A Marathon of Discomfort

This past weekend I was suppose to run a marathon.

Instead, I ran a sunny, laughter filled 11 miles with my running partners.  Like many Spring plans, training came to a screeching halt 9 weeks ago when I could no longer run the long miles with my running partner, and the uncertainty of race day took away my motivation to put in the workouts needed to toe the line come May 17.  

Our lives have been turned upside down this Spring.  Maybe you did not lose the chance to run in a marathon, and maybe that seems like a trivial loss, but everyone has lost something during COVID.

What has it been for you?  Maybe it is a job, freedom of a day without kids, access to friends and family, rhythm of a schedule, gym use, finances, sporting events, activities and family vacations?

And with those losses there may be a flood of emotions, feelings of uncertainty and discomfort.  What has your response been to this loss?  Anger, sadness, tears, brain fog, avoidance, further micro-managing and tightening down of the white board schedule?  How are you doing with the discomfort of COVID and the uncertainty of the future?

I was reading my son’s therapy goals set by his therapist last December and one of the goals for our family was to learn to live with discomfort.  First of all, she never told us this was a goal she had for our family.  Second – Have you ever heard of discomfort as a goal?  What??? 

 Well – that was my reaction anyway.  

Why would I ever want to have discomfort as a goal?  How is sitting in discomfort good for anyone?  I am a visual learner, so the word picture that comes to mind for discomfort for me is Job from the Bible – sitting on the hill with his festering boils, mourning his extreme loss and crying out to God.  Maybe your word picture is something else, like running a marathon.  Insert laughing-crying emoji.

To be honest my first reaction to the therapist’s goal was this:  What do you mean I don’t handle discomfort?  I feel like that is all I do! The last 10 years of my life have been full of discomfort.  Mulitiple moves, job loss and unemployment, miscarriage, massive debt, diagnosis of Lupus, parenting a special needs child….

And what do you mean by sitting in discomfort?  Who in their right mind actually wants to sit in discomfort?  What are you trying to say about my family?  That my family does not show sadness, fear, anger, hurt, confusion etc?  Because I am pretty sure we do…or is it that we try to get rid of the feelings as fast as possible, by resolving or ignoring the situation?  Hmmm…ok, yep.  We might do that.  Well….maybe she is on to something.  

Discomfort.  I think every person in our world has felt the gravity of it these last 2 months. I live with Lupus.  Which means I live with 24-7 chronic pain.  That is discomfort.  And I accept it and try to manage it as best as I can.  I work on solutions to decrease the pain and go into remission, because who wants to live with Lupus?  And ironically enough, training for a marathon helps ease my Lupus discomfort by replacing it with a more manageable pain and discomfort-one that I am at least in control of.  

But unlike physical pain and discomfort, the discomfort of this Spring – uncertainty of future plans and life turned upside down – whatever that may be for you-  hits at the heart, at our emotions.  And if we allow ourselves to sit with it, we may actually open up a treasure chest of opportunity and growth.

My daughter wins the prize for sitting in discomfort.  That girl will fight with herself in the bathroom for 30 minutes over brushing her hair.  It is like there is another person up there and she is battling it out…I am not kidding.  She will have a 3-year-old-size meltdown in her bedroom, all by herself, not caring what others think.  And did I mention that she is 12 years old?  She feels all her feelings and does not try to hide them.  It is not hard to guess how she is feeling.  And for the most part we let her sit in her feelings and feel all the feels….until it is too uncomfortable for us, so we send her to her room to battle it out behind a closed door.  

We don’t like to be uncomfortable as human beings.  We like control – nice, neat tightly-wrapped packages, predictability, spontaneity (spontaneity only to the point where it still feels good, right?).  Isn’t that why our child’s tantrum can put us over the edge?  Because it is out of our control, it is unpredictable, and it robs us of our own peace in the moment?

As parents there is an art to keeping the ship steady when the waves and winds hit, especially when a child is in turmoil and/or throwing a tantrum.  And my inclination is to just swoop in and fix the problem, resolve the emotions for the child (really to resolve them for myself???), and move onto something more pleasant.  Watching our child experience pain, and loss and uncomfortability is one of the hardest things a parent will do.  And what can be even harder is to hold ourselves back from rescuing them out of the discomfort.  But if we continue to rescue them, what will the result be?  And if we continue to avoid or too quickly resolve the situation in order to get back to a place of “homeostasis,” is that really what is best for us and our children?  More importantly, how is discomfort and feeling our feelings actually helpful?

To be honest, this is my current journey.  Our family therapist has asked me to write a goal for myself and it is this:  to sit in the discomfort of a situation, to feel my feelings, and not to dismiss, avoid or fix the circumstance SO THAT I don’t have to feel uncomfortable.  To lean into the emotions, to verbalize the feelings, and to realize these feelings are not pleasant (and sometimes they feel downright awful) – but to know they will not last forever.  They will pass, the situation will resolve and I will be ok.  And to allow others to sit in their discomfort and feel their feelings.  To not rob others of feeling their feelings or the opportunity to learn from hard conversations and situations.

Leaning into discomfort and feelings is not too different from a marathon – the pain is real, it needs to be acknowledged and accepted, but we have to remind ourselves that the discomfort will not last forever.  There is an end in sight.  BUT…AND we find that the finish line is actually not the most important part.  Rather, it is the journey and the process that brings the fulfillment.  Just as training for a marathon changes our body and mindset, sitting with our feelings in discomfort can grow and mature us as a human being.  

Suzanne Stabile points out in The Path Between Us, a book about the Enneagram, that when we neglect our feelings “we neglect being, and end up disregarding some of the most important elements in any relationship:  being present, being who [you] really are, being with others, and being available.”* 

I hope that 5 years from now, 10 years from now even, I can look back and name COVID as the time when I grew in my emotions, in my whole person, and in my relationships.  And that the discomfort of COVID actually turned into a tremendous blessing for me and my family.

*Suzanne Stabile, The Path Between Us.  Pg. 96.

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