One of my favourite movies of all time is the cult-classic The Princess Bride. There are many moments and quotes through the entire thing that make it memorable. However, one line always catches me. In the middle of a heated conversation, one character says “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something” And its true – but I suspect that especially in North America, we don’t like to think about that. We don’t like to feel pain, we don’t like to acknowledge it, we don’t like to talk about it, and we certainly don’t like to hear a line like that. We in North America have been taught that pain is the enemy, something to be numbed with painkillers, alcohol, illicit drugs, and so forth. If it’s physical pain, we’re taught to push through it, especially men. We’re taught to minimize physical pain, and any emotional pain or mental termoil is often met with a get over it mentality – either in attitude or spoken in mocking tones. Don’t be a wimp. Real men don’t cry. Suck it up, Princess – nobody wants to deal with a pansy. Talk to men, and you’ll find this is pervasive. Despite years of attempts at softening it, the “macho man” image and mentality is very much alive, and it shows little sign of going away anytime soon.
A sports injury? “Walk it off!” Sprain an ankle, or strain your back? “Pop some Tylenol and get back to work!” Intrusive thoughts? “Oh suck it up! It’s all in your head!” Dealing with a relationship breakdown, or grieving the loss of a loved one? “Just get over it already! Stop dwelling on the past!”
Now, like all lies and platitudes, there is an element of truth behind them. When recovering from an injury, there is pain. Initially it’s the pain from the injury itself, and later – as the body heals and you begin working to build up the strength and mobility. In order to bring that injured part back to health, it has to be worked, and stretched. Muscles may have to be worked to restore previous strength. And all of this will bring some level of pain as the body adapts and heals. Dealing with trauma may have a similar approach, but less so for the physical body, and instead using various tools and therapies to help the mind work through that trauma. All of it will be uncomfortable, no doubt, but by slowly working through a recovery plan, this sort of healing (both mental/emotional as well as physical) is possible.
Case in point: In the palm of my right hand is a wound. It was a blister, slightly larger than a quarter. And due to the nature of my job I did have to just keep working. In the days and weeks since I’ve been keeping it as clean as possible, treating it with hydrocortosone creme, wearing gloves whenever necessary, etc. And you know what? It’s healing. It’s healing slowly, but it is healing. Part of the problem is the wound is almost exactly centered over the biggest crease in my palm. That means that any time I grab something, grip something, push something, my hand is flexing and moving – and that means that the wound that may have healed a bit gets flexed and pulls open a bit more. Part of the problem is that due to the nature of my job, I absolutely must use my hands. There’s no avoiding it. Would it have healed sooner if I had a less physical job? Very likely. Will I have long-term, permanent injury from it? Very likely not. I mean it’s not impossible but extremely unlikely.
And yes, sometimes, it’s not possible to make a full recovery. Sometimes the injury is severe enough to cause lasting damage, or leave permanent weakness or disability. Sometimes trauma is so severe it has lifelong impacts despite continued therapy.
However, the risk in any recovery plan is doing too much, too soon. This is where the dangers of the just get over it mentality come up. If I sprain my ankle, that sucks (yes, I know from repeated experience). However, continuing to walk or run on it is going to aggravate the injury, instead of helping it. In working through a trauma, continually exposing myself to similar situations will probably not help me and will likely make things worse. There is a time for running and walking on an injured ankle, but not right away. There’s a time and place for exposing myself to situations that previously were traumatizing, but that takes a lot of time and effort before that will be helpful instead of harmful. Having lived through various physical injuries and accidents, emotional damage caused by others, and living with mental illness on top of it, I have always struggled with a balanced recovery. If you push too hard, or too soon – your recovery gets set back several steps – and as a result, it takes longer, and is more frustrating. If you don’t push hard enough, the weak areas continue to atrophy, which means when you need that strength, it’s simply not there – and to bring it back, you have that much more work to do. And to be clear I’m talking all levels here; mental trauma, emotional damage, and/or physical injury.
And its absolutely true when you hear someone say that recovery is never simple, and its never a nice clean linear progression. Sometimes there’s rapid progress, only to have it all come undone over the simplest thing. Sometimes it seems you’re stuck at a certain point for so long that any improvement seems nigh impossible. And believe me that’s a discouraging place to be.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we’re all healing. We’re all recovering. We’re all working through our own stuff. Sometimes that pile of stuff seems overwhelming – and sometimes the stuff you haven’t dealt with makes life harder for others (and if that’s you – why do you get upset when others do it to you?). We’re all walking wounded, trying to keep our armour up, and hold it in a way that doesn’t rub our wounds raw – all while trying to shield ourselves from the wounds of others.
Yes, we’re all walking wounded – but that means we can choose to use our pain to help heal someone else. It’s either that, or blindly lash out at anyone else because someone hurt you. Your pain gives you a choice. You can use that hurt heal, or you can use that hurt to spread the pain. You can’t avoid the pain, because life is pain. What you do with it is in your hands.
P.S. Yes, that’s my palm, complete with somewhat healed blister. It looks a little odd because part of it is calloused over, yet right down the middle you can see it will be a while before it’s completely healed over. It’s getting better, especially this week. I’m fine, it’s not infected, it IS healing, and I’ll be fine. Please don’t worry. But between the blister, and some things I’ve heard lately, I was inspired to write a bit. Proving yet again, that pain might be inevitable, but that I’ll strive to turn it into something positive.
Much love as always,