Life is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Sometimes we feel amazing. Sometimes we feel lost and sad. Buddha famously said, ‘life is suffering’, something which is definitely true at times. Even in this safe Western world of Deliveroo, Alexa, Headspace and Therapists, we suffer a fair bit.
Latest statistics suggest that in the past year, 74% of adults in the UK have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.
As hard as we work to make ourselves happier and the world a better place to live, there are circumstances and forces working to maintain that ying/yang, pleasure/pain dynamic.
Suffering is unavoidable. It is part of the core fabric of life and part of being a human.
Despite having known this forever, we are reluctant to accept this idea, terrified that accepting it will cause us more pain. Instead, we struggle against it, trying to avoid suffering at all costs.
For fear of rejection, we don’t go after the job we really want. We avoid the gym because we can’t face that feeling of exhaustion and muscle ache. We stay in relationships which don’t set us on FIRE because we figure, it isn’t “bad” and is therefore probably better than being alone. These are some of the many ways we actively duck, swerve and dodge both physical and mental pain, trying to save ourselves from the expected suffering. But are these avoidance schemes successful?
By trying to skirt the suffering, often we end up not confronting the truth and unfortunately that will always catch up with us. There are many things we can avoid in life, many people we can escape if we choose to, but the one person we cannot escape is ourselves and we cannot avoid our opinion of that person.
When we avoid the self-assessment and interrogation of our lives, we are, in essence, taking paracetamol. We are numbing the pain to allow us to continue on, and whilst a slight headache or cold can be ridden out by painkillers they won’t cure a liver infection, or heal a broken limb. That requires acknowledging what is broken and taking the necessary steps to fix it. Initially more painful as you feel the pain in full, but once it’s fixed, it is actually fixed.
This is where the breakdown comes in. The overwhelming emotional tidal wave where you feel everything. Sometimes triggered by heartbreak, sometimes by being fired, the breakdown is your heart’s way of saying enough. It isn’t pleasant, it isn’t fun at all. But it is worth going through, because by getting to rock bottom, you’re allowing yourself a full assessment of the ground you’re going to be rebuilding on. And in this re-building lies an amazing opportunity to grow stronger, calmer, and more brilliant.
So don’t duck and dive or think you can party your way out of this. It’s going to catch up with you sooner or later and the sooner you deal with it, the sooner you can get on with the fun part. That part comes when you get to look back with pride at how you rebuilt yourself. The calm you created in the wake of the emotional chaos.
“The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.” – Mark Manson
Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post, speaks openly about how her relentless work ethic caused her to physically collapse from exhaustion, cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone on the way down. Around the same time she had a bad panic attack on a plane, an experience which made her feel “totally out of control”.
That was a really low point for Arianna but it led to her founding ‘Thrive Global’ another multi-million dollar Media Platform which promotes a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. Getting to the place she’s in now, someone even more successful and respected than in her pre-burnout days, probably wouldn’t have happened had she not had that breakdown and decided to take action.
Life can sometimes feel full of little feet jutting out to trip us up, but as many successful people can testify, you don’t get to go to the best place if you aren’t prepared to go to the worst.
“You have to actually seek failure. Failure is where the lessons are.” – Will Smith
Like the core of the Earth our greatest parts are buried in the centre so if you know it’s coming allow yourself to break and discover them. Lean on friends, family or a professional if it’s really bad, but trust that there is good stuff waiting on the other side.