I caught myself thinking recently ‘oh, it’s just period pain, it doesn’t matter.’ I’m so used to feeling that I have to push through pain – especially if it’s just regular body pain and there’s no threat of taking physical damage by ignoring it. I’m in the habit of thinking that being in pain is something to ignore or minimise and that I should expect to do as much as a person who was not in pain might do. This being an imaginary person who gets a great deal of stuff done all day, every day.
I live in a culture that doesn’t take womb-pain seriously and tends to treat people who suffer with painful periods as though they are just making a fuss. Collectively, we aren’t good at showing compassion and respect for people who are limited by pain or other disabling problems. Resting, pacing and other kinds of gentleness are all too easily treated like laziness. That all creates anxiety.
Pain takes a toll, physically and emotionally. Pushing through it to get stuff done requires a lot of mental effort. That’s a cost I’m not in the habit of thinking about when I just default to slogging on. I’m in a situation at the moment where I can afford to be a bit more gentle with myself around pain. I’m also aware that this is not an option everyone has, and that poverty and insecurity around both work and housing are major factors contributing to people not being able to move gently in response to their own distress. The longer you have to do that for, the more distress it causes and the mental health damage can be huge – and that’s not a pain everyone can afford to take seriously either.
Healing is a social justice issue. We tend to focus on it as an individual issue, but that’s not enough. What scope we have to rest, heal and recover is framed by capitalism, by poverty, by unsympathetic workplaces and unaffordable homes. No one should have to choose between trying to recover from pain or illness, and being able to afford to eat.
It should not be normal to have to ignore pain.