Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's the purpose of pain?

Don't image search 'injury'

If I cut my hand, I feel pain. Nerves in my fingers or palm send electrical signals to my brain telling me that something has been damaged. It's a warning. If I have internal injuries or a broken bone, I feel pain; my body is telling me that something is wrong and I should be careful because I'm not 100% well.

If I were to sever a nerve and destroy that connection, I would lose my biological warnings. I'd no longer know when my body gets damaged. I could have a broken rib or a cut on my leg and not know. There was an episode of House

It's always rare and never lupus

that focused on a girl who didn't feel pain, having what's called CIPA, or congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. She lives without feeling pain and hot or cold temperatures. It's an interesting episode when she
talks about how she has a scar on her butt because she sat on a stove when she was kid while it was on and didn't know until she smelled burning. Or when she has to check herself regularly for injuries she might have gotten during the day and not noticed. It's a rare condition, but that's what House is all about. According to Wikipedia it's only been documented 84 times in the US and more than half of those diagnosed with it die before they turn three due to overheating; they can't sweat and as such are unable to regulate their body temperature and die.

The logical conclusion from this is that without pain we have little to let us know when something is hurt. Despite how much I may wish I didn't feel pain after slamming my hand in a car door, it's a good thing I do feel it or else I wouldn't take care of it and help it heal. I would exacerbate the condition and it would lead to more complications.

Emotionally we can feel pain, too. If physical pain exists to tell us when we're injured and lets us know we need to let it heal, does emotional pain do the same?

At times we all feel heartache

Heartache is something I'd bet many people are familiar with. Emotionally we can feel pain almost as real as when we stub our toe. It's not a leap to say that if physical pain exists to tell us something is damaged, emotional pain does the same. When I break my finger, I go to a doctor to have it set, get some pain medication, have a splint put on, and then head home allowing my finger to heal. Why then do I not do the same when I feel emotional pain? Physical pain we know to see a doctor about yet emotional pain is something we either bottle up, try to repress, ignore, or if we do talk to someone, it's usually just a friend. I wouldn't trust a friend to set a broken femur; why do I trust them with my broken heart?

Taking the physical approach to emotional pain, it would seem that when I'm hurt emotionally it means I've been damaged in some way and need to let it heal. Most often this is done physically by bandaging it up and giving it time. No matter how many medications we take, we don't heal up immediately. All injuries take time to heal, but they need to be left alone. We like to poke at them. We like to pick at them when they form scabs. Emotionally, we can't bandage ourselves up to keep us from picking at the wounds; it's much harder to let them heal.

Perhaps the reason we trust each other with our emotional pain is because we believe that if someone else has gone through what we're dealing with then they'll be able to tell us how to heal. This logic follows course that if someone has had a broken arm at some point in their past than they will know how to set and properly apply an orthopedic cast to my leg should I break it. It's somewhat fallacious reasoning. Yes they may have some experience in that department, but just because they dealt with it once in their situation doesn't mean they know how to deal with it in mine.

A psychologist or psychiatrist is the logical solution; they're the medical doctors of the mind. Seeing a psychologist - someone who is trained and experienced in helping people deal with emotional and mental pain - is still stigmatized by society. People still think if you're seeing a psychologist you must be schizophrenic or have some other mental illness. Going to a doctor for a physical is seen as responsible and mature;
why don't we have or recommend regular checkups with shrinks?

"Tell me about your mother"

I think it'd do people good.
When you go in for your yearly physical you should go in for a yearly psychologist visit as well. Or you could just go to a psychiatrist and have them ask you about your relationship with your parents while checking your prostate. I suppose that might be awkward though.


Brooke said...

Interesting. You make a very valid point.

Mark A. said...

if I had not gone to a phycoligist while on my mission I most likely would have had to come home early. I highly recomend them:)