I’m not going to lie. I’m an absolute wimp when it comes to pain. At least, certain kinds of pain. I bruise ridiculously easy and say ow at the slightest provocation. Yet I’m also the same kid who didn’t flinch when her ears were pierced and received a tetanus shot in a church library on the way to a South American mission trip.
That said, I very much know that their are different levels of pain. Some pains can’t be compared, yet the main way people seem to relate is via comparisons. I’m not always good at handling those either, though again it’s different from the pain.
The only bones I’ve broken are little toes. I’ve broken three of them now since 2006.
The first time I was shopping with my Mom, I was stepping up, she was stepping down and somehow the heel of her shoe got between my last two toes. Snap! Pop! Bright flash of light. I remember telling her that I thought I’d broken my toe and she told me not to be ridiculous. We bought me a pair of closed toed shoes that I kept on through the rest of our 8 hour shopping trip. On the way home, I took off my shoes and the whole side of my foot was purple and black.
The second toe came in grad school. I was cleaning the gym for the Gymboree Play and Music that I worked at before my open play session started. We had to vacuum the carpet around the little mats and I stepped wrong. Snap! Pop! Bright flash of light. I limped to our first aid kit and wrapped my toes together. When the Moms started trickling in with their tots I got some advil and the advice to put my foot up that night. I didn’t listen. Instead I put on heels and went out on the worst first date ever.
The third toe broke in Croatia. It was my TOM and I started while we were out grocery shopping and I was wearing a cute swimsuit. Cue the panicked rush from the car back into the rental house. I hopped out of the car in a flying dash and cracked my toe on a rock. Snap! Pop! Bright flash of light. I didn’t even pause as I ran up the steps for the bathroom. Seriously, y’all those swimsuit bottoms were precious. It delayed our waterfall trip by two days, but I still hiked all around Croatia with a broken toe.
Which brings me back around to the idea of different levels of pain. A paper cut hurts, a black eye hurts, broken toes hurt. But do they all hurt the same? Can a person who’s broken a toe tell the guy who broke his leg in three places that they understand his pain? Can a person who’s torn an ACL tell another person with a torn ACL that they understand their pain?
Everyone tolerates pain differently.
What about emotional pain? Does that change the rules?
I read the other day about a man who had lost his spouse suddenly to a brain aneurism. He was horrified that divorced people were telling them they knew what he was going through. When B and I were long distance, separated by 1500 miles and only seeing each other once every 4-6 weeks, I had an acquaintance tell me she knew just how I felt because her boyfriend lived two hours away. I blocked her on facebook after that.
Could she really know how I feel? I know the pain of separation from B. But it’s also always been a safe separation. I certainly could never tell someone that I know the pain of deployment, when I don’t. Six months, 12 months, 9 months, deployments are hard. It’s separation combined with the worry of the danger they face, the things they see. It’s trying to find a new normal that will only last for a little while. It’s every trick in the book to count down until he’s back again.
I have been accused of minimizing the pain that others feel. That is, that by telling the girl who’s boyfriend only lived two hours from her that she couldn’t possibly actually understand what my LDR was like that I stole the significance of her pain.That, when I have been told by friends that they understand my fears of deployment because they can’t stand to be apart from their significant other for a weekend and I’ve reacted incredulously that I’ve minimized the pain they feel.
Look, if your boyfriend lives 2 hours away, trust me, I get it, it sucks. You can’t see him every single day and may even have to wait for weekends to get together. And trust me, I don’t like being away from B over a weekend either. But it isn’t the same.
And trying to tell me it is the same, well, honestly that’s just them trying to minimize my pain. It’s saying your paper cut is like their broken bone. Sure, it hurts, but it’s over much faster.
Pain exists on different levels. I just wish that people would remember that when they try to relate to others.