Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Making Suffering Manageable

We’re all eating a giant shit sandwich.

Maybe you’re miserable with your job. Maybe your body is breaking down. Maybe you have a crippling addiction. Maybe you’re heartbroken and alone. Maybe you’re in a rut you can’t escape. Maybe you just can’t improve your financial situation. Maybe a loved one has fallen ill, died, turned you down or gone away. Maybe you’re struggling to keep a roof over your head. Maybe you’re in a constant state of depression and anxiety. Or maybe you feel like your life is completely empty of meaning and significance.

Despite that the people around you may look cheery and happy, no one is without unpleasant thoughts and feelings. And if they’re honest people, they’d tell you exactly how troubled they are.

But hardly anyone is that honest. Most of us put on a front out of fear of being seen as weak. If we’re not coping, we prefer to keep it to ourselves.

This secrecy adds to our shitty problem.

If everyone around us seems so happy, we feel even worse that we’re doing so poorly. Something must be wrong. So we do everything we can to fix our flawed mental and emotional state.

And that’s precisely why we feel so unhappy: we’re trying to fix something that’s totally normal. 

It’s normal to worry and stress about real or imagined threats. 

That’s how we survived when we were running around in bearskins and foraging for food. The cave people who worried most about creating a brighter future survived. And then passed their future-focused genes down to us.

Thus feeling anxious that your life isn’t good enough is part of the human condition. Your unga bunga brain wants more and better to feel safe and strong. Regardless of what you already have.

All this means is that we’re designed to suffer from unhappiness. Not constantly, but often.

So how do you deal with these heavy thoughts and feelings that get in the way of living the life you want?

Firstly, by recognising the feelings are intense. An order of magnitude larger than ordinary everyday stress. 

Realising you’re going through something big is important because the typical relaxation techniques can’t lift the likes of grief, terror or depression. That would be like trying to use your finger to pick up a mountain.

Yet we try it almost every time. 

After all, mindfulness exercises and their relaxing siblings almost always get rid of our typical stress. So we figure that we can somehow remove the big scary feelings and thoughts too. And then we grow increasingly frustrated when the feelings stay, no matter what we try.

Therapy, self-help books, repeating mantras, praying, journaling, exercising, going out in nature, excelling at your job, seeing friends, losing yourself in your hobbies, serving your community, being kind to others—all these things can’t make you feel better if your intent is to rid yourself of the heebiejeebies.

Have you ever tried watching a comedy while experiencing depression? How many times did you laugh?

Have you ever gone on a trip abroad to recover from heartbreak? How many times did you burst into tears from loneliness?

It’s hard to enjoy life when you’re running away from misery. 

So how do you keep pain and misery from sucking all the joy and meaning out of your life?

By keeping your fears in full view.

The idea is similar to how horror movie directors frame their bloodcurdling monsters inside a scene. It’s always filmed creeping in the dark because it wouldn’t be scary if it leisurely strolled through Venice Beach at lunchtime.

If your painful thoughts and feelings don’t scare you, they lose some of their hold on you. Whereas if you resist, the darkness becomes so heavy that you can barely move.

“O hi, depression. I didn’t expect you back so soon. Take a seat and make yourself comfortable while I carry on with my day.”

Learn to welcome your suffering. It’ll make the experience much more agreeable.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach