“Is numbing our pain always a good thing?”– Dr. Daniel Pierce
Perception may not be the best acted or written show on television, and it may never win any awards, but it’s a show I enjoy watching. Others must too as it now enters it’s third season on TNT.
It’s the psychological aspect of the show that keeps me intrigued. The main character Dr. Daniel Pierce is a paranoid schizophrenic neuropsychiatrist who teaches at a Chicago university. He just so happens to assist the local FBI office weekly due to a former student of his being a detective. (Yes, it’s not the most plausible show ever.)
Pierce has this ability to analyze and assess situations that always leads him to solving cases that no one else can. Usually it’s through the assist of one of his delusions, which often brings a bit of subtle humor to the series.
In this past week’s episode, we found the good doctor identifying a victim with the medical condition congenital analgesia, a rare genetic disorder that causes a person to have no sensation or feeling to physical pain.
True to form, this new case coincides with Pierce having just been dumped. Everyone in his life keeps asking if he’s okay, and like most of us, he doesn’t respond openly when asked. He tries to push people away because doing so also allows him to push any emotional pain away as well. He’s trying to stay numb.
The theme of the episode is pretty set: What’s life like when you’re unable – or unwilling – to experience and process pain?
Let’s stick with the concept of physical pain for a moment. What would it be like if you had congenital analgesia and were completely unable to feel anything, including pain?
Think about that for a minute. If someone punched you – whether provoked or not – you could stand there like Superman as if it didn’t phase you at all. Anytime you needed a shot, you wouldn’t have to squirm waiting for the prick of the needle because you’d never feel it. This condition could be seen as beneficial.
But what about when you’re hand accidentally touches a hot surface and becomes seriously burned? You’d wouldn’t know it. Likewise, you could cut yourself and bleed for hours until you finally realized there was blood everywhere.
Some unique life problems begin to present themselves that make us realize that this wouldn’t be an easy condition to live with. You would constantly have to monitor yourself, relying on your other senses and also have someone else’s help.
Pain serves a purpose. So why do we try so hard to numb ourselves and avoid it? What happens when we have a headache? If you’re like me, you find the closest stash of ibuprofen to try and numb the throbbing as soon as possible.
We often want the easy escape rather than prolonged exposure, but if we don’t allow ourselves to experience pain, we’ll often miss out on some of the finer parts of life, as Dr. Pierce points out:
“The more we know pain in all it’s varying flavors, the more we can appreciate the sensations and feelings that we like. That’s the nature of a contrast. If we never felt bitterness or anger, then we wouldn’t deeply appreciate our happiness. And if we never knew fear, we couldn’t admire courage.”
In my life, I’ve had to say goodbye to quite a few people and each time it’s been hard. The pain of loss caused me to become sad and angry at God for taking someone I cared about way too soon according to my own calculations.
My last surviving grandfather passed away over three years ago. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and mentally had left us years prior to physically. Towards the end, we knew it wouldn’t be long until he died.
I remember the day before when he was alive but asleep, only to wake long enough for the hospice nurse to turn him from one side to the next. We knew it would be soon.
I went to bed that evening, knowing that at any moment I could be awoken to hear it was time. That happened just prior to the sun coming up the next morning. My parents had gotten the call and we rushed to the nursing home. He had finally passed away.
We knew it was coming. We knew we couldn’t stop it. But as we entered his room to see his lifeless body laying there, a physical shell of the man I’d known all of my life, who had loved and cared for me, I couldn’t help but weep. It didn’t make sense. I knew this day was coming. I knew that the grandfather I remembered had long since passed, but still, I couldn’t help but feel pain.
I’d have given a lot to numb the pain of that day. It’s still not a moment I like to reflect on or relive in my mind as it recalls emotions that I still want to avoid.
I told myself that I needed to be strong for my family, that there were things that needed to be done and I didn’t have time to feel sorrow, but that was a lie. Loss of a loved one is a totally acceptable time to feel that way, and if I tried to ignore those feelings, I’d have missed out on the lesson life was teaching me. I’d would miss the point that we need to be grateful for the joy, laughter and happiness we get to experience with others as we walk through life together.
That’s not something I could have learned if I had numbed my emotions.
Everyone deals with pain in their own way, but most continue to spend their life trying to hide from it. For some that means resorting to alcohol or narcotics. For others it’s about mentally rejecting the premise of pain and lying to themselves, but, either way, pain isn’t something that can be out run. It will catch up with you over time.
You, like everyone else, have stories of pain from your past, and you know how you’ve dealt with it. Maybe you’ve handled it well. Maybe you haven’t.
Despite how what you’ve done in the past, you have a choice of what you will do in the future because as long as you’re alive, there will be moments of pain forthcoming. You may try to avoid them. You may try numb yourself hoping they’ll simply pass you by, but they will happen and you have the decision on how to respond to them when they do.
The best thing you can do is remember the contrasts Dr. Pierce pointed out. Remember how the bad times only serve to highlight the good. Let that guide you through those darker moments, because there will be a moment of light ahead. Don’t numb yourself and remember that…
“…to more fully enjoy the beauty in our lives, we must acknowledge and embrace our pain.”– Dr. Daniel Pierce