Danger vs. Discomfort

Anxiety has been a constant companion for many years. For a while it paralyzed me and then I got better. I talked about that story in my TEDx talk. This story is about me living while anxious and how I made a startling discovery.
With any big project comes worry, I’d say that is natural. For me though that worry turns into heated anxiety that keeps me up at night. (Like right now as I am editing this post.)Anxiety tells me a story of doom doom doom. There are gory deaths and painful lives. Terrifying stuff all. 

This time though, there was guilt mixed in with all the anxiety too. And that was new.
Guilt told me stories of traumatized friends, living on the streets, as I buy the just right something. Of refugees that walk a thousand miles with all their world contained in one bag, as I decide which luxuries are worth the extra grams and what do I leave for my return.

I’m not usually given to wallowing in guilt I can’t do anything about. This wasn’t making any sense.
Then a friend pointed out that if there’s an issue along the way, missing gear, losses, injuries, whatever, I can just throw money at it. It was meant as encouragement.

He’s right.

And even if I have no money, I have credit. And if I have no credit, I have family and friends. And if I have no family and friends, I have so much privilege that I can just ask a random person on the street for help and they likely will. I am white, I am educated, I look like someone who has friends and family and resources, even if they can’t access them right now. I am nice and I trust people.
The realization is so blindingly obvious now that I have it, I’m not sure