None of us like the kind of pain that stops us from doing what we want to do. But then there’s the pain that we seek out; the pain that shows we’re pushing ourselves to the limit.
Just Another Mother blogger, Rowena Newman, takes a look at the moments of pleasure that come tucked inside a little bit of purposeful pain.
Remember John Mellancamp? Or was it Johnny Cougar? Or John Cougar Mellancamp? Where is he now? And how does he feel about adding ‘Cougar’ to his name now that it brings with it associations of single 40-something women stalking nubile younger men?
I’m not sure, and I digress, because in any case he was the guy who sang that song ‘Hurts so good’. And he’s right. Sometimes pain does feel good.
Ooh, like that molar that hurts a really nice little bit when you push on it; and you just can’t seem to stop biting on it over and over again.
The trick is knowing when it’s okay and when it’s trying to tell us something (like, Hey! You really should stop that thing you’re doing with the hammer that’s causing this horrible throbbing sensation in your finger.)
What is pain anyway? Well, describing it loosely, pain is the way your brain interprets information about a particular sensation.
Your nerve pathways send signals about these painful sensations to your brain, and then it is the brain’s job to identify whether you’ve got a splinter in your finger or you’ve just had your leg removed by a shark.
Then there are the different types of pain. There is ‘acute pain’ which is a pain of short duration, usually associated with injury, surgery or illness (or your mobile phone bill after your forgot to turn off global data roaming during your business trip to Beijing).
And there is ‘chronic pain’ which describes ongoing conditions including headaches, back and neck pain, nerve injury pain (and the monthly instalments, yes instalments, to pay off the aforementioned mobile phone bill).
But there’s also pain that we actively seek out – and we all know what I mean by the ‘good pain’.
I know when I was recently running the 7km loop around The Bay (hmmm… was that one year ago, or six?) and really feeling the burn up the hill, initially it felt ‘excruciating’ but then passed through ‘mildly horrendous’ to finally settle out at ‘pretty good’.
I actually found myself smiling at the sensation. It was as if my body and brain had eventually collaborated to say, Hey you know what? This running bizo isn’t so bad. What the heck, let’s keep this thing going a bit longer!
I confess that I haven’t felt it for some time now, but at one point I craved that sensation like a greyhound craves a whiff of bunny fluff.
There are other ‘good pain’ feelings, too. A huge pain in the neck can go from hell to sheer ecstasy when a masseuse ‘hits the spot’.
While it’s sort of excruciating, it also feels hugely exhilarating to have that pain pummelled into submission. Some people actually seek out painful sensations.
Call them crazy -– I do – but surely this is part of the reason behind the huge popularity of tattoos? And while I do NOT enjoy the pain I endure almost every day when I physically bite my tongue in order to retain my professional persona, some people actually pay to have their tongue pierced. I cannot imagine how much that’s gonna HURT.
There’s a whole other branch of painful enjoyment, which for convenience rather than scientific purposes I’ll call, ‘thank goodness that’s not me’.
Those witty Germans even have a proper term for it, ‘schadenfreude’: pleasure derived from the pain or misfortunes of others.
And before you start feeling all high and mighty – have you never laughed at a Japanese game show where someone is being lowered screaming into a vat of cockroaches or had their nether regions pummeled by an over-sized boxing glove? (No? Hmm. What does that say about me?)
There’s also a whole lot of mythology around whether you have a ‘high pain threshold’ or a ‘low pain threshold’. Well, my pain threshold is definitely high.
Except when I’ve spent an entire weekend stuck indoors with two rambunctious children… then it’s lower than a bottom-feeding sludge-crawler’s lawyer.
Whatever the pain may be, if you’re feeling pain and it wasn’t actively sought out, then maybe you should go see a doctor.
If you go this month you get to pocket the $7 co-payment, which feels kind of good doesn’t it? See, it really is a fine line between pleasure and pain…
Rowena- Just Another Mother