Picture the worst suffering you ever experienced. Now imagine that you went through it just so someone else didn’t have to. Like Redbull, martyrdom gives you wings -- angel wings. Life’s hard. Marriage is hard. To make things easier, I use a sacrificial mentality. I may not enjoy carrying out certain chores, but doing it for someone else makes it easier. That perspective can help in a pinch, but it also gets old.

I’m a firm believer that if you sow generously, you’ll reap generously. If you put out good energy, you’ll get it back. I don’t really worry much about getting paid out immediately for everything I do. Sometimes I should. When you realize you’re suffering in order to help another person, you get an instant boost from that simple shift in perspective. It’s a mentality that can be abused, especially when the martyr needs validation and credit for their suffering. Sometimes people suffer when they don’t need to, and they start crying out for attention when they realize no one is praising them.

People usually live in a disconnected way. I used to work extra hard in order to be happy, whereas if I had stepped back to take an inventory of my life, I could have been happier with way less effort. When I earned more, I spent more, which required me to work more, then I bought more stuff to compensate for the extra stress. It’s normal for our lives to become inconsistent and hypocritical, like when I hit the gym and immediately follow it up with a bucket of fried chicken. We aren’t perfect, but we can make our own lives more comfortable by trying to be more connected and consistent. I’ve been playing the victim lately in order to keep us going, but now I’m running out of fuel.

It’s heroic to be viewed as the bad guy when you’re really the good guy. You’re the champion that the people need, not the one they deserve. You’re giving up the credit due to your name. The praise you receive for being a martyr is so inviting that some rush into suffering just for the look. The narrative is so powerful that even someone who has it all can look very sympathetic to the less fortunate. It frames the situation to give you a very flattering look. It’s more impressive to say I lost 15 pounds than to say I never put on that weight in the first place.

There are only a few times in life when we can exert superhuman strength. Turn on the turbo jets and get things done. We all have that capacity. Parents fend off wild animals to protect their kids. People can lift cars when they’re trying to free someone from a collision. Others work three jobs in order to provide a life and education for their siblings. The trade-off is that the turbo boost is limited. You can only use it a short time before you need a rest. Even Goku can only go Super Saiyan for a limited time.

Carrie and I have at least one crisis per year, and we’re just wrapping up the 2017 edition right now. It’s been a tough couple months. I’m tired. I don’t daydream anymore, but I do have stressful nightmares. The work that I’ve been doing this fall is hard to see. I listened to Carrie vent even though I wasn’t in a good space to listen. I held her when she cried. I took care of myself when she couldn’t support me. It took a lot of energy, and I drew strength from being a martyr. By pushing my own limits of suffering, I was helping Carrie through her storm.

And now I’m ready to collapse.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le