I learned something new in therapy a while ago.
I don’t recall what we were talking about, but the moral of the story is that feeling comfortable and staying in “the known” isn’t always a good thing.
“THE KNOWN” IS COMFORTING
As human beings, we are creatures of comfort. We get into our routines and habits and do the same things – day in, day out. And for the most part, this is fine. It gets us from Point A to Point B and helps us get through our days. Most of us need that structure.
But I’ve learned recently that these comforting tactics aren’t always good for us. Let me give you a for instance.
I’m a recovering alcoholic. But my brain tells me that there is some comfort in going out and getting plastered. It is what I once knew. The process is predictable. The consequences are also somewhat predictable.
Getting drunk used to allow me to relax and “let loose” for a few hours. Nevermind the fact that I would turn the ringer on my phone off and ignore my wife’s calls. Why would I answer the phone while I’m sitting in a bar getting drunk?!
Anyway, my point is that there is comfort in the known, despite the possible negative consequences. The unknown can be very scary and often keeps people from trying new things, stepping out of their comfort zones, and creating new things that just might make their lives more enjoyable.
The comfort I found in a bottle of Jack Daniels was known to me. I knew how I would feel, I knew there was little chance of a hangover (lucky me), and I knew that worry would leave me for a while. That was comforting.
But it was also destructive.
Nowadays, I find comfort in other things: Yoga, meditation, closing my eyes and just breathing. Music, too. I’m always walking around with my earbuds in and the music on low. Some people need to have the TV on for background noise; I use music for the same reason. I find it comforting. In a good way.
WHEN COMFORT GETS YOU IN TROUBLE
Let me give you another example of “comfort” that is dysfunctional.
I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, and I hope I don’t offend anyone with this example. But imagine yourself in a relationship with a significant other who is verbally and/or physically abusive.
Sometimes, people stay in abusive relationships because it’s what they know. Yes, it’s an awful place to be. But again, there is “comfort” in the known. The unknown can be scarier even than an abusive relationship.
Imagine the questions that must go round and round in a person’s head if they’re considering leaving: “How would I support myself?” “What if he or she starts stalking me?” “Where will I live?” “What about the kids??”
All of those factors are up in the air. There are no immediate answers to any of them. And they are all very valid concerns. They are also unknowns.
I do not mean to imply that staying in an abusive relationship is an easy thing or something that people enjoy. The abuser loves it because they have control. They feel like they’ve got the power in the relationship.
I’m just saying that the known is predictable.
Maybe I should stop saying “comfort” and use “known” instead. The known is comfortable, but not necessarily in a good way.
But at what cost?
When you lose yourself, whether in a bottle or in a relationship, that’s no good. You’re not doing yourself any favors. The problem is that the behavior feels “normal” after a while, it becomes ingrained in you, it’s hard to let go of. And it can be damn hard to change it.
KNOWN EMOTIONS V. UNKNOWN EMOTIONS
Kim (my wonderful therapist) and I were talking about how staying in depression is a known factor to me, and that changing in order to feel better can be really scary.
The truth is, I’ve felt powerless over my depression and anxiety for soooo long, I haven’t known how to feel any other way. When something good happens, I don’t necessarily enjoy it for too long; I look at it with suspicion and skepticism.
It’s almost like I don’t know how to feel better.
I’ve been working on mindfulness lately, trying to be in the moment and accept and enjoy it for what it is. But that takes a lot of work, a lot of conscious correcting yourself. It requires shutting off the worry and anxiety (which are based in Fear). It requires that you pay attention to what’s right in front of you.
There’s a saying I heard many years ago in recovery that goes like this:
If you have one foot in yesterday and one in tomorrow, you’re pissing all over today.
In other words, dwelling on the past and worrying about the future can ruin your day – every day, if you let it. It does no good and it gets you nowhere.
My depression has its roots in I don’t know what, exactly. What I do know is that it can take control of me. And when it does, it seems like there is no respite, no time off from it. I dwell in the past and worry about the future, which means I’m ruining today.
