If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
We tend to think discomfort is a problem. We want to be comfortable, so when discomfort comes up, we try to fix it. How do we “fix” discomfort? By making it go away! We do this through using food, relationships, media, sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, and pretty much anything we can get our hand on to make the discomfort go away.
We have mistaken feeling discomfort with being broken.
There are medical conditions that prevent people from feeling any pain. At first, this might sound like a wonderful thing. Hey, it’s what we’ve been seeking in that bag of chips, those hours on facebook, that new girlfriend, the beer, or that in dreaming about that brand new car! But people who can’t actually feel pain are in constant danger of serious harm, because they don’t know when they are hurt. What they don’t feel could very well kill them.
Discomfort shows us where the hurt is, what the hurt it, why the hurt is, and more. It provides priceless information about our lives. The discomfort caused by a bad relationship tells us about our needs and values. Discomfort caused by eating bad food reminds us to pay more attention to nutrition and wholesome ingredients. Discomfort caused by too much reminds us that we need less, and discomfort caused my too little reminds us that we need more.
This is how discomfort is connected to mental health. Mental health is not the absence of discomfort. It is not the ability to make discomfort go away, the ability to avoid discomfort, or the ability to be really tough and take lots of pain for no particular reason. It is not seeing discomfort as a sign of “broken” and comfort as the “fix.”
Mental health is the willingness to pay attention to discomfort and learn from it. It is also the willingness to pay attention to comfort and learn from it. It is the willingness to go beyond seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort, a willingness to be present with all experiences, a willingness to participate in life, rather than try to control, manage, or “fix” everything . It is the willingness to fully and completely be alive.