How often do you consider pain? I mean physical pain, of course, not emotional. When you aren’t experiencing it, I would imagine that many of you would prefer not to think about it. I didn’t really think about it much either, but I have to say that I have noticed that there is a difference in how I experience pain, versus the average person. Of course I wondered why, but had limited sight about what the actual difference was.
I certainly understand that everyone processes pain differently from one person to the next, but that didn’t account for the rather extreme difference that I noticed. I was far more like those that were stoic about pain, as opposed to reactionary to it. I observed this with both acute pain, chronic pain, and illness as well. It took me time to start to wonder how much there was an overlap between pain, and the emotional experience of it, and I found that there was a great deal of overlap. Let me preface my argument with a story.
There is a knife… in my foot…
I was at a friend’s house for a BBQ. There were lots of people about, tons of activity, and things still being cooked and made in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking and was helping out my friend in that regard. We are talking and working, she is chopping up things for a pasta salad. A really good pasta salad that she promised to make for me again, and hasn’t. That part is just for her because I am sending her this answer, and I want my damn salad, woman. It’s been almost ten years with no salad…..
Then again, I might be forfeiting the salad because she hates this story…. Guess we’ll see.
So there she is chopping away with something like this;
and the knife slips, falling off the counter, and right into my foot. I was wearing sandals, and the tops were entirely open and my feet bare there. The knife stuck straight up, and she gasped absolutely horrified.
You have to understand, this is a person that, for the most part, (and let me emphasize that) for the most part is the kindest person you will meet. I wouldn’t advise most people cross her, however. She has compassion and love for pretty much anything, especially if you are her friend. Or if you are fuzzy, four-legged, and cute. Then her friends can get bent, something needs petting. In her mind she just stabbed a friend. The copious–
OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!! OH MY GOD!!
I AM SOOOOOO SORRY!!!!!
–immediately followed. She’s freaking out, other people are freaking out, and I am just staring at the knife intrigued. Then…… I laughed. I thought it was funny as hell. There is a knife…… in my foot. It’s just standing there. It’s hysterical.
Well, now the knife needs to come out, and out it comes. The cut is so deep, that it doesn’t bleed immediately. Then like a well filling it did. A lot. We clean up my foot, and she gets a disinfectant to make sure it isn’t infected with my absent pasta salad ingredients and says;
“This is going to hurt though.” I shrugged and said go for it. I didn’t respond to the pain, and I didn’t get angry. It was noticed, and a couple of people commented on my calmness through it all.
The end of it was a decent cut, but the bruising covered over half my foot in deep purple for a good while. No more sandals until that was gone for certain.
She cringes when this story is told. She hates it. She hates reading it right now. She’s laughing, but she hates it. She hates it because she STILL feels guilty about this. No matter how many times I tell her that it’s such a funny story, she just despises it due to that guilt.
End of story.
For this situation, I can easily say that my friend’s emotional response to the event, was far greater than my physical response. She suffered more than I did, and still does not find it funny. People who saw this happen to me told me throughout the party that they would have freaked out. That they were upset from just seeing this happen.
This to me was a good indicator that there was a link between pain, and the emotional experience of it. Now more, like for like, comparisons. Have you ever had the flu? I imagine that the answer is that you have, to varying degrees. Everyone has been nauseated, everyone has been sick beyond function at one time or another.
I have been in situations where I have had to listen to the most obnoxious vomiting there could possibly be by a middle aged woman. Like the world is ending, and the person is giving mouth birth to both the creature from Aliens, and a demon at the same time.
My reaction? I thought it was hysterical. We get it, you have the flu. Take it down a notch. There are children handling this better than you. Cancer patients are shrinking away from you in horror. Seriously, relax.
There are lesser versions of this happening all the time. You all know someone that is a total drama king or queen when it comes to the sniffles. I get it, life is hard. Getting pampered and babied for a week might be a good vacation, but at the same time some people are just over the top about it, and cease to function like an adult. I have never understood this, but then again I have very different wiring. I don’t even want people to know that I am ill to begin with.
When I got sick with meningitis, of course I had no idea what the problem was outside of a severe headache and neck pain, I told no one until there wasn’t a way for me to hide it. That took for me to get to the point where my connection with reality began to wane. Now, mind you, as much as I think I am cleverly hiding where I am at physically, I have an annoying Significant Other that sees through that pretty easily. Everyone else? They have no idea. Him? He always knows. Every. Single. Time.
I have always been like this, except when I was a kid. I didn’t enjoy having to go to school, so if I was ill, I would use that to my full advantage. The longer I could stay home, the better. Now, I have no interest in having people pity me, or ask me how I’m feeling, or anything of that sort. The kind of babying that a lot of people look forward to when they are ill, it holds no appeal to me. I would just rather crack on with my day, until I can’t.
What I have found is that pain and illness exist in two overlapping planes. One is the physical realm. This is the nuts and bolts part of the pain or illness, such as if you are shot, you have a hole in you, and it hurts. The second is the emotional realm. This is the perception of the illness or injury, and it can play largely on how painful your understanding of that pain is going to be. This would be the fear of death from the gunshot, the mental process that has to be gone through from the trauma of the situation, and the emotional response to the limitation that the injury imposes upon you.
