Pain and Tolerance

by Laura

I’ve never understood the notion of pain tolerance.

“Pain tolerance is the maximum level of pain that a person is able to tolerate.”

That’s nice. What exactly does that mean? A researcher can tell you they’ve done studies in which a volunteer puts his/her hand in a bowl of ice water and blah blah blah… Pain tolerance. That’s cute. Like a bunch of bros trying to out-capsaicin each other in a hot sauce drinking contest. “Dude, man, that was AWESOME! You puked, but you totally win, dude. Have some milk. I spit in it. Just kidding, bro, keep chugging.”

But real life pain is rarely voluntary, and I’m not sure what not tolerating it looks like, other than suicide. Out of the ice water and into oblivion. My daughter “can’t even,” yet she does. We all do. Someone gets cancer. “I don’t know how you do it.” They just do it. My friends, more of them every year, turn to Christ, because they don’t know how they’d do anything without Him. “I wouldn’t have survived this ordeal without the help of my Lord.” But you would. Maybe His was the voice inside you that gave you the courage to make the best of it, but you did it (spoiler alert… it was your voice). You say you did it through Him, for Him, because of Him. Whatever. You did it. If you want to give away the credit, that’s your business.

In any event, pain tolerance is bullshit. You can tolerate all of it. If you have to, you can. If the nice folks administering the ice water test refused to let you remove your hand, you’d tolerate it. Eventually, there might be some physical damage. But you’d tolerate all of it, if you had to. Because you HAD TO. There’s no real trick to it. You don’t think you can take it, but you can. Crying through it, cursing through it, screaming through it, doesn’t matter. You’re tolerating it. There’s no prize for doing it gracefully. The admiration of your friends and family? Overrated. Plus, it’s kind of a lie, and one day when they’re facing something awful of their own they may resent you for making it all look easy. I don’t care if you’re going through hell and look like a person going through hell. If you’re going through hell, go ahead and look like it, act like it, curse like it. I won’t think any less of you. We’re given coping mechanisms for a reason. Use them.

My young son, he tries not to cry when he gets emotional. I have no idea why. Crying happens for a reason. “It’s a tool that gets the pain out,” I tell him. “Isn’t that cool? Your body is so smart.”

I don’t cry much. It’s not something I work on. I’m more likely to cry over dropping dinner on the floor than at a funeral. I don’t know why that is. I don’t beat myself up over it. It’s just the way my body works. It doesn’t mean anything. You have to take it as it comes. It’s not a damn contest.

Listen, you’re amazing. You can endure anything. I hope you won’t have to, but from time to time you will. And when that time comes– maybe it’s now– trust yourself. You don’t need anything else. Friends can help. Loved ones can help. Music can help. God, if that’s your thing, sure, let Him help (wink wink). But even without ANY of it, you can still endure it. Someone always has. The listicles will say you NEED these twelve things to be happy or raise a family or survive turning 40 or have a lasting marriage or get over a loss. They’re fucking liars. You don’t need anything. It’s all in you. Use every resource you’ve got, but if you don’t have a lot of resources, don’t feel incapable. The less you have, the more able you are. Because you have to be, and when you have to, you can. It’s just the way it is, and I think that’s pretty cool.

So go do it.

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