Pain Destroys My Ability to Think

December 2, 2021 Natasha Tracy

I find pain destroys my ability to think. I find that once pain reaches a certain level, I can no long formulate rational thoughts, and all I can think about is the pain. I short, pain kills my brain. This feels like a curse for someone who uses her brain for a living. However, pain's penchant for affecting one's ability to think is hardly limited to me.

I have lots of experience with pain between bipolar disorder and daily headaches/migraines. Pain is woven into the fiber of my days. I despise it but have learned to work with the complexities of it out of necessity.

Pain and One's Ability to Think Relates to the Amount of Pain

One of the things you learn about with pain is the pain scale. The pain scale is a rating of your pain from zero to 10, where zero is no pain and 10 is pain that is so bad you're going to pass out. There's a sort of devilish torture to having to rate your pain all the time, trust me.

And while people have many different definitions of each number of the pain scale, what is clear is that there is a turning point from where you think about pain occasionally, to sometimes, to exclusively. Believe me, as you move up the pain scale, this absolutely happens. By the time you are at a nine, you can't think of a single thing but your pain. It is overwhelming. It is soul-destroying.

It's sort of like this example. You stub your toe really hard, and it's exquisitely painful. At the moment it happens, anything you were doing ceases to exist. Anything you were thinking runs from your psyche. In fact, you might even drop anything you were carrying if the pain in your toe is severe enough. Luckily, that toe pain calms down pretty quickly, and you gain the ability to deal with other things. This is a completely normal experience.

But if that toe-pain -- that extreme, shocking, psyche-consuming pain -- were to continue, you would find it very hard to focus on something else. The pain and making it stop would be the only thing about which you would by thinking. This is what people with chronic pain deal with. They deal with that severity of pain, often on a daily basis. Bipolar disorder can do this to you. Migraines can do this to you. It's just luck if you don't happen to have those or another chronic pain condition.

My Ability to Think with Pain and Bipolar

And bipolar may even be a bit more sinister. If you're in an extreme bipolar depression, the pain you feel may affect your ability to think, as I've outlined above. But even in other mood states, bipolar tends to take the wheel of your thoughts. Hypomania may have you thinking of sex nonstop. A more minor depression may have you hating yourself nonstop. A mood with mixed bipolar characteristics may have you thinking aggressively nonstop. So, bipolar pain can affect your ability to think, but so can other parts of bipolar disorder too. 

What to Do When Pain Destroys One's Ability to Think

This is the tricky part. I find I can't think in a straight line when the pain is too severe. I find that I can't think along a logical line without that pain interrupting and cutting that line. It is very, very difficult.

The only thing I can really think to do is to admit to what's happening to myself and deal with reality. 

  • "I'm in extreme pain right now. I'm having trouble thinking."

I think anything less than absolute honesty when dealing with severe pain just doesn't help. 

And then I breathe. I breathe into the pain. I breathe through the pain. I breathe around the pain. I do anything I can to focus on deep breathing and realize that I will survive this moment.

Pain and suffering are horrific, and this level of pain and suffering is torture, but it won't kill you. It won't kill me. (Yes, there's the issue of suicide, but we'll just put that aside for a moment as that's for another post.) So pain may take over my brain and body but not my spark of existence. That is mine. Does that knowledge help my ability to think with pain? Maybe it doesn't. But what it does is keep me alive, and that's the biggest win you can ask for in that situation. 

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 2). Pain Destroys My Ability to Think, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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