I’m a much happier person now, and my friends are noticing. As a result of numerous conditions, I’ve been less consistent about posting since the summer, which kind of confused me for a while. Recently, it clicked in why I don’t write as often. I stopped attending counselling, so my old wounds aren’t being ripped open as often. I’m employed now, so I’m getting my weekly fill of conversation with both customers and coworkers. I was working full time for the past six months, where I was feeling drained after work most days. I’ve also been ill for most of the fall season. Not resting like I needed, combined with abusing my body in order to go out and have fun. Going to part time at work has cleared my mind a lot. Critically, Carrie is available to chat with me a lot more now, whereas she couldn’t process as much with me when she was in school. I’m always trying to write some big emotional and meaningful post, but I’m sure that gets exhausting for some of you. I haven’t written a silly and pointless post in years now, so it’s a little scary worrying that I’ll lose some readers over it. In the end though, I have to do what’s right for me, not necessarily what will get me more clicks or make me more popular. Sometimes what’s inside me is a silly joke, and sometimes facing the meaninglessness of pain and suffering. I hope things line up for me to sit down to dump my thoughts online more frequently.

Starting to find balance in recent weeks. Now that I’m getting my needs met better, I have some room to see what’s going on and areas where I need some work.

Discomfort is a signal. It means things aren’t right, but the discomfort itself isn’t the problem. It points to a conclusion which requires work to arrive at. Lately, I’ve had a couple things fall into place because I accepted the discomfort for a time. There are also times when I’ve lost big due to my unwillingness to engage with an uncomfortable situation.

Ordering my iPhone X was an ordeal. I bought it and chose to have it delivered to my home. I was quoted two weeks, but then I was pleasantly surprised when it shipped a week early. I spent the day at work, frequently checking my tracking, but then in the middle of the day it said there would be a delay due to extreme weather conditions. Disappointed and stranded, I had no choice but to wait. Luckily I had the next day off, which was a Friday, so I could wait at home so as to not miss the UPS delivery person. The tracking never updated to tell me whether it was out for delivery or when it would arrive, so by 5 o’clock, I called UPS to ask if they had more detailed delivery information that I couldn’t access. The agent told me that since there was no indication that it was out for delivery, it must still be waiting on a pallet inside a truck, meaning it would deliver by Monday. Frustrated from waiting anxiously all day, I couldn’t handle the cabin fever anymore and went for an angry and cold walk around the neighbourhood. About an hour later, I got home and found a UPS delivery notice that said they attempted delivery around 10 minutes after I left for my angry walk. Fortunately there was a UPS Access Point nearby, so I walked there and picked up my phone. Much discomfort.

Massage. I’ve been to several massage therapists and physios over the years, even one acupuncturist, but only recently have I met one that truly connected with the trauma present in my body. I’ve mentioned to all of them that my trapezius muscles house deep, dark secrets, but only this new one actually connected with them. I don’t understand how multiple people and techniques can operate on the same muscles with only one reaching the emotional knots. At the very least, that one person processed their own trauma from a past injury. Some mind-body connection shit. I’ve always felt better after all of my previous appointments with the other specialists, but I hit a new level after this latest one. It was deeply uncomfortable and painful having some years-old problems twisted out of my neck and shoulders, but I felt better immediately after.

I still have the tendency to overestimate my abilities. I’ll take care of a huge task early in the day, and I won’t realize the toll it took on my until after I’ve overcommitted the rest of my day. I’ll wonder "WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?" It’s like my body has seized up and I can’t really function anymore. When my discomfort levels rise, that’s when my cravings set in. Sometimes it’s used to ease the pain in my chest, sometimes it’s a compulsive behaviour. When I work long stressful days, I need to watch hours of TV to bring down my anxiety enough to fall asleep; usually Futurama helps. Nowadays, I’m learning to live with general discomfort. Pain can’t always be avoided. Sometimes it’s fairly straightforward to take the time to process a feeling, but in the moment, it can also help to live with it. Driving in the winter here in Alberta can be quite messy because of the sand, gravel, and salt, so it’s not a great use of time to wash off every single little spot. Lump it together into a carwash on a warm day on a later date. I spent two years during The Struggle processing all my emotions bottled up since my childhood, but now I’ve put a cap on it in order to move on with my life, which has allowed me to process it little by little. When you have a backlog of work to do like that, it helps to work overtime and weekends to reduce the burden, but you can only do that so long before you start creating new problems which reduce your longevity. I’m done working on the backlog, so now I’m also trying to enhance my day-to-day by not obsessing over every little wrinkle. Life is messy, and not every painful experience needs to be treated as a tragedy.

I use my dependencies like fixing a leaky roof using cardboard boxes. Sure, it doesn’t always rain, so I may not always need resilient infrastructure. But in a real downpour, I’m unable to comfortably withstand the storm. Whenever I resort to my coping mechanisms, each can of fizzy sugar water and each bag of instant noodles, it’s like throwing newspaper over the cardboard. Temporarily patching over the holes in my roof can fool me into believing I’ve fixed the underlying problems and that I’m a self-regulating adult, but it’s actually a very costly and draining way to live. Sometimes that’s all I can afford to do anyways. Maybe a full remodelling of the roof isn’t a project I can afford right now, so all I can manage is to quickly patch over the problem while I deal with issues in the basement. What I’m trying to do differently these days is to withstand the discomfort of not relying on a quick fix. By resisting the temptation of my distracting vices, I can more clearly see the reality of the underlying problems driving my compulsive behaviours. With all the fading and crusted cardboard and newspaper lining the roof, it’s hard to even see where the leaks are coming from. How many holes are there? How big are they? Is my problem stress-related? Is my marriage part of the problem? Are my friends healthy for me? There are many similar such questions that I can’t answer until I can handle a higher level of general discomfort.

If I continue to avoid most forms of discomfort, I won’t achieve anything meaningful. On the other hand, is that so bad?

A friend recommended a book called “Adult children - The Secret of Dysfunctional Families” by John and Linda Friel. (Warning: I’m going to talk about my family. Leave now if you’re tired of it.) It’s firing off so many connections in my brain, helping to explain so much of how and why my family turned out the way it did. For instance, families with no clear chemical dependencies can still operate in the same dysfunctional ways, and you resort to certain tactics as a child in order to cope and survive. The simple and impossible trick is to undo those compulsive behaviours once the environment changes when you’ve been doing things a certain way your whole life. I stopped talking to my family who sometimes ganged up on and gaslighted me, which taught me indirectly to follow the crowd. I want to quote many long sections from the book, but one particular passage gave me permission to cut out my family:

This happens all the time unless the whole family eventually gets help. Little brother will continue to act out in more and more serious ways until he either grows up and leaves home and gets help, or until he gets put in jail, or dies of alcoholism, suicide or in a reckless auto accident. If he's lucky, when he leaves home, he'll try to get help on his own.

If the family still resists getting involved in treatment, his therapist will recommend that he stay away from the family as much as possible and that he develop a "new" family system to replace the old dysfunctional one. This new system may be a therapy group, a 12-Step group, such as A.A., Al-Anon, ACoA or some other structured support system that follows a functional set of rules in which little brother does not have to "feel crazy" to fit in.

In more and more cases nowadays, what happens is that the entire family does get involved in treatment; and not just for little brother's sake. Enlightened therapists and an enlightened general public are helping families to see that problems like these are really symptoms of problems in the entire family system, and that when one member of the system is displaying a serious problem in adjustment, it means, in most cases, that all of the other members are experiencing problems, too. It's just that these other members' defenses and roles are more socially acceptable and less troublesome on the surface.

I still get blamed for the problems of my family when really I’m a signal of problems lurking underneath the surface. I blew the whistle because I saw something going wrong, and people treat the whistle as the true problem. Because of the narcissistic nature of the issues, most outsiders can’t see past my family of origin’s carefully crafted external appearance (or they believe there can’t be anything deeper since they know my family better than I do). It’s been two years since I stopped talking to them, cutting off the primary source of the turmoil and discomfort in my life, and now I’m doing better than ever. People still wag their finger and warn me I’ll need my family when life gets tough because their own families are probably supportive people, but mine were the biggest reason why my life was tough in the first place. People still ask when I’ll soften up and let them back in to my life, but this book has helped solidify my position in waiting for them to change. If I were to let them back in my life, we’d all resume our roles, and maybe I wouldn’t be around much longer after that. Now that they’re gone, I can preoccupy myself with more important and uncomfortable problems, like helping Carrie with her private psychology practice.

This all comes from trying to deal better with aggressive people. Two people at work have pulled me aside to offer mentoring and assistance with whatever I needed, and this area arose as my main weakness. I’ve had numerous encounters where I sensed my discomfort rising, so I went with my instinctive reactions to run away and shut down. I distrusted the feeling of my spidey senses sounding off, assuming it to only mean danger. Leaving your comfort zone isn’t positive or negative necessarily. Just means it’s uncomfortable.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le