As I mentioned in the previous post I just finished reading the book ‘Everything is F*cked: A book about hope‘ which was quite intriguing, by Mark Manson. You can check out some of my thoughts on the concept of an antifragile system and chronic pain in that post. But he also talks about the nature of suffering and I have heard of this before. Likely you have come across this before. Hell, I have seen memes on it before ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice’ sort of thing. Which I find true in some senses and debatable in another sense.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”—Viktor Frankl
So in his book Mark Manson is right when he talks about suffering. Or at least, I share that theory, in part.
“The Buddha said that suffering is like being shot by two arrows. The first arrow is the physical pain- it’s the metal piercing the skin, the force colliding with the body. The second arrow is the mental pain, the meaning and emotion we attach to being struck… in many cases, it lasts far longer.” (pg186) “That while pain is inevitable, suffering is always a choice. That there is always a separation between what we experience and how we interpret that experience.”
I believe that pain is a physical sensation and that suffering is the mental and emotional attachment to it. But there has been research to show that neurologically they are linked. That you feel the sensation to pain and it sends a signal for the brain. There are linked. We have a reaction because the brain needs an interpretation. So linked, yes, a Choice, no.
However, I do believe we do and we can do things to dampen that mental and emotional reaction to pain. Hell, we do it All the freaking time. We know, for example, focusing on our pain makes it more intense, while distracting from it helps us Not focus on it. We know ruminating on it creates problems because it creates Meaning and then more Meaning and MORE MEANING that was never there before and that can be extremely depressing. I should know… I was awesome at this. I called it the slippery slope into despair and happened frequently with unmanaged high pain at night.
So we know many ways to deal with the emotional and mental consequences of pain from meditation to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy… Art therapy to a gratitude journal… and we pick and chose the best for us to manage these normal responses to pain that we get a damn constant influx of because we have an abnormal amount of pain. We know that also some days are just Bad Days. And we just have to get through them.
So the above quote where the belief is that suffering is a choice, not so much. The idea that without suffering we wouldn’t be human, I can get on board with. An infragile system Gains from stressors and pressure... not avoids them or nullifies them. Gaining strength from it. That suggests that we engage with suffering on a level. Just like we engage with pain. Because they are a linked system.
I’m just saying you can’t get rid of pain, no matter who you are, and certainly not when we have chronic pain. And we cannot get rid of the emotional and mental consequences of pain, no matter who we are, unless we are a Buddhist monk that spent a lifetime doing so, but we can dampen it a bit with all the tricks we pick up to cope with pain.
The main problem is that chronic pain is so relentless. The physical Pain Itself. It can not be effectively treated. Often it is not effectively treated these days. That then makes it severely limiting as well.
I can deal with temporary pain at an exceptional level because I know it is going to end.
This is never going to end. It is relentless. There is no break. No pause button. No volume control. Maybe I am resilient as F*ck. Maybe I am more antifragile than I otherwise ever would be. Maybe I deal with setbacks way better than I used to.
It literally doesn’t matter. Because it never ends. I will get angry. I will get sad. I will get frustrated. I will have exceptionally bad days. And be in a hell of a mood about it. I will have some crappy thoughts about my pain. I will sometimes cope horribly. Becuase I am bloody well human… no matter how well I cope 91.2% of the time, let’s say, there still will be sometimes I really am having a damn hard time.
I know we adapt to chronic pain. I know we do even when we think we do not cope well we have learned compared to when we started. That is for sure. We definitely do gain perseverance, endurance and resiliency. Yay us.
But we can’t make sense of this. Our brain wants to making meaning from our pain experience and it can’t. It is meaningless constant pain. And any meaning we Make tends to be a crappy belief system that makes us feel worse but we are not even consciously aware of. Like I used to think it made me ‘useless’ and ‘worthless’ and a’failure’. So thanks for the ‘input’, brain. I felt Great with that rolling around my head.
And we are human AND with brains desired to have an emotional response to physical pain so an emotional toll is inevitable and normal. We learn how to direct it and dampen it but sometimes it is just going to get to us. And Sometimes it is just something we need to let out.
There is nothing I think that is weak about normal human nature and a normal human response to pain. Do I think adaptation to suffering and coping with suffering is good? Yeah. I think we have to in some ways. I think that is also human nature. We endure so much more than we ever think we can. But damn, there are times… there are times when it is so very hard to do.
Physical pain has distinct biological and psychological components that effectively represent stimulus and response. The biology of pain is the signal transmitted through the central nervous system that “something is wrong.” The psychology of pain is the interpretation or meaning we give to that pain signal—the internal self-talk and beliefs about it which then drive our emotional reactions. Suffering results from mental and emotional responses to pain. The biological and psychological facets of chronic pain combine to become like a smoke detector that goes on and stays on, continuously sounding a harrowing alarm at high volume.Psychology today
There is this idea that we can have control over our reactions. Control over how we react to pain in our lives so we can then not suffer. I’d like to see that after a few decades of chronic pain. I really, really would. I really think someone would not be ambivalent about their pain experience at that point. Yes, we dampen it. Again, we work our asses off dampening a Constant signal. And that includes working on self talk and beliefs.
