If It Hurts, Stop Doing It

not my actual shoulder (source)

Turning 43 has taught me a variety of lessons.

Back when I was in college–a season fading further and further away into my rearview mirror–my religion professor advised one of my classes never to turn 43, because that’s the age when one gets bifocals. I am happy to report that I have thus far avoided such a fate, and my prescription wouldn’t easily lend itself to such a thing.

However, this year has brought some other developments that have taken my one word for the year in unexpected directions. A shoulder injury has derailed certain things for me and has caused me to learn about slowing down, re-evaluating, changing direction, and not getting too hung up on where I wanted to go vs. where I’ve ended up.

The short version of my medical situation the past few months is this: anti-inflammatories followed by physical therapy followed by an MRI followed by x-rays and a consultation followed by a check-in with my PCP followed by more x-rays and another consultation. All of this has resulted in finding some arthritis and tendonitis and, finally, an injection of cortisone.

Instead of irreversible age-related eye degeneration, it’s irreversible age-related joint degeneration.

I’ve been asking over and over what this means for what I can and can’t do going forward. The simplest and most poignant words came from my doctor. She looked directly at me and said, “If it hurts, stop doing it.”

Or at least, they seem simple.

I’ve heard sentiments like this so often over the past 43 years, and maybe you’ve heard versions of them, too.

  • If that work project is causing more grief than benefit, just give it up.
  • If that relationship is only causing pain, just leave it behind.
  • If that faith community is stifling you, just walk out the door.
  • If that job isn’t what you want, just quit and find another.
  • If that mental or emotional issue causes you pain, just find help.
  • [Insert your own example here.]

Many of these are much more complex than simply stopping, or walking away, or setting a firm boundary. The expectations from oneself or from others might be too heavy, the dynamics too labyrinthian to navigate an easy exit.

And yet to hear the words “if it hurts, stop doing it” also bring a certain liberating spirit. The central concern, after all, is one’s well-being, whatever the specifics. At its core, it is advice to care for oneself despite the expectations of others and despite the complicated dynamics. It might take a while to unravel the particulars, but the sentiment remains that your health and life matter and deserve better than the pressure that you feel to continue along the current trajectory.

Just hearing that you have permission to stop can be life-changing. It can be the catalyst for a new beginning.

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