It makes it impossible to enjoy the moment, to enjoy what’s happening in the here and now. But you know what? It’s known. I know what it feels like to be depressed and/or anxious, and even though they both bite the big one, I know how to feel them.
Does that make any sense?
When I feel happy about something, it doesn’t last long. As I said, I look at it with suspicion. I doubt its truth. I’m waiting for something to happen to take it away.
And let’s talk for a moment about excitement. Excitement scares the hell out of me! It’s so foreign to me, it really is quite uncomfortable. My brain says, “Maybe you’re manic!?” After all, my original diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder Type II (which was wrong and was finally corrected after 14 years in the system).
I have always had trouble feeling excited. I remember playing a team sport when I was in middle school, and we were in the first place. The other girls were jumping around, all excited and happy, and I remember wondering what the hell were they doing that for? I might have jumped once or twice, too, just to fit in – but I certainly didn’t feel “excited”.
Excitement, to me, feels out of control. It feels unpredictable. It is mostly unknown to me, and it’s very uncomfortable. Just ask my wife.
BECOMING COMFORTABLE WITH POSITIVE EMOTIONS
It can get better, though. I’ve been learning about basic emotions, and it turns out “happy” is one of them. Did you know this? LOL 🙂
Over the last four years or so, since my first round of TMS, my comfort level with happiness and contentment has been increasing. It’s a slow process because our human brains tend to poo-poo change. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of hard work, but I’m learning to feel and show it appropriately.
The negative thoughts and self-talk I’ve experienced all my life? I’m getting better at identifying them and telling them to fuck off. I’m learning – slowly – to trust the good feelings that I get and, equally importantly, I’m learning to allow them into my consciousness.
Happy and content are not exactly my new “normal”, but they’re no longer so foreign to me. I am getting comfortable with them. They are no longer unknown territory.
I started a real job last week, my first one since 2005. As you might know, I’ve completely and profoundly doubted my ability to work since then. I had 10 ECT treatments that year, and cognitively, I’ve never been the same.
I honestly never thought I would be able to hold down a job again.
But here I am, the newest part-time cashier at the local Goodwill store. And while the prospect of keeping this job is somewhat daunting, I have to say that I’m a little proud of myself. Not very long ago, I was 100% convinced that it was simply impossible for me to work.
I’ve tried part-time work before and failed miserably. Of course, I also successfully completed a part-time temp job doing data entry a couple of years ago – but it’s easy for me to overlook that success.
The relief, pride, and happiness that comes with getting this current job are there, but they’re tempered with caution and a bit clouded with doubt. I felt excited about it for about half a day, tops.
Once I get comfortable there – assuming I do – it will be easier to let the good feelings flow. I’m meeting new people, and they’re all very nice and helpful. The managers are really nice and seem easy to work with. And they’re paying me a respectable amount, which is a big deal because I’ve been broke since 2005.
I’m getting out of the house, which is SO important for me! Isolation and I have a very long history. That’s another example of how “comfort” and “the known” are not necessarily good for you.
Stepping out of my comfort zone like this has been a huge challenge. It encompasses the possibility of changing so many things in my life, I’ll admit that it’s a bit overwhelming.
But I am no longer comfortable thinking that my lot in life is to be depressed, anxious, and miserable. I am no longer comfortable believing that I will continue to be a frequent flyer in psych units. I am no longer comfortable believing that *the known* is all there is.
Change is hard, but it can be a wonderful thing. It can make life worth living.
WRAPPING IT UP
The next time you find yourself playing those old, negative tapes, stop for a moment. Think about where they come from. Think about how limiting they are, how stuck they’ve kept you all this time.
Then tell them to fuck off!
You have the capacity to make changes in your life, whether or not you believe it yet. As your hostess here at Depression Warrior, I feel that part of my job is to inject some Hope into you, to plant the seed of belief that your life matters.
You are a survivor. Shit, you are a fucking warrior! Never forget that.
Believe that things can change, get some help if you need it, and you’ll start to believe in yourself.
I swear to the high heavens, you can get better!
Now go and, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Make it So.”
You can do this!
As always, thanks for reading. And remember to Keep it Real.
Previously published on Depressionwarrior.com.
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