.  Sometimes it is a soreness on the heel of my hand from resting on the desk as I use the mouse, sometimes I soreness in the muscles of my forearm, sometimes a shooting pain in the wrist. It never lasts more than an hour or two.  I change my position I’m typing or sitting, or change the angle of my arm, and the next day I’m fine.

And while I typed the last paragraph, I had an itch on my left thigh that had a sensation of pain, and then the same sort of painful itch on my left jawline.

There are times (probably from working out) that the bone in my upper arm just aches. This is the closest I have to a difficult-to-bear pain.  Experience has shown that it is most likely some sort of damage from doing push-ups.  I have had signs of cartilage tearing in my chest when I do dips of any kind, so it might be the arm version of shin-splints: the muscle or tendon pulling away from the bone.  But I’m not sure, because it never lasts more than a day.

And yet, at the same time, I never get headaches.

The result of all this is I’ve never gotten in the habit of using pain relievers.  Even after surgery, I take the pain relievers because the doctor orders me to, but I never notice them wearing off, because I don’t really notice them helping in the first place.  After 2 days, I stop taking them.  I don’t know: maybe they are having an effect and I just don’t realize it.  Local anesthetic injections certainly work, so it isn’t like I’m impervious to pain relief medicines.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is I have no idea if this is normal or not.  I hear about people getting hooked on pain medications to deal with pain.  But when I hear people describe the pain they are in, I have no idea how bad it is.  The Pain Scale just has you put the pain on a scale from bearable to unbearable.  I almost never get above a 3.  The only unbearable pain I can remember ever experiencing was from burns when I was working at McDonald’s.  Two or three times that I burned myself, I had to have a cup of ice water standing by so I could put my fingers in it every 60 seconds or so, or the pain was unbearable.  But that’s it.

Now: does that mean I have a high pain tolerance, compared to the people who need pain medication?  Or does that mean that these people are experiencing pain I haven’t encountered? How objective and subjective is pain?

I’m not bringing this up to try to say anything about myself, or to make any point.  The long narrative of pain perception was just to provide examples and background so we can talk about pain.  I’ve never heard anyone else talk about what they feel, how much pain they experience, what pain they ignore, etc.

If I were forced to have a conclusion, I would say that I have a low pain threshold: I feel pain where most people wouldn’t, and my nerves are constantly firing to notify me of all sorts of phantom pain.  But at the same time, I have developed a high pain tolerance due to over-exposure.  To the result that, rather than making me a socio-path, I am actually more empathetic to other people’s pain. I cry for other people’s pain, but can’t cry for my own.  At least, that’s what I think about myself.  Understanding yourself is sometimes more difficult than understanding others.

What are your experiences with pain?  Are they anything like mine? Am I taking the suffering of those with chronic pain too lightly?

Let’s talk about pain. Let me know your thoughts, reactions, ideas, etc.

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6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Pain

  1. Some of those issues could be related to bad posture while sitting (and too much sedentarism.) Pay attention if, while you are reading this on the computer, your head is too forward or downwards (like when people are looking at their phones) The head weights a lot, and that causes constant stress on the neck, shoulder, and surrounding areas (which can radiate to the weirdest places, like down your arm.) And bad back posture can also cause… thigh or groin pain (in my experience anyway.) In fact, I’m quite sure I recognize what you mean by “pain in the left jawline.”

    I had (and to a lesse degree I stil have) chronic cervical problems for many years and it was because of my head was too forward all the time (you think you get used to it, but you actually don’t, and when it disappears it’s a relief.) This may seem a minor issue but it can cause a cascade of consequences (pain -> no exercise -> more sedentarism -> more pain -> less socialization -> etc.) I’m quite sure than many young people, with their faces always looking down their phones, will have awful back & neck problems in the future.

    Also, if you are worried about being a sociopath, you probably are not one.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. One thing I didn’t make clear in the post:
      I don’t usually notice these pains. My body has taught me to ignore pain unless it lasts longer than a day. Most of them disappear within a minute with no recurrence or lasting impact. Others disappear with an hour. The remaining few disappear within a day.
      So I ignore them all.
      If you asked me, I would say I have no pain, because it doesn’t even enter my consciousness, much less my memory.
      But when I decide to notice it, there are often a handful every day I can point to.

      So for me, perception of pain is really the issue. If it isn’t indicating damage, it isn’t worth remembering, and that changes my perception of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that since the body is a complex and intricate machine, not everything always works the way it was intended. Sometimes things rub in the wrong places, get caught out of whack, or otherwise not function properly. When that happens, the nerves in that part of the body flare up, causing what you call “pain”.

    I may be in the minority here, but I believe daily pain is a normal occurrence.

    Where it gets troublesome is if it’s in the same place all the time, and/or it’s a long lasting pain.

    If you have the occasional flare in the shoulder, or back, or whatever, and it goes away, there really shouldn’t be much to worry about (IMO). It’s the “wake up in the morning & the knees start hurting once I get out of bed” pain that is worrisome.

    Of course the body will also have other ways to tell you it’s in distress – high white cell counts, blood in places that it shouldn’t be, etc. Those items, along with long-lasting pain, should get checked out. Plus you should also (at the very minimum) get blood work done to make sure all the chemicals are at the correct levels. Like you would go into a shop to get your car’s oil changed.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Be glad you don’t have issues with headaches, I’ve had migraines regularly since I was in high school. The pain is sharp, insistent and dominating in the right frontal part of my head, and often comes with debilitating nausea.

    I’ll also second the idea that some level of aches and pains are normal in life. Like with any condition, it’s when that pain makes a person unable to care for themselves independently or participate in society that it should be treated as something pathological and in need of treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you can become desensitized to pain. Back when I was fighting, I didn’t notice pain when I got hit, but I think that was a different effect: I was too goal/target-focused. But, I think I was desensitized and shrugged off the various bruises and swellings that would linger for a few days, without really feeling them.

    After being out of fighting for a couple years, I’d bang my arm against a kitchen cabinet or something, and be like “Ow, why the hell does that hurt?” I’d either become re-sensitized, or an unrelated endocrine problem made me perceive pain more sharply.

    Liked by 2 people

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