Living with discomfort – And (re)engaging in the new normal

In acknowledgement of mental health week in Australia, a reminder for everyone globally, and in my capacity as a Beyond Blue Ambassador with lived experience, my blogs aim to provide a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with mental health challenges. 

Discomfort to me feels awful. 

I have always been a fairly intense person with a tendency to over work, overexert and all the while thinking I’m not doing enough. My energy can drain easily because of the burst of expended energy out.

At its pointy end, it rears its head a few ways. I feel scared internally like perpetually waiting for the scariest dragon you can imagine to rip me to shreds. My heart seems like it’s on a hamster wheel that can’t stop and always racing. My mind races like watching a movie on quadruple time. I now know this is an anxiety symptom worrying about ‘the future’.

When I feel down and at the lowest, I feel heavy on my chest like someone’s large hand grabbing my heart and squeezing me until it eventually stops beating. There is a feeling of nothingness and vacuousness. The pit in my stomach feels like a well that is deeper than you can imagine. This can be a symptom of depression.

So take all this, plus about to be eaten by a ferocious dragon and you experience the worst combination of clinical depression and anxiety. At its cruellest, everything feels pointless and not worth living.  

Because I have experienced clinical depression and anxiety for most of my life, I am attuned to the patterns and triggers and have luckily found ways to cope. That doesn’t mean I’m any more comfortable with it though when it rears its head.

Whether you identify with any of the above, this year NO ONE has been spared from feeling that our mental health has been rattled in some way, albeit from direct experience or someone close to us. 

There is much discomfort.

In Melbourne Australia where I reside, we are soon to be coming out of our 6th lockdown! 

In lockdown 1, my father-in-law passed away which was our family’s most personal encounter with what it means to ‘live’ with restrictions. At the funeral home, the 10 chairs were situated separately to abide with social distance and the maximum number of people allowed to mourn. Even his own siblings were not able to attend. 

The added sadness and anxiety with these restrictions added to the normal low mood and feelings of nervousness of how we were going to go on without him present in our lives. 

The discomfort was palpable. 

As I reflect on five more lockdowns since the first one, our family has missed out on planned holidays, school year face to face learning, celebrations and honours (I have children in the 12th, 8th and 6th year of school), friends catching up in our home, work opportunities and the list goes on.

The discomfort is there.

Others whom I am close to have lost their businesses, have parent(s) or family overseas who are seriously ill and can’t get there. Others whose parents have died live overseas and are not able to be with their most precious family members at these critical times of bereavement. 

The discomfort is there.

When we are feeling depressed or anxious, it doesn’t ever feel comfortable. We want it to go away and very often do just about anything to minimise its impact on our day to day happenings.  

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, even the most seemingly armoured individuals have felt it to the core and their mental health eventually affected.

Some of the initial discomforts are:

  • Sleep disruption (not able to get to sleep or stay asleep) 
  • Exercise regime changes (become a sloth or overexercise)
  • Appetite changes (eating more junk and processed food)
  • Consumption of more alcohol 
  • Somatic (bodily) changes (significant tension in parts of body) 
  • Loss of motivation for studying or work (or become a workaholic)
  • Not reaching out to friends or community (retreating)

Then at some point comes the short fuse and anger outbursts, negative mindset and inner narrative that listens to the punitive and harsh critic. 

Or the paralysis of mind from worry about getting things done whereby there are a million and one things we think we have to do but have difficulty prioritising and actioning. 

This is always uncomfortable. 

The way through discomfort is unique for all of us and we need to ‘find our own path’ but recognise when we may need to learn some useful techniques, reach out to others or seek out professional support. 

For me, as a long term yoga student for over 25 years and yoga teacher for 12, I practice self-compassion (rarely easy) and do a daily breath based meditation and movement based practice that usually gives me a steadier base to attend to the day and most days experience some level of small joys and contentment.

As we have entered (or entering) back into a semblance of a new normal here and around the world, we must come to terms with acknowledging discomfort, living with discomfort and finding our way through discomfort with helpful practices and self-care, the support of others and through our own damn grit and hard work. To get to the other side.  Again and again.

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