As I sat in the chair at physical therapy with heat on my shoulder to get me ready for my session, I listened to the therapist tell this to another patient: “If there is pain, stop” and then “this isn’t supposed to be painful.”
Um. Yeah. Okay…that’s only what I’ve been told my whole life. So her words kinda hit me. Hard.
You know how it is: Every time we go through something difficult there is some cute little saying to remind us that good things only come through pain, or hard work, or after suffering. Sometimes it is right…but many times it’s just not true.
Must We Really Go Through Tough Things First?
To be honest, most of my adult life has been nothing BUT hard. When I faced long deployments, I reminded myself that without that pain and loneliness, I couldn’t have a great homecoming. When I went through years of infertility treatments, I reminded myself that because of all of the pain and sorrow—that would make it all so much sweeter in the end. The list goes on. Is that really how it should work though? Can we not really have wonderful things unless we go through bad things first?
More than once, I’ve been told I had a high pain tolerance. I always wore it like a badge of honor. See what I can endure? Look how tough I am! Even as I recently worked through painful rotator cuff surgery, when the doctor tested my movement and range of motion, I heard this.
So, even as it began to pinch, I said nothing. I should have cried “uncle” once my pain hit a 3, but I waited until it was near a 10. It was at this point that I knew something was wrong, I quickly took my arm back, and with support moved it back down by my side. I felt dizzy.
As I showed up to therapy two days later, I was in so much pain. My therapy was quickly dialed back as I now needed time to recover from that appointment. It took nearly three weeks to heal from that day where I let myself believe that strength comes from how much you can endure. This mistake cost me three weeks of progress, three weeks of sleep, and three weeks of regret.
Of course, we go through hard things. And yes, in those hard things we gain strength and wisdom. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stupid about it either. (And boy, did I feel stupid as I sat in therapy that day!) Sometimes, though, we need a reminder that life isn’t supposed to be painful. It’s okay to say “no” to things causing us pain. It’s okay to remove ourselves from situations that hurt. It’s okay to remember that pain doesn’t always equal gain.
Now, fast-forward to month five. My shoulder feels good, almost normal. I go back to the gym and I start feeling like me again. Then one day, I wake up and my arm feels more like month one. I could barely move it. As the day went on and I got in my car to pick my kids up, I couldn’t extend my arm to reach the radio, much less the top of steering wheel. The pain was back with a vengeance.
Know Your Motives
One month after I was discharged from therapy, I’m back, nearly in tears. We don’t know what caused this regression—slept on it funny? Overexerted? I’ll never know. But I know that I’m back and every movement I am pushed through is painful. But how do you know which pain that is meant to stretch you, and which pain is going to break you?
Our motives are often the true indicator for so many things in our lives, and I think that this is no different. I told you that I wore hard things as a badge of honor, a bit of a “look at me” if you will. What did my pride get me? Pain. I’m continuing to learn that I don’t have to prove how strong I am to anyone. I think as women, we are asked to wear so many hats and look put together and never feel like we’re falling apart. But the truth is, if we do too much, it just breaks us.
So as I continue to recover from surgery, I’ll keep pushing myself. I’ll push myself to grow. I’ll push myself to learn. I’ll push myself to do better than yesterday. But I won’t push myself so that others can define my strength. Because that? That is real strength.
Do you know what it means to be a strong woman? Find out in this podcast episode: What Are The 6 Characteristics Of A Strong Woman? With Leadership Expert Jenni Catron – 183