One of my favorite late-1980s science fiction movies is an under-the-sea adventure, called “The Abyss,” starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Most of the action takes place on an oil rig resting on the Atlantic Ocean floor.
There’s a scene where Harris’ lead character, Bud, has to dive into ridiculously deep waters to save the crew from certain death. To survive that insane depth, he has to employ a special suit with a weird breathing device that aspirates liquid instead of air.
At first, Bud fights against inhaling the strange, milky fluid. As it enters his lungs, his body violently rebels. But then he relaxes a bit and starts to get used to this new way of breathing. Pretty soon, he’s good to go.
Sure, this new way to breathe feels uncomfortable, and takes a little more effort than huffing air, but it works. Oh, and if he wants to make sure a big old torpedo doesn’t obliterate his crew, he doesn’t have much choice but to suck it up, so to speak, and power through.
HELLO, METAPHOR FOR MY LIFE.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the past five years or so is that fighting against my discomfort won’t get me through it. In fact, it often prolongs the problem or makes it worse. I have found that it’s best for me to loosen the reins and accept the icky feelings rather than fight them.
For a total control freak like me, learning to relax and coast has taken a shit-ton of practice. Sometimes, all I can do is sit in my distress and pray my ass off until it passes.
Fortunately, all of my anxiety comes from first-world problems. It also is fairly mild when it hits these days. And — thankyoubabyJesus — the hits don’t come too often anymore.
Sometimes, it shows up in a social situation where I don’t know very many people. Other times, it’s bobbing under the surface when I meet with a potential new client.
But mostly, it hovers around me when I have a gap in my workload and I’m not sure where my next project or job will come from. Not knowing where I’ll get my next paycheck has been pretty much a constant state of discomfort for me this past year, one that I’ve had to accept in order to continue to do what I do as a freelance writer and media consultant. To stay on track, I must acknowledge it, take the next right actions, and have faith that the jobs will come.
And boy, have they. I have been so blessed in my first year. Every month, there always ends up being plenty of work to keep me busy AND pay my bills. I know how extraordinary this accomplishment is for a first-year entrepreneur, and I thank my ol’ HP for it every day.
During the past couple of weeks, I have been asked to offer counsel and support to a few of my dearest friends who have been in the throes of their own discomfort — one who is leaving her job after 22 years, one who recently had a cancer scare, one who is bravely moving eight hours away to start a new life, and one who is muddling through a triumvirate of day-to-day challenges (marriage, baby, a demanding job).
What a gift it is to pay forward the tiny bit of wisdom I’ve gained from my own “uncomfortable” experiences. I am humbled that my friends have turned to me for help, whatever form it takes, and I hope that something I say or do will help them breathe a little easier through their discomfort.
This being Christmas week and all, I can’t help but be reminded of how uncomfortable I felt last Dec. 25, as a result of some poor planning and unrealistic expectations. You can read about it here.
Because it really sucked to sit alone in my own anxiety last year, I decided not to let that happen again this time. (Often, that’s the real lesson you learn from navigating an uncomfortable situation. You figure out how to avoid the whole damn thing the next time.)
My teenage son, Ethan, has shown a renewed interest in spending the holidays with me this year. He spent all afternoon on Thanksgiving enthusiastically helping me put up the tree and all our decorations. He also seems excited to spend the day with me on Christmas. I plan to take full advantage, since missing him was one of the main reasons last Christmas was a bit of a dud.
Ethan and I are going to have a big breakfast (more like late brunch in his case) and then go to the movies that day ("Anchorman 2," if you want to tag along). Then, we'll head over to my mom’s for dinner. My dad and stepmom will also be joining us for the first time, and I am really excited to have that whole branch of my family together. It’s gonna be a great day, by God.
Anyhoo, I know can’t avoid future discomfort, whether it originates from work, family, the holidays or any other unforseen source. It’s part of life and always comes with valuable lessons and rewards. I’m so glad I have the tools to deal with it in a healthy way today.
So remember, it may not always be easy at first, but don’t forget to breathe.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.