Suffering is both a cause and an effect of the catastrophic cognitions and distressing emotions associated with chronic pain: anxiety, irritability, anger, fear, depression, frustration, guilt, shame, loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness. Negative thinking only makes situations we believe to be “bad,” worse. Many people, including those who do not suffer from chronic pain, can ruminate on something by continuously and unproductively replaying it in their minds or magnifying the negative aspects of it. Our thoughts have the capacity to make us miserable, and negative thinking can be especially insidious, feeding on itself, with the potential to become a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy. For people with chronic pain, there is a direct correlation between negative thinking and the level of pain they experience. It’s a vicious circle wherein pain triggers negative thoughts and self-talk which translate to feelings that coincide with suffering, and increases muscle tension and stress. That, in turn, amplifies pain signals, triggering more of them.Psychology today
I do not disagree with the above quote. I certainly spent my fair share of time ruminating, with negative self-talk, and, yeah, it focuses you keenly on pain and suffering. Not that I blame myself. It is really hard to cope when pain isn’t managed and you are trying to hold onto a full-time career and exceeding your pain limits. Life magnified that suffering. Let’s just say that, shall we?
What I disagree with is when we have super duper resiliency, acceptance and worked on our self-talk and cope quite well… we still deal with a level of suffering. The signal of pain never ends. Coping with suffering, therefore, never ends. We are in a never-ending push-pull cycle between pain signals and the suffering it causes. And sometimes we suffer more than other times. We do not Choose to. It is just really hard to consistently, constantly maintain this balance and control over pain and our reaction and response to pain. We can do way better than we used to. Sure. But we are still going to have some really cruddy days. Weeks. Months. Because sometimes it just SUCKS. And we want to acknowledge that. And then go back to trying to dampen and manage our suffering in any way humanly possible.
Now then IS life Suffering according to Buddhism?
That is another story altogether. Because although it is used in this book with a very sharp example it is often a misunderstood concept. I don’t study Buddhism but I do like some of the ideas behind it.
Life is suffering – this link helps describe what is meant by ‘suffering’ and it is a lot more than we put into the word because the ORIGINAL word in the notion is Not ‘suffering’ at all but ‘Dukkha’. It means a lot more than ‘suffering’.
I know you have problems that cause pain. You’re hurt and it’s not feeling nice. The good news is that nothing is wrong with having problems. It’s part of life, life will never be perfect for us to enjoy only when it is perfect, and every single living being, I promise you, has them. However, when we resist the situation, the fact that there is pain and we fill our mind with agitation, anger and aversion about the pain (situation) we are adding another pain. So really, what we are doing, is burden our already painful state with some more pain.
Acceptance, on the other hand, is not (I repeat – is NOT) equal to allowance & agreement. It’s not to say we like the situation that causes our pain.
Acceptance is when we, wholeheartedly, say:
I’m in pain. I don’t like this. But let me stay with this for a short while. What is it that hurts me? And what is it showing me about me and my life lessons? What can I learn? And what can I change? Why and how do I change this?Little School of Buddhism
This is what the author of the book Mark Manson refers to as engaging with our pain rather than avoiding it. With chronic pain we can have acceptance and that doesn’t mean we do not stop trying to improve our situation, it just means we accept the situation as it is, live life as it is, engage with the pain as it is and limit suffering as best we can. Resisting the situation does cause a lot of mental anguish. Causing a lot of rumination and thoughts that just bring us a great deal of suffering. The fact we cannot change the pain itself is a fact itself that causes us suffering actually. So again we are trapped in a cycle of pain signal, suffering, trying to dampen that response to suffering. Acceptance is just when we are acknowledging this cycle and how we best cope with it.
The quote ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice’ is not exactly accurate. It is just sort of a succinct way of saying what was actually said. As it says more precisely in the book I read, and specifically in Buddhism:
“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental.”Fake Buddha quotes
And with chronic pain we have to be acutely aware of this. That pain is tangled up with mental and emotional suffering, whether we like it or not. It brings with it a mental and emotional reaction and experience and thoughts and beliefs. We have to figure out, in our own way, on our own paths, how to find balance with that. Complicated by the biological impacts of pain. Complicated by the comorbids of our illness which include mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Knowing suffering is something we always have to cope with because pain never ever turns off.
Is it any surprise that we Suffer? That we falter? That we need rest? That we deal with intense feelings and thoughts. That we cope really well and very poorly... year to year, decade to decade? If the Pain in your life Never Stopped how well could you Control your Reaction to it… your suffering? The first day? The tenth day? A year later? Five years later? A decade later? Two decades later? Oh, you would struggle. It might break you. It might make you and break you. And then you might find acceptance and balance… for a bit. But then rage against it again. And then later… back to acceptance. Yeah, you would struggle with Choosing how you React every single day of your life this Pain continued on and on and on.
Just saying we have a keen understanding of pain. And a keen understanding and relationship with suffering and how we cope with it. You can choose how you react to it for 100 days and then… it just gets to you… but then you choose how you react to it 100 more… but then it Gets to you again. Push. Pull. That is the nature of chronic pain.