I have been thinking.  Our health, I have determined, is related to our ability to tolerate discomfort.  Someone else has probably said this before.  I don’t claim to be the first to say it, but it seems to have a lot of meaning these days.

“Discomfort” may be something as simple as a scent – wafting up from the kitchen.  When I need to close the door (second floor) behind me because the delicious smell of lunch being prepared downstairs bothers me, I know that my wanna-be migraine-ling has turned into a full-fledged migraine. 

And it’s not just physical health.  Emotional health can be gauged by our ability to tolerate disagreements, setbacks, and the like. 

There’s mental health, and spiritual health as well.

I have been thinking a lot about becoming healthier.  As is the case with many other things, gauging our ability to tolerate discomfort is a diagnostic tool but can at the same time be therapeutic, too.   I can become aware that I am unusually sensitive to = intolerant of a certain discomfort, and then take the next step, namely, in addition to acknowledging and accepting the discomfort, stretching my tolerance a bit. 

I learned about this first, many years ago, when I had to undergo several dental procedures which, while not directly painful, were very unpleasant.  At one of the first sessions, I decided to count the seconds until one unpleasant part was over.  I don’t think it was ever longer than – 30 seconds? a minute?  Anyway, to my surprise, and relief, I found that the simple act of counting helped put things into perspective.   Certainly I could tolerate discomfort for 30 seconds.  (I realize that the act of counting gave me something to do, and therefore a certain measure of control which by itself goes a long way toward relieving discomfort.) Stretching tolerance.


DISCOMFORT AND PAIN (posted the next day)

One person’s discomfort is another’s pain.  And a third person doesn’t even know what the first two are talking about because he/she is – by nature? or accident? – much more tolerant? oblivious? to begin with.

I am a princess on the pea.  One piece of cat litter in my sock is intolerable.  I wear most T-shirts, camisoles, leggings, etc., inside out because I cannot stand the seams and tags (most of which I’ve cut out) against my skin.  I don’t tolerate binding clothes or uncomfortable shoes but that’s more a philosophical thing than physical.

While I don’t have allergies – hayfever, rashes and the like (my stomach hurts when I eat raw onions or garlic; not stomach upset, stomach pain) – I am highly sensitive.  Thin-skinned.  With an unusually sensitive nose. I am often bothered by things that other people hardly notice.  I hear faint sounds, smell barely-there scents, am aware of how things feel against my skin.  Here again, I can gauge my health by how much (or not) I am bothered by this.  If something that I can normally tolerate becomes distracting I know that I need to take care of it.  Sometimes it helps to tell myself that “this too shall pass” (stretching tolerance), sometimes I need to remove the irritant, or myself from an irritating situation or place.

Being unusually sensitive puts me in the middle between people who are not, and those with true allergies.  In German, there is a saying, “Der Mensch geht von sich selber aus” which means that everyone is his/her own norm.  To me, I am normal, and others who are either less or more sensitive than I  are not.  Because of this, I am tempted to say that trying to explain to someone who is less sensitive how it feels to be unusually sensitive is like explaining colors to a blind person.   It just so happens that, at least in our society, culture, and world, being able to see is the norm, being blind is not.  It’s not that easy with being sensitive.  What amount of sensitivity is normal?  Healthy?

I’ll be thinking some more about the relationship between health and our ability to tolerate discomfort.