If I were shot, much like when I had a knife dropped on my foot, or having meningitis that almost killed me, the event is just that. It’s an event. Granted, it sucked, so did meningitis, but there is no emotional arousal to that event. It simply is what it is. I don’t look back on what I remember from my time with meningitis, I don’t recall most of it as I was not in my own head at the time, and can cognitively tell you that it wasn’t fun. I have had monster headaches in the past, and meningitis is up there among the worst, but there is nothing about that recall that is upsetting. It just is.
When I am going through an illness, one that I am aware of anyway, the symptoms don’t have any emotional impact on me. They are there, they suck, sure, and I am struck by the limitations that they pose, but I have never felt sorry for myself, I have never experienced sadness, anger, or self pity for being sick. The emotional experience of these things is totally absent for me.
What does this have to do with neurotypicals? Well, part of me says that there may be another way to experience your pain or illness that will lessen its effect on you, but also this has made me notice a problem with what neurotypicals are told in terms of dealing with very serious things like high stage cancer.
On the one hand, your emotional experience, what you are associating emotionally with whatever you are dealing with has an impact on how badly you feel. There is just no way around it. Those of you that are rather stoic about pain have probably noticed this very thing, and those of you who are parents certainly have to know this, and in fact it is probably childhood that makes this association strongly linked in a person’s head. I would guess that if we studied the parenting styles of of those that are highly reactionary to pain, versus those that are far more low key about it, a great deal of insight would come from those interactions. Just my guess, but follow my logic.
To a child whatever pain that they are in is scary. It is out of the ordinary for them. Even though oftentimes they have learned to gauge your reaction to their pain and adjust their response accordinging for maximum sympathy, when they are genuinely hurting, and act like it is the worst that they have ever felt, it’s important to remember that in fact, it may well be. The first time a child stubs their toe, they don’t have a quick reel or the million and one times that they have previously stubbed their toe to compare to. That one time, that’s it. That’s their entire reference, and it’s very painful.
However, it is, as I mentioned above, the time in their lives that they begin their relationship that will determine their physical and emotional response to pain. It largely is based on how the parent responds to them. If a child falls, and your immediate response is to run with them consoling them and showering them with attention, they are laying the groundwork for an unhealthy relationship with pain.
Pain is life. It is unavoidable, and sometimes it will be terrible. If you can’t handle the small things, like a cold, what will you do, and what will your mentality be like if it’s something more serious? Likely you are going to be in a position that is going to hurt your chances of a good outcome, or at the very least one not fraught with difficulties.
As I mentioned, this relationship and association begins when we are young. I don’t recall my parents' response to my pain, but my mother has said that I didn’t seem like I had time for. I fell, got up, and kept going. It was an inconvenience. I could never have forged the bond between physical pain and the emotional response. That is a boon for me, because there isn’t a dire mentality towards something that may not have a good outcome.
This brings me to where I think that neurotypicals are being expected to have a response that I am not certain is really all that possible. When someone is diagnosed with something like cancer, they are told that their own outlook and attitude has a lot to do with how well they will do. That sort of seems like a self limiting prophecy. You are expecting this patient who has had a bond between the physical experience of pain or illness, and the emotional response to it having always been relatively negative, and now manually switch it to positive at the worst time of their lives.
How? How are they going to just shut off the way that their brain has always functioned, and just tell it to do the opposite? I don’t think that’s reasonable. I think that if there was a long established understanding that physical pain can be exacerbated by emotional pain, and illness responds to the mindset that it exists within, then sure, then there would be a possibility. However, if you are just telling them,
“Oh yeah, how you’ve always done things? You have to stop that, and do this other thing. I know, you just found out you have a thirty percent chance of dying in the next six months, but remember, mindset is everything!”
I don’t think that is going to work. Before that day comes, you would have to be able to wedge these two things from one another, and to start to change how you perceive pain when you are dealing with ramming your elbow into a wall, or when you have the flu, as opposed to going into the chemo center for your first infusion. That really isn’t the time to have to also undertake an emotional revamping that apparently your life now depends on.
Pain is many faced, and it varies between individuals. Did you know that about 58% of women with light eyes apparently have significantly less labor pain? Weird, right? And no, I have no idea why, I haven’t dug into it, because having children was never something that I wanted. However, that is a weird thing to understand. No matter the differences in our genetic makeup, how many nerve endings we have, how strongly we are able to register the physical presentation of pain, the emotional response has a loud voice for a lot of people. If given too much attention, and allowing it to direct your experience, it may well be problematic in the future.
Not that I have a position to argue from, I have never been a neurotypical, and I have never felt their version of pain, but if I might suggest trying to see the different aspects, and separate them in your mind is you can. The emotional relevance of pain isn’t to be dismissed. Pain causes suffering, and suffering manifests in many ways. Part of that is in the emotional aspect, so I am not anticipating that it would be shut off entirely, but rather trying to parse out what amount of it is the actual physical impact, and what part of it is the emotional manifestation of pain that may be able to be influenced. I have no idea if it will have a significant effect on your life, but it seems that there is no harm in trying.