We’re still going out of the intended order. I’m kicking the can a little on the making and breaking social connections post, but I wanted to talk about productive pain (it’s on my mind as I watch the slow, steady traffic this post gets where I recount getting brutalized by my first Ashtanga yoga class).
When I talk about productive pain, I’m not talking about the kind of pain from the last post. I’m not talking about illness, injury, etc.
I’m talking about soreness and exhaustion from exertion.
For me, this is about the importance of staying active. Soreness and exhaustion are just an indicator that I got there. I mean, you could go through a car crash and have the same feeling, but that’s not what we want.
I have a slightly masochistic goal to be exhausted every night when I got to sleep, which is for a couple of reasons. 1) I want to feel like I earned the right to rest (we’ll get to another post later this week about why that’s a little bit of a messed up approach). 2) Sometimes that’s the only way I can sleep well. My brain doesn’t like to shut up, and exhaustion is one of the few foolproof options I have left.
My affinity for this productive pain doesn’t come from nowhere. I grew up playing sports. I wasn’t any good, but I still played.
Well, when you get to high school, it’s not enough to play. You’ve got to get bigger, faster, stronger. So I was lifting. I was running. I was jumping. I was doing really weird stuff for hurdling. And it’s all in the name of getting better.
But being high school and led by high school coaches who sometimes don’t actually know all that much about safely getting bigger, faster, stronger, we got indoctrinated in the idea that soreness was always a good thing.
I’m not saying soreness is bad, but you don’t want to be in a constant state of soreness. You’ll never be in peak condition.
I know that previous sentence is true and yet I just can’t fully make myself accept it, so I still seek out soreness and exhaustion in my workouts. I like trying to sweat completely through the shirt I’m working out in. I like hitting the end of the workout and knowing that I didn’t leave anything on the table and couldn’t have given more if I wanted to.
And as much as that might not be the best state to constantly be putting my body through, sometimes it’s the best thing for my brain.
Staying active is paramount for my mental health. I deal with enough anxiety as it is, but when I can’t be up and about, it just multiplies in awful ways.
When I’m going through physical therapy for the bad variety of pain (like I am right now), I have to be careful that I don’t spiral when I’m not paying attention ’cause I don’t have as many chances to burn off extra energy that otherwise goes to my brain and suggests all the terrible things that could happen.
Going for a walk sounds like a stupid mental health plan, but I’ve done it before when I was hating work. It at least gave me something to look forward to.
And really, that’s not all that different from other activities. You train for a marathon, so you have a running schedule in place to give you a routine. If you join a yoga studio, you probably go to the same classes at the same time seeing the same people.
These things are good for mental health. They give you something productive for causing your body the good kind of pain.
Then there are times where those things don’t work. Last year as I was getting ready to move, all my yoga teachers were not teaching during the summer. As I’m getting ready for the stresses of moving, starting a new job, leaving the friend group I’d spent 3 years cultivating, and other stressors at the time, I lost the best outlet for me to have some productive pain.
I couldn’t run because of my knee, and taking a yoga class with teachers I don’t like is worse than not at all because I just become a rage monster on a 6mm mat.
But I couldn’t do nothing. I knew how that story ended, so I did what I hadn’t properly done in 8 years: I practiced yoga on my own pretty much every day.
That brutal ashtanga class led to me buying a book, and that book became my refuge. I even built a playlist.
And day after day, I was forcing myself to pour out sweat onto a yoga mat. I got better, and as I got better, I just pushed harder because complacency wasn’t going to do me any good at the time.
It was a little bit of a shame that I didn’t get to do one last ashtanga class with my regular teacher. I think she would have appreciated the progress even if she might not have liked why the progress occurred.
But that was the only choice I had. I could either let stress lead to bad decisions or I could let the stress fuel me through good decisions. I also spent that time eating entirely too many salads.
Sometimes you can make stress your friend. Sometimes you can get pain on your side. And sometimes that’s all you can do if mental health is a struggle. It’s not perfect, but it’s how I learned to get by.