What does it feel like? (describing the indescribable)

What are your favorite ways to explain “indescribable” experiences or feelings to others who haven’t gone through them? This often is associated with pain - ie. childbirth, tattoos, piercings, trauma - but can extend to other physical or emotional sensations.

The most frequent questions the non-tattooed ask about tattoos are “does it hurt?” and “what does it feel like?” These questions are understandable but also kind of funny. My first instinct is to respond: “Yes” and “like being pricked by a needle a hundred times a second.” I mean, like, duh. :stuck_out_tongue:

But of course those descriptions don’t help someone who hasn’t had the experience and genuinely wants to know what it is like, so I came up with “like getting a small paper cut, over and over again, for an hour.” For piercings, my only response so far has been “like a needle being stuck through your ear/nose/belly button” as I can’t really think of anything else that it feels like.

So what other metaphors have you come up with to make your experiences relatable? Some suggestions (sorry if some of these are morbid, but it is truly in the interest of fighting ignorance):

  • being pierced
  • breaking a bone
  • giving birth
  • heart attack
  • jumping into freezing-cold water

Add your own!

Having a baby is like…a six-hour fluctuating charley horse in the middle of your abdomen, followed by the world’s biggest “oh god what did i eat” bowel movement.

I’d heard that getting laser hair removal was like being snapped repeatedly with a rubber band, and I’ve got to say that’s pretty damn accurate.

I tell the SO that cramps are like getting bad food poisoning then being punched in the stomach at random intervals.

I remember reading about Vipisanna (very sp?) buddhist meditation… and how strongly the text emphasised how difficult it would be to describe the feeling of nirvana.

I wish I was still into that (and lucid dreaming)

I’d go with panic attack. Even I forget just what they feel like until I have one, and even then they’re not as bad as they could be because of meds. I think of them as an antiorgasm (OK, I barely remember what those feel like either :wink: ); instead of a nice tingle spreading out to the tips of your fingers and toes, it’s a cold shiver of horribleness that starts in my belly/heart and radiates out. Ugh.

Very intense cramps, followed by what feels like an uncontrollable urge to poop. As I learned after the first one was born…try to have a bowel movement before you head off to the hospital. Of course, by that point, you don’t care, it’s like “GET THIS THING OUT OF ME AND I DON’T CARE THAT ALL THE LOVELY IS ON DISPLAY!” but still…the niceties must be observed.

Guys…tell me how it feels to be kicked in the testicles, and I’ll tell you what it’s like to pass a kidney stone.

Surgery without anaesthetic. I just tell people that while it’s hard to believe that it’s possible to live through it, unfortunately, you do. After a fashion.

Giving birth - like passing a Cabbage Patch Kid through your nostril.

Considering nobody that I know has passed a Cabbage Patch Kid through one’s nostril, maybe you can describe it? :wink:

Find a nice, wet, grassy playing field. Run as fast as you can. Leap high into the air and twist half way and land sideways on one leg so that it folds outward perpendicular to your knee joint under all of your weight. Sprain your knee in this way. Now, move that pain to your groin.

You will find yourself unable to even scream.

Getting a tattoo felt to me like someone was tracing a design on my back with an x-acto knife and then peeling it off. Very very very irritating, but not quite as painful as I expected.

Getting my tongue pierced was nearly painless. I imagine it felt like a juice box would feel if someone shoved a straw into it.

Taking a shot to the balls just feels like your testicle has suddenly expanded painfully to twice its size while arcs of pain rise up through your abdomen like arcs of electricity around Frankenstein’s body.

There was one that was different, but most of mine were like this. There’s puking and dry heaves, then pain like an elephant is standing on your heart and grinding it with his foot, like someone stubbing out a cigarette butt. You can’t even stand up straight and it’s hard to breathe. The pain spreads to your arms, neck and jaw. It’s like the bones ache, really really bad, as opposed to muscle pain or bruises. YMMV.

On a note unrelated to pain and near pain…

Exiting a high performance aircraft while in flight. Three seconds of, “Oh shit, I am falling.” One second that feels like you have just been swept under the biggest wave an irrational person would try to surf, then a huge cracking of you back by the best chiropractor ever known to man (seriously, the guy would have to be the Einstein of back straightening) followed by complete and total Nirvana, at least until you remember you have to land.

