I haven’t written much lately. That’s because I’ve focused intensely on finishing my upcoming book. So, that will be out soon.
I also haven’t written because I’ve felt so much pain. I’m a seemingly happy-go-lucky guy fighting regular bouts of soul-sucking depression. It feels like I’ve lived a heavier life than I have in a while.
How do you write about depression in a healing way when you are experiencing it? That’s the question on my heart these days.
In the midst of pain, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of pain, where it originates and what it means. I’m listening to the audiobook of Mark Manson’s new book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***“. This book has given me a new window into the world of what pain means. If you don’t mind (a lot of) profanity, it’s an incredible ride.
As Mark points out, pain and suffering terrifies our culture. I’ve seen this. My eyes are open when I drive down the street, when I enter a quiet coffee shop or a raucous restaurant. I’ve been watching the things people post on social media. The little reflections of people’s hearts that come through with each post, tweet, and selfie are fascinating.
Our culture is inundated with the strange idea that we must escape pain. Our vacations must be fun and relaxing. Our family dinners must be frictionless and meaningful. Our work must give us ultimate fulfillment. We have a perfect “Ideal” of how things should go. There is no place for hostile interactions, broken hearts, or crippling anxiety. These things don’t fit our “blueprint” for life. Pain doesn’t fit our categories, so we try to squash it any way we can.
Here’s 3 ways we run from our pain. These are tempting, but they are the easy way out.
1. HIDE IT.
Got pain? Just pretend it doesn’t exist. Shove it down. Don’t talk about it. I’ve noticed this in particular with Christians and other religious people. They are uncomfortable with pain. They believe “heaven will have no pain”, so they try to mimic the same thing on earth. “JUST HIDE EARTH’S PAIN. THERE WILL BE NONE IN HEAVEN.”
I’ve done this. It’s tempting to deflect the uncomfortable conversations and the impossible decisions. It’s tempting to tell someone, “you wouldn’t be depressed if you prayed more”. It’s tempting to say, “you wouldn’t be gay if you knew God’s heart better”. It’s tempting to redefine pain, or explain it away.
But pain doesn’t go away so easily.
I believe this was the temptation of the Baby Boomers. They were told to “suck it up”. They were told “it builds character”. I wonder if many of them never got the chance to deal with their true feelings. Shoving pain down or trying to ignore it doesn’t work.
2. DROWN IT OUT.
Dopamine is a critical component to how we function. And it is a drug. It’s addictive. It’s easy to chase the highs. For me, any time things get me down, it’s tempting to throw myself into the online world. Smartphones provide a pleasant mix of happy buzzes, dings and beeps. Immediate gratification abounds. Just get lost in that world. Drown out the pain. Take the dopamine hits. Again and again. Just go numb with likes, tweets, blurbs, and cheap candy.
“Take a happy pill”. Medication is sometimes touted as an easy fix for our painful feelings. It’s tempting to believe that if we just “balance” our brain chemicals, pain will evaporate. I believe in medication to a point, but I don’t think it’s a fix-all. Sometimes all it can be is an aid to help you deal with the hurt. The hurt might still be there. The problem might still be there. It may be easier to deal with. But it won’t go away.
It’s tempting to fear silence. I remember spending years living in constant noise because I was afraid of pain. If the music stopped, I would have to face my thoughts. My car played loud rock at all times. When I was on my computer, my headphones blasted. I just needed to drown in noise to escape my thoughts.
I think this is the temptation of the millennials, Gen X, Gen Z. We are growing up in a world where escape is as simple as the push of a button. But will we miss the purpose of pain in our rush to escape it?
This is my personal vice. It seems like every day my Facebook feed fills with advertisements from people who have “made it”. Mini-celebrities are everywhere, and they’re ready to show you how to make a million dollars this year. Want to travel the world, fulfill your dreams, and never have to work a 9 to 5 again?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the entrepreneurial spirit. I love the idea of bettering ourselves and fulfilling our dreams. 90% of the things I read or listen to are somehow related to personal development. But I’m starting to worry that there is a dangerous underlying message.
“You don’t have to feel pain, if you do THIS ONE THING”. “You can escape the pain if you quit your job and travel the world”. “You can live a life where you’re always happy if you can just out-perform your pain.”
It’s tempting to believe that if we fit our life into the right magic formula, pain will go away. But you can’t outrun it or outperform it. At some point, you have to confront it.
In the end, we are an odd culture. We are trying to escape the unavoidable, and we will try anything. We are desperate, because at some point in our lives we listened to a narrative that said, “You shouldn’t be feeling pain. You wouldn’t be feeling pain if you were doing things right!”
No matter what, life will be hard. There will be days where it’s all you can do to keep your chin above water. Your body and soul will ache. The world will seem bleak, and you will feel weary. I don’t know what specific pain you will encounter. Maybe you will be cheated on. Maybe you’ll lose a loved one. Maybe your startup business will falter over and over. Maybe you will just suffer from depression or anxiety you never asked for.
The good news is, I believe there is purpose in the midst of pain. Once we are able to realize that, we can stop running and face our pain head-on. It’s best to be mindful; it’s best to let the hurt soak into our bones and experience it deeply. It’s best to observe the pain and resolve to live it but learn from it.
I am excited to share what I’ve learned about the purpose of pain. Stay tuned for my next post.