On not Guarding our Learned Pain….warning picture not for the squeamish

People often are surprised at the following about me:

  1. I live daily with a large amount of pain that is residual from my experience of neurological and musculoskeletal decompression illness (the bends) which will stay with me for life.  It’s most certainly not insignificant pain, but they find my absence of complaint unusual.
  2. That I trek and run and walk and have a full active life with legs full of “hardware” (steel plate, staple, bolts) See scary pic from one location of hardware/injury.leg

People are surprised that I don’t show pain.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t manage it.  I do manage my thinking about it – very closely.

How? I believe I can manage it and that works for me.

I meditate on letting it go.

I fundamentally don’t give in to allowing this physical pain or any emotional pain – to ensure that it does not rule my life.

I don’t see pain as a barrier to life and I use it as a way to gauge how well I am living my life.  To me pain is only not useful if it is made worse by me not living my life to the full – what I mean is that if I use my pain as an excuse for not living my life it becomes the reason for depression.

I don’t like giving myself excuses and I don’t like giving depression a reason to rear it’s ugly head.  I would prefer to work on the feelings, face the demons and not give it the satisfaction.

I don’t think pain is the reason many of us don’t live active lives – there are way too many examples in people of those who just get on and do active things regardless of the pain.  They also do it without complaint and are happier and more fulfilled in  life – but I don’t think pushing ourselves through unnecessary pain is desirable either.

Without the presence of pain we cannot know what our limits are or what our potential might be.

Sometimes pain is not meant to stop us, but only warn us.  Make us slow down.

I have learned to listen to my body and it’s pain and respond with positivity even in the light of some significant pain.

If you don’t believe it’s possible to overcome pain with positive thought – the science and new studies of people who do achieve this are providing too many case studies to discount it. I’m not alone in my approach.

People have used various techniques to overcome pain in rehabilitation from severe injuries.  But there are big links between the expectation that we will feel pain and the sensation of pain.

I have an Aunt who yells in pain even at the thought of falling – she actually experiences pain with any movement that might mean she is about to fall.  After the pain of multiple hip replacements this is her reality.  The irony is, the yell forces her to right herself and in the majority of times she does not fall and she actually prevents herself from falling.  Some family members laugh at her – but I think she is managing successfully more pain in one day than the jesters might in several years.

Norman Doidge (2007:193 cf from Ramachandran 1998) “The Brain that Changes Itself” discusses learned pain and what happens when “we guard” ourselves from pain.

“When we guard, we prevent our muscles from moving and aggravating our injury. If we had to remind ourselves consciously not to move, we’d become exhausted and slip up, hurt ourselves, and feel pain. Now, suppose, thought Ramachandran, the brain pre-empts the mistaken movement by triggering pain the moment before the movement takes place, between the time when the motor center issues and the command itself triggers pain?”

Doidge goes on to cite other studies that have shown that pain is not what we think it is. In fact, how we think about it may in fact define the brain’s pain responses.

In short, how we experience pain is dependent on our attitudes towards pain and what we think the purpose of pain is.

I don’t view pain as punishment for living or injuries.  I don’t see pain as the side effects of taking unnecessary risks with my life as some people have indicated to me that is how they think of it.  These are the people who avoid anything that might cause pain and, I would say, avoid life, as much as possible. To my thinking risking a life full of no adventure and no experience is not a risk I am prepared to take – and does not represent a life at all.

I view pain and injuries as a reminder that I have lived a full and rewarding life and I intend to keep on living that life.

For those who are avoiding arthritic pain in later life and wish to avoid injuries so much so they don’t do anything – chances are that will happen whether you have injuries or not.  Being inactive throughout your life could well leave you arthritic just as much as having an active life.  But not trying to do the things we want to in our youth (and I mean up to 70 years old) we are not saving ourselves for a peaceful retirement, but sentencing our lives to a dull monotony that is far more lethal than hiking through the mountains!

So I don’t “favour” my injuries. I work with them and don’t give in to them. I am much more resilient that I once thought I was and I know when to stop and when to push on through.

We have new generations of people who do not seem to know their own resilience or strengths – perhaps because we are so fixated on “safety” that we forget how unsafe it is to not know our own strengths and not have faith in our own resilience?


Doidge, N. (2007) The Brain That Changes Itself; Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. Penguin Books: London.

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