Oh, we’ve all heard the saying before, right? “Play through the pain,” “Shake it off,” “It’s just a flesh wound…” Well, maybe not the last one. But it’s a sentiment that we carry through our work-oriented culture all the time: Sure, I’m in pain, but I’m just going to work through it anyway. Acknowledging pain would be showing weakness, and we’re certainly not a culture of weak people, right?
In contrast, though we may be quick to tell ourselves to play through the pain, we’re also quick to tell others to “listen to your body,” “know when you need to take a break!” Somehow we regard the health and well-being of others in a manner far above that of our own. And no matter how many times someone tells you or explains it to you, watching out for your own health can be very difficult.
I’ve shown you my calendar before, though at the time it only had two stars. Now, it has a bright and shiny 6, with this post and a bit of journaling standing between me and a full 7-day week of writing success. But wow, I have to admit: I’m tired. Part of it is from adjusting to my own work schedule: I tend to wake up late in the morning, stay up until 3 or 4am, and do it all again the next day. I’m pretty sure humans weren’t quite designed for that. But I’m also tired because I don’t think I’ve written this consistently for a long, long time…certainly not on posts to public forums. But it feels great to be writing this often, both here and on Intelligame. I’ve still got big plans for my work there.
Still, today I actually complained a bit to folks about my fatigue, and I received responses that made sense: why don’t you take a day off? If you’re tired, then rest! On one hand, I agree, but on the other hand, I think I’m capable of more. In situations in life that require consistent effort, we all reach points like this, pivot points that may shape more of our future habits and resolve than we realize. So, in my case, I’m going to keep writing. There’s a part of me that dreams of filling that impromptu calendar with 70 gold stars (which sounds like the dream of a kindergartner), and I really think I can pull it off. That’s not to say that I recommend this for every situation.
One of my roommates came home from work the other day with a pretty substantial cold. He knew exactly who he caught it from: a co-worker who’d come in the day before, coughing and sneezing and doing all those other contagious things that pass colds from one person to another. “Why didn’t she just stay home?” I yelled, engaging on a mini-rant about how people who take risks and don’t listen to their bodies can negatively affect others. Given, it was a mini-rant; I wasn’t really angry, just more perturbed and looking for an opportunity to vent about something (when you don’t work in an office with other people anymore you look for lots of reasons to have conversations and get heated). But I’m sure she just did the same thing that I’m doing: she played through the pain, knew that she had work that she committed to do, and so she kept doing it. Only difference is that when she continued to do her work, it jeopardized others as well.
That’s not a mistake that’s exclusive to illnesses, by the way; playing through the pain can affect your mental state, too. I can remember coming back to my parents’ house a couple weeks after I’d left a job in retail management; I’d really been unhappy with the job (really, unhappy with myself) and for months I’d gone through a serious depression. When I talked to my dad, he asked me how my day was, which is a pretty typical question. I responded, and he said, “Wow, I’m really glad you left that job. For a while there, nobody wanted to talk to you because you were so mean!”
I don’t think I have that quote word-for-word, but the sinking feeling that went through me is still vivid as ever. I didn’t really think about the people around me that I was hurting just by continuing to stay in that negative place. I’d gotten pretty selfish, though that the only person I was hurting was myself…turns out that I had better relationships with my former co-workers, my family, and my friends once I left that job, and it was because I was willing to take care of myself, leaving me more energy to take care of (and be enjoyable around) others.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Yes, play through the pain…but do it until you shouldn’t anymore. Our brains naturally want to resist changes in habits and mentalities, so if you’re struggling to get up for that morning workout, or trying to convince yourself to write that extra page, I say go for it: break the goal in to small chunks, have a friend cajole you into success, whatever it takes. Playing through the pain is necessary in small bursts. When “the pain” starts to become the norm, though, it’s time to start looking for ways to take a break from the situation, or perhaps exit it altogether. Generally, when you’re in a situation that’s really tearing you down, it’s not just you that suffers: all the people who rely on you start to suffer from not having the “full you” around. And aside from satisfying their needs, real friends want to see you be happy, energetic, and successful.
So play through the pain…but only until you shouldn’t. I think we, more often than not, know the difference between when we WANT to stop as opposed to when we NEED to stop; pay attention to yourself, and pay attention to the people who care about you; changing gears and leaving a bad situation just may give you the steam and energy you need to do something you really love, something that doesn’t even feel like pain when you’re going through the rough parts.