Surrendering to our Discomfort

S3E10 of The Conversation Piece Podcast

Black and white photo of Mark Henick over a template of The Conversation Piece podcast featuring a mic and outlines of other mics.

HOST: Many of us have experienced isolation over the past 18 months, which has taken a toll on our collective mental health. During these restless times, it’s natural to fight the feelings of loneliness, grief, and sadness. But as mental health advocate Mark Henick has learned, these feelings can be an excellent teacher if we’re willing to just … sit with them. Welcome to The Conversation Piece. This is Mark Henick.

Hi, I’m Mark Henick. As we share this short moment together, I’d like to reflect with you on one simple question, and that is what do we do now? We’ve been through so much we’re in so much. So what comes next? Where do we go from here? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also been a central preoccupation for much of my life. For more than 20 years, I lived with major depressive disorder, and from that experience, I’m the grateful recipient of many important gifts. I’d like to share two of these gifts with you today, because if you want to learn something about processing restrictive isolation, then depression happens to be an excellent teacher.

One gift of my depression was a fully immersive lesson in how to sit with discomfort. At first I react due to the internal and external isolation of my depression with confusion and denial. Why did I have to win this particular lottery? I don’t want to carry this. And the most dreaded of all, it’s not supposed to be this way. Embedded in that early judgement was the idea that there is another way that some easier life that others had access to was just over the horizon. If only I could get what I wanted, if only it wasn’t so hard.

And the idea for me to escape followed swiftly by the expressions and then the attempts to do so. This was the phase in which rather than release my ego and see what happens. See what it becomes. I thought I had the choice to opt out of the game entirely. Then much later, with a lot of work, I understood that we can’t control the ocean, but we can become stronger swimmers and letting go of it.

The desire to control other people’s minds, ironically, it gave me back control over my own mind. It’s not supposed to be this way. Gradually it became ok.

The other gift from my depression was a front row seat to the impermanence of the moment. Those moments, this moment, every moment. Inevitably, the snow will fall and the sun will rise. Yes, people you love will die. And new love will take birth. Memories fade, and new ones are made. This is the natural cycle of the seasons of our lives. And when we complain,
when the stickiness of our fearful judging mind, won’t let go and greet the new day. That’s when we suffer, when the world has other plans, when our intentions encounter obstacles, we can’t get past that old refrain that it’s not supposed to be this way.

But it is this way. Just because you don’t want it to be, or didn’t anticipate it to be, or are tired of a global pandemic. That doesn’t go away, back to the normal that never was. It won’t take away your suffering. It’ll just give you a few more ways to run from it.

It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to be angry and bored and frustrated and lonely.

This is hard. Well, we can still do hard things, hard choices and policies might still in fact be necessary. And perhaps for longer than we personally might like in order to protect people more vulnerable than you.

The pain of my frustrated desires, however important those desires might be to me personally *nd I’m the centre of my own universe after all) as you are all too, they’re worth sparing.

Even a few others, the very real physical and psychological pain of trauma and grief circumstances can be painful. That’s real. The pain doesn’t have to lead to suffering. My depression taught me that. And it also taught me that regardless of the circumstance, you have two choices in life. Grow or to die.

Growth looks different for everyone. It sometimes includes injury and it always requires rest. But biological systems that wall themselves off that become impermeable to the processes that regulate and evolve them. Those systems are the ones that suffer and die. Cognitive rigidity creates psychological sepsis. So whether we’re through the worst of this pandemic, or we have more waves to come, we each need to ask ourselves if we’re becoming stronger swimmers. We can blame the rocks for the way things were, create more friction, more tension, more anger … Or, or we can ask each of us in our own way, what this moment in history can teach us. Not complex fanciful theories about society or generations or politics.

What about you, your habits, your mind, your heart. When we say someday, reach the post-traumatic period of this post pandemic (and this too shall pass) what will you have become? Will you have been a victim of the circumstance, or will you have grown in this moment? And in every moment that choice is always yours.

So what will you do now?

Thank you.

HOST: Mark Henick is an author and mental health advocate and he spoke at The Walrus Talks at Home: Mental Health in 2021. And he’s just one of the over 800 fantastic Canadians who have walked and wheeled, or virtually zoomed onto the stage at The Walrus Talks and The Walrus Talks at Home. If you liked this episode, we’d appreciate it if you’d take a few moments to do these three things: subscribe, leave a rating and review, and share this episode with one of your loved ones.

Mark Henick