When It Comes to My Own Pain, I Count Via Cat Math

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“You’re doing an awful lot for other people. I want to make sure you’re getting something out of it. The last thing I want to do is see you burn out,” I say.

“The same for you,” she says.

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I reply. “I don’t count. I’m not a person.”

She laughs. Tells me she knows what I mean.

I think about it sometimes, how easy it’s always been not to account for myself in a situation. Not to take my feelings into account. No consideration of my needs — or, gasp, something as trivial as my wants.

It reminds me of when I was a little kid, and I’d count how many people had gathered together. Like a lot of folks, I’d forget to count myself. Except it’s deeper than that. And it’s a habit I’ve never grown out of.

The trouble, I think, is that I know the full extent of my own pain. I know the depth. The feel of it. There’s a point where I reach a maximum, too. No matter how much is going on, my own experience of pain is pretty binary. If I have one major hurt or stress, I feel crummy. Two is almost the same feeling as one. Three and up, it’s like no difference. It’s kind of like cat math.

What’s cat math? Not sure who came up with it originally, but to me it always originated from a friend of mine, who claimed that the more cats you get, the less of a big deal getting another cat is. One cat is a big freaking deal. Two is like having a cat and a half. And from there, the cats stop mattering as much.

Until you reach a critical mass that is. What that cat number is depends on how big your living space is. How many litterboxes you can accommodate. Whether these are indoor-only cats, indoor-outdoor, or barn cats.

Anyway, pain is a bit like cat math. Another hurtful event? Fine, fine, fine.

But just like having too many cats, there comes a point where you can’t handle it all. And when it comes to pain, that’s the point at which I start shutting down. I start not being able to drag myself fully through days. Start forgetting to take care of myself.

And I think that’s what she means. But I still have the hardest time accepting that. Because when it comes to my own pain, I tend to count via cat math.

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