I have a hunch about you dear reader. My hunch is that you don’t like to be uncomfortable. For example, you probably like your pillow(s) arranged a certain way when you sleep. When you drive you adjust your seat to your exact specifications, lumbar support and everything. You don’t like blisters or headaches. (Bold predictions right?). If I may take my hunch one step further I would predict that you are someone who doesn’t like to experience pain, grief or suffering. I know this because I know the definition of those words. Let’s not overthink this. You don’t like losing a job or loved one, feeling directionless o alone. You don’t like to feel unhappy.
Unfortunately or fortunately, the feelings that we so desperately attempt to avoid can actually be some of the most beneficial feelings we can ever experience. These “bad” feelings tell us that something is out of whack in our lives. At times the imbalance is obvious. The loss of a cherished relationship is an example of this. At other times it is difficult to identify where the imbalance is and what can be done to change it. The imbalance can be an indication that we need closer support and connection with friends and family, or it can indicate that we need more sleep or a different job or more exercise. The bad feelings invite us to adapt and figure out ways of bringing things back into balance.
Often it is through these struggles that we learn something about ourselves or others or life. It is wisdom that can be gained only through difficulty. Depression can lead to some dark and painful experiences that feel like they may be the end of us. We sink deeper as the light dims. What if the darkness, rather than triggering feelings of despair and hopelessness, triggered the belief that something new and beautiful was about to be created? What if the bad feelings were just the beginning of something new and good? It can be difficult to have a broader perspective when it seems that all you can focus on is how miserable you feel. But asking yourself what you can learn and how you can grow as a result of your struggle is well worth it.
Will I become bitter and cynical and isolate myself from others? Will I stop taking care of myself? Will I give up? Or will I emerge from the discomfort more resilient, more humble, more gracious and more hopeful? Will I allow the pain to refine me and develop my character? Will I then offer a listening ear and an encouraging word to others who are in the midst of a similar trial?
You get to decide how to view your struggle. You get to decide whether to view it as the end or the beginning. If someone borrows your car and adjusts the seat you don’t just ignore it. You fix it. If you get blisters, you wear different shoes. Depression is the same way. Adjust your seat and change your shoes. I have tried the whole “bitterness, life isn’t fair, the world is out to get me” perspective and it didn’t get me anywhere. You are certainly welcome to try that if you wish. It’s your life. Just don’t mistake the beginning for the end.
I am afforded the luxury of having nothing expected of me…when I am sick. Better yet I expect nothing of myself. My recent ailment brought this insight to light. I gave myself permission to sleep in and wear sweats and play videogames and not do much of anything. The all too familiar voice of condemnation and nagging, reminding me that I should be doing more, was beautifully silent. After all I was sick. Anything productive I did was bonus. Although I wasn’t physically active, my mind continued to work. Some of my ponderings: What if the voice of condemnation, the voice that brings our inadequacies to light was silenced? What if we could accept that it is ok to feel inadequate? Most importantly, what if we could recognize that our value doesn’t come from what we produce? If the common cold is required to learn that lesson, then I wish a happy flu season to you and yours.