There's a good kind and a bad kind
Good Pain (Type 2) sets you up for growth. Bad Pain (Type 1) just hurts. A lot.
I spent last week in a lot of pain.
I had COVID (again).
Despite my best efforts at precautioning, masking, sanitizing, and all the other “ing’s” I got infected with what I’m assuming is the latest variant of the foreverbug while traveling to/and/or/from the beautifully rugged Texas Hill Country for my brother’s wedding last weekend.
I was ominously sniffly as I awoke on Monday morning and a few hours later I couldn’t really talk. Negative tests abounded that day though so I decided it was definitely probably just a cold I caught on the plane. I half-heartedly responded to some emails before calling it a (very) early day.
Tuesday was a subsequently valiant effort at normalcy, but I once again succumbed to the looming glacier of illness closing in on the edges of my vision before noon. By the evening, I was Positive.
Aggressively so, in fact.
The take home test I trusted so explicitly screamed for mercy within 3 minutes of its activation. A thick, dark, disappointed vertical line burst forth almost immediately after the control line osmotically (oh so gently) faded into existence.
Pleasantly even? I can tell when I am being mocked.
I didn’t need to wait the remaining 12 minutes to know how the next (hopefully brief) chapter was going to go. I mean, I probably wasn’t going to die.
I had already had “It” before at the dawn of the age of the mythic solitude. My toes got super weird looking and painful and I couldn’t walk for a while, but other than that temporary inconvenience I didn’t feel too terribly bad. Also the world was batshit back in April 2020 (relatively speaking) so my problems seemed pretty small potatoes compared to the generation destroying power we thought (were?) witnessing.
And (may it please the court) - I also had no risk factors.
We clocked and re-clocked a pulse oximeter holding steady at a 98 - whatever the hell that means. A+ to be sure. Small fever (100.2). A minor nagging and dragging cough. A throat tickle really.
This was mostly a problem for future Cameron.
We game-planned in the apartment via text. I would sequester in the bedroom and office and wear a mask as I transited around the apartment on an as needed basis. Hand sanitizer would be positioned at all points of ingress and egress. Rest and isolation were the priority. Work would be secondary until I recovered. Marisa was still negative for now and we wanted to keep it that way. While I wasn’t really all that bad by the metrics, I had a funny feeling, but it was probably psychosomatic. A tumultuous unspoken history of her not unserious bronchitis also tinged the conversation.
Overcautious? sure maybe, but capping downside risk is what I preach so time to practice. Rule #1 of startups is “Don’t Die.” and maybe that’s a good rule for life too (although jury is still out tbh). And thus the preparation commenced.
It got tougher to breathe throughout the evening.
Not chest tighteningly bad, but certainly enough that I noticed.
Masks are still annoying over two years into this sassy P, but wearing one was definitely…extra noticeable by the end of the day.
I awoke - rather shifted states - in the morning. Horizontal is where I would stay for the next two days. I think I ate. I probably slept. I definitely canceled all my meetings because I have the emails as proof, but gun to my head I don’t really remember what I did last week. I know I consumed content. I know I felt bad. I know that I experienced something resembling illness (now that I think about it, why do I even have meetings in the first place? - I have no product yet) and I know that my body was battling an invader and that the first major campaign was against my lower back - maybe the kidneys although tough to say in retrospect (but honestly that should’ve been my first thought) - then came the esophageal battles and eventually the ocular crusade was what I thought to be the last stand. Probably less ocular than sinusoid but alas my retinas felt like they were on the cusp of detaching from their usually cozy place of residence. A history of casually persistent head trauma (thanks Uncle Sam) and the subsequent highly classified medical treatment of shrugging slightly at the problem makes me slightly more nervous than the average bear about retaining my eyeball function baseline. Ah well. ahem I awoke - rather shifted states - on Friday. I got up for I think the first time. I ate something rectangular that was supposed to be sweet and full of grains. I wondered and checked and had lost 5 pounds in half that many days (yea probably mostly water got it). Weakness floated through my consciousness and limbs, but maybe less so than before yet enough that it was still hard to cogitate on the nature of the weakness which now implies to me (who has time traveled forward to this moment right now) that I entered a state of increasing strength rather than decreasing. Maybe I was over the hill. Or past the trough. Or some metaphor of getting through the worst of it.
And the next day happened weakly.
