The Unexpected Discomfort
When I woke from the anesthesia, I was in pain and a great deal of discomfort. I had just had a relatively minor outpatient abdominal surgery. For the first 24-48 hours I was intensely miserable. I knew that would be the case, and so I was mentally prepared for that pain and discomfort. Day by day, I improved, and the discomfort decreased.
My post-operative appointment was scheduled for two weeks after my surgery. A day or so before that, I had my husband (a surgeon) remove the steri-strips that had been covering my incisions since the surgery. He was gentle, and was careful not to put strain on the healing incisions.
Within 15 minutes of the removal of the steri-strips, I was going OUT OF MY MIND. The areas that had been covered since the surgery were itching so intensely that I couldn't focus on anything else. Apparently, the skin that had been insulated with the surgical dressing and was now exposed to and rubbing against my clothing, was exaggeratedly and aggravatingly sensitive. I could not scratch the itch, because I would risk damaging or interfering with the newly healing scars. AAAAAaaaaagh!!! Make it stop!!! I remember asking my husband if we could please just rewind and 'put it all back' -- meaning the ovarian cyst-- so that I wouldn't have had surgery and this discomfort would be erased. Conveniently forgetting, in the moment, the discomfort that had sent me to the doctor in the first place.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my instructors during my year-long training. The first six months had been spent learning and practicing the concepts and approach. At the half-way point in the program, we were given our certification exam. The second half of the year was to be spent really honing those skills and our understanding as certified life coaches.
About 10 months into my training, I found myself in tears talking to this instructor. I was struggling to believe that I could ever have the confidence to really coach and have my own practice. She asked me about my experience with the first half of training. I told her how it had been challenging and had really stretched me waaay beyond my comfort zone, but that I had finished that portion feeling confident and capable. When she asked what had changed, I told her how I could see all of the ways that I fell short; how the more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn't know.
She then made an observation that has really stuck with me. She said, "Interesting that you didn't expect the discomfort." She was right. Her simple observation had the effect of revealing my thoughts to myself. I realized that I had expected to be stretched and uncomfortable for the first half of training. But, somehow, I had expected that once I was certified, the discomfort would be behind me. So, I was interpreting the discomfort I was then feeling as a sign that something had gone terribly wrong, and that I clearly wasn't cut out for this.
I wrote, at that time, "I am in the river of misery. I left the safety of shore with no plan, but with a hope that I would like me better, and be able to help others when I reached the other side. Now the waves are high, and the water's cold and murky, and I feel lost and tired, and inadequate to finish the swim. I don't want to go back, because I know that that shore is no longer for me. But the other shore seems very far, and I don't quite believe that I have the skills and fortitude to get there. And, I honestly wonder if it even matters. I'm thinking that I jumped in a river where only the big dreamers, the visionary, the driven, the ambitious can successfully cross. I'm in here doggy paddling and struggling to keep my head above water. I should be in the kiddie pool, where the extent of my discomfort is being splashed by other people."
It was as if the insulation that had protected my new growth and healing had been taken off. As though my newly-forming identity was exaggeratedly and aggravatingly sensitive as it rubbed against real-life. If given the option, in that moment, to rewind -- to just 'put it all back' -- I might have taken it. While conveniently forgetting the discomfort that drove me to the schooling and the river of misery in the first place.
However, that uncomfortable contact is a necessary step in strengthening the new growth and change. It is the testing point. It is doable, even as it feel as if it is too much. I promise you, the sensitivity will regulate, if endured. And, I can tell you, from my own life, the way we think and talk to ourselves about discomfort greatly affects our experience. Discomfort is always compounded when we think that it means something has gone wrong.
Here are some of the empowering thoughts and questions that I practice when feeling discomfort. Feel free to make them your own.
Discomfort is an inevitable part of life.
It is a driver of change.
It is a sign of growth.
Emotional discomfort does not, inherently, mean that something has gone wrong.
Emotional discomfort is doable. It is not fatal. It will regulate.
What am I thinking that is causing this emotional discomfort?
What is it that I want on the other side of this discomfort?
How does accepting discomfort as a natural part of life change this experience for me?