SSG Schwartz

A friend asked me once what a migraine feels like. The closest I could come was that it’s like having a dull railroad spike driven through the roof of my mouth and out the top of my head. Then it sits there and pulses.

My tattoo felt like my back was being scratched by kitten claws at high speed… until the tattooist started working over the bone - then it was a strange buzzing sensation that travelled up my spine to the back of my head and into my jaw, accompanied by the aforementioned kitten claws. Not particularly painful, but not pleasant either.

Piercings (ears, nose, navel) all felt like a really sharp pinch followed by a radiating warmth that spreads outwards from the needle, swiftly turning into a dull throbbing ache.

Sorry, I haven’t actually experienced the “pleasure” of birth! That was described to me by a friend who had recently given birth to a 9 pound baby. She had what she described as circular vaginal tearing :eek: .

Well, upon impact, it’s a nasty, evil kind of pain. It shuts your body down completely into the fetal position. Upon reaching the fetal position and realizing that you’re not going to die, and then realizing that the sweet release of death is welcome, you start to run some kind of system diagnostic check. You start small with your fingers and toes and then shift your balance so you can roll to your back. The legs are the last thing to move. If you’re lucky (and she has a wide foot and caught both of them) you also have a sudden and extreme feeling of nausea. This feeling hits instantly upon impact. Yeah, taking a shot to the pills is bad business.

Plunging into an ice cold stream feels like you’ve fallen through a trapdoor and been immersed in so many frozen ball bearings. There is the shock, the cold, then the constriction. You labor to breath-not enough to incite panic, mind you, but enough to make you swim like hell for shore.

Being kicked in the balls is a cosmic betrayal. Again, there is the shock, but (to me anyway), it feels as though a long favored appendage (one you’ve doted upon for years, sometimes vigorously) has been stolen and a ball of throbbing pain has been rendered as payment. The thought process is this; “FUCK…my balls hurt…AND THEIR GONE*”. And then everyone walking by is asking if you’re alright because you’re sweating in spite of the October chill and beyond pale, and you just want to tell them to shut the fuck up so you can weigh the pros and cons of throwing up and/or passing out in peace, but you can’t say a word lest you offend whatever demon just bushwhacked you to begin with.

In short, being kicked in the 'nads is the ultimate argument for Atheism, because you know with the abruptness of direct perception that no ‘just and loving’ being would ever perpetrate such an epic mindfuck as this.

*Incidentally this final thought is the reason men fall to the fetal position and cup the lads; we instinctually know that if we hold and cup and stroke the absence, we’ll eventually grow an eerily similar replacement, albeit swollen and tender.

  1. Nose piercing: it didn’t hurt. They only used Bactine to numb it slightly. What I did feel was pressure as the fairly large-gauge sharpened wire was pushed through the tissue, and the tissue gave way. Not painful, but a little squicky.

  2. Tattoo: mine is right over my sternum, between my breasts. I’m fairly flatchested, so there’s not much padding. The way I usually describe it is that at the very moment when I opened my mouth to tell him I couldn’t take anymore, he announced he was done.

  3. Childbirth: there is a reason women’s memory of the pain of childbearing sorta shrinks and fades. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. But even that paled in comparison to…

  4. An ovarian cyst: it became acute very suddenly, without much warning, as I was in the next county visiting my family overnight. At the time, my medical insurance had certain limitations. So my poor Dad had to drive me to THREE different hospitals, quite a ways apart, trying to find one that would take me. I was yelling the entire way and I could not stop; I was literally physically unable to stop myself. Bear in mind that I am a very stoic individual and on top of that, polite almost to a fault. One hospital threw me out because of the noise. I was mortified, or at least, I would have been if I hadn’t been in so much damned pain.

I think that one problem the OP may have getting accurate descriptions of major pain is that profound physical pain causes various bodily responses which are designed to impair your faculties of sensation/observation/cognition. So you probably wind up with a lot less to work with in the way of qualitative analysis.

Swallow a whole pint of slush drink - so that you get that dull, but incredibly intense and persistent brain-freeze pain. Move that pain to the groin.

At the same time, bend over and get someone to insert a small umbrella into your rectum, tell them to open it, then try to pull it out.