And the next day happened less weakly.
And so on until today.
Not a triumph, but an acknowledgement of the struggle of rebuilding.
The Meat of the Matter
There are two types of pain. Okay, there are a lot of types of pain, but there are two types that metaphorically matter for self-actualization. Not medical advice.
The first type of pain is directionless. It hurts. Sometimes a lot.
Type 1 Pain can be all consuming, mind-melting, soul-torturing tragedy and when it finally subsides nothing actually changes except…you just went through some serious misery. Unfortunately, that in and of itself doesn’t mean shit. You can experience a lot of pain for absolutely no good reason because the world is sometimes shitty.
This type of pain is what the protagonists we’re supposed to root for feel at the start of that movie. Their dad beats them. They’re senselessly attacked by bullies. There is an unmistakable tragedy in their life that shows us beyond a shadow of a doubt that they too are battered and bruised by this cruel, cruel world. The pain is meant to connect us to someone else for a brief instant in which we realize that maybe (just maybe) we’re not alone - except obviously it has only temporarily papered over the vast interpersonal gulf between each of our individual consciousnesses so of course we’re alone (and you feel it too don’t you lie to me).
Note that the banality of this pain doesn’t make it less painful.
The second type of pain is purposeful. It hurts too. Also sometimes a lot.
Except this kind has a reason. It is the means to an end of something.
An all important something.
For my definitional purposes, the second type of pain is a means to the end of self-improvement (because that’s all there is to think about, Sisyphus). And this Type 2 Pain feels familiar…
Oh antifragility how did you sneak in here?
But the point is that Type 2 Pain (incurred as the payment means to fulfill the debt obligation end of self-improvement) is an objectively better kind (if you’re into things like objectivity, noumena, and brutally stuffing the universe into familiar conceptual frameworks to de-otherize the vastness of eternity). Making sense of our struggle is how we default process and systematize and refine the schema of our brain data and emotional storage.
Having our Type 2 Pain Pointer’s destination address makes our meatspace mental filing work more smoothly.
It also feels better because it allows us to repeatedly map the fragile dots holding the connections of our ego together without as much cognitive dissonance. And baby we’re all about those feels.
Without the feels, we’re not reals.
Or something like that.
Anyway - Type 1 Pain just throws a vague error. It’s not helpful.
Oh but also I forgot the important bit here - You can make bad shit mean something.
Type 1 Pain can become Type 2 Pain if you want it to.
The beauty of the absurdity of the human condition is that definitions are malleable.
We can name the insanity that we experience and by naming it we can change it.
The naming can be a process of redefining. You can’t gaslight yourself against a Type 1 Pain’s original cruel purposelessness, but you can resolve its eventual rendering differently.
Even if just for Learning’s Sake.
Up and to the right we go.
It’s not as easy to do as it is to type (harumph), but by golly the triumph of the human spirit is a meme for a reason.
For a neurotically hyper-productive self-hater like myself, last week is a week I feel like I couldn’t afford to lose.
Time flits by and that’s important.
A week of missed workouts, a week of no code or no startup progress, still no money coming in, and a cumulative total of zero fake internet points to dull the pain.
Also a week of pure, unadulterated, self-initiated consumptive force-feeding of serotonin engendering content from a fevercollage of magically rectangular screens to desperately distract my lizard brain from the minor Fire Giant squeezing the tendons of my lower back for dear life.
Yet lose last week I did.
And I suspect I’ll lose many bits of this week as I run out of steam much too soon in my “recovery” days and continue to spend valuable brain server cycles processing the lost time and T cells - while also quietly tabulating the additional anxious weight of whatever unknown injury further incurred to this fleeting bodycraft I pilot through weird existence.
And probably many bits of next week too at the rate things are going.
And it’s not the last time I’m gonna feel Type 1 Pain.
Or the last time I’ll need to trade in that Type 1 feel for Type 2 growth.
I mean damn bro have you looked at your portfolio lately? lol. Red candles for days.
So I’m gonna deal with it because nobody feels bad for the sad white guy who went to Harvard
(nor should they - he dutifully nodded)
But more succinctly, I’m gonna deal with it because that’s what we do.
People, I mean.
And you can too, anon.
I hope this added value to your day.
Find more dramatizations of low stakes trauma on the bird app - @frozenfire42
For everything else - Let’s Chat
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