One of the most predominant themes of this trip so far has been leaning into the discomfort which is from Brené Brown’s book The Power of Vulnerability. It’s interesting because as my counsellor has previously pointed out to me, our natural human response when something is uncomfortable (with another human being) is to shy away from it. However, as Brené Brown points out – by doing this we stop ourselves from developing deeper bonds with the other people.
As far as the travels go, the three ‘Charlie’s angels’ (as we’d been so delicately called by a fellow traveller) moved from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and now Dr Jenn and I are in Koh Phangan while Kyrie has gone back home to Cambodia. Before we parted ways with Kyrie we’d approached this topic of what makes you feel uncomfortable and why? – then we decided that 2016 was the year that we’d make a special effort to embrace such discomforts to try and make them more comfortable. Coincidentally a few days later Jenn split her toe open on a kerb and had to overcome her ‘foot shame’ discomfort while Kyrie had to overcome the ‘nausea at the sight of blood’ discomfort while she tried to tend to the injured patient, developing a close bond between the two in the process. Meanwhile, I was enjoying a very comfortable Thai massage on the other side of the city, unbeknown to what challenges my friends were facing – little did I know that my discomforts were on their way…
Whilst in Bangkok Kyrie put us in touch with her taxi driver friend who we hired for the whole day to take us to Ayutthaya (the old capital of Bangkok). Throughout this time, we got to know this man quite well as we openly talked about politics, religion, cultures and our own lives whilst driving around the historic site. We found out that this man had recently lost a parent and someone close to him was terminally ill. It was obvious that these situations upset him very much because he showed these emotions openly rather than shying away from expressing them in our presence. Having gone through these same emotions recently myself, I could especially relate to what he was talking about but what touched me the most was his courage to share this with two women that he had just met. To me, it highlighted how uncomfortable I feel when I show emotions in front of other people, especially emotions which show my vulnerabilities. It made me think about I may have acted in this situation or how I did act when I was around work colleagues straight after my Dad passed away – I didn’t show that I was hurting at all and just tried to get on with the job at hand, even though I was struggling inside. I did this, simply because it was so uncomfortable for me to cry in front of anyone in fear of what they might think of me if I showed them this ‘weakness’. It wasn’t just new work colleagues I shied away from though, I did this with my closest friends and family too. When I began to look into the past few years, I have actually shied away from most vulnerable situations, whether to do with my vulnerabilities or the vulnerabilities of others because I was so scared of how to deal with it. For example, with dating guys – I’ve usually had an escape route pre-planned via boat or plane so that I have an excuse to leave when the relationship develops to the point where I have to open up. With my friends, I’ve always hid away when I felt upset or angry because I didn’t want to show these weaknesses, because of this many of my friends had never seen me cry until my Dad passed away and that was only because I physically could not lock away these emotions any longer. The heartbreak I could deal with, the attack I could hide, but when my Dad died the combined emotions of all three events overcame me every time (never mind leaning into the discomfort – with the intensity of these situations it’s been more like basking in the anguish)!
Such a lack of open vulnerability meant that I’ve stopped deeper connections developing with people who have tried to get close to me – because I also discouraged people to openly show emotion to me as well. To be honest, I’m not sure what I would have done in the past if someone expressed vulnerable emotions to me, maybe I would have been supportive in some situations or maybe I would have completely disengaged and ran away because I couldn’t deal with the comfort, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it might have been the latter. Only now do I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of this and how the avoidance of my personal discomfort probably made other people feel rejected at a time when they needed me most. On the flip side of this I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the best response I had when telling someone about the attack – it was after a yoga class and it was probably my first big emotional ‘outburst’ and the yoga teacher who is also my friend suggested that we go for a drink and I tell her what’s on my mind. As we drunk our beers I told her everything that had happened, in detail, crying throughout. My friend sat there as cool as a cucumber, with cigar in hand while she nodded her head at the appropriate points and just said “uh huh” as she maintained clear eye contact with me. She didn’t try to offer any kind of sympathy or solution, she just acknowledged my words and let me tell my story. I’m not sure if this woman had been through a similar situation but I know that she is a very strong person and probably understood that any sympathising or problem solving might make me feel more helpless than I already did. Since becoming aware of my previous responses to discomfort and being on the receiving end of a variety of responses and remembering how each of them made me feel, I now make a conscious effort to sit through my own discomfort to support another person when they need it, friend, stranger or foe.
What made my own situation worse in the aftermath of these traumas was that whilst hiding these vulnerabilities so well, I have also made myself out to be indestructible because of the kind of life that I’ve led – a somewhat fearless one. With respect to my professional life I’ve been so confident in my ability to learn and earn that it doesn’t phase me to work freelance or contract to contract because I know that I can make it work, thus eradicating the normal safety net of the steady job with the steady income. When it comes to travelling, I’ve acted the same way by trusting in my ability to figure something out so I’ve become accustomed to rocking up at new places without anything planned, knowing that I’m comfortable dealing with any situation, even if it means sleeping in a bus stop (I’ve done this a fair few times). I’ve acted the same when it comes to physical challenges too, caving with huge spiders, hiking to Everest base camp or sailing the Bay of Biscay in a Force 9. Dealing with these experiences has given me a confidence to constantly overcome fear where others might not and it’s made me believe that I was indestructible, worst of all I’ve convinced others to believe this too. The trick here though is that I was kidding myself all along, because whilst doing all of these ‘fearless’ things I was constantly running away from personal situations that did make me feel vulnerable.
What’s happened now is that my personal security has been shaken up so much that things that wouldn’t have phased me before now make me feel vulnerable too, whether that’s applying for a new job contract, travelling to a new place on my own or even climbing a waterfall. So whereas I could quite easily get by before by avoiding situations that made me feel vulnerable it’s now the case that to shy away from my vulnerabilities means giving up the nomadic life that I worked so hard to build. It means no more sailing, travelling, freelancing and no more adventures. Too me that is too big a sacrifice, which is why I’ve decided lean into the discomfort and work towards overcoming these discomforts and fears to the point where I feel comfortable living my nomadic life again. I guess the opposite of running away from ‘hard’ emotions is exposing my own emotions publicly and what could be more terrifying that doing that on the internet? As well as that, one of the reasons for coming away is so that I can start to immerse myself in all these vulnerable situations and build up my confidence with regards to work, travel, activities and showing emotions openly – having a personal Psychologist for the first month of this journey is definitely a massive aid and I’m grateful to have such a special person dedicate this energy to me (thank you my treasured friend). On that note I’d like to encourage all who have read this post today to try and catch yourself when you shy away from something difficult and rather than take the easy route why not lean into that discomfort and explore what happens. It might just bring you a little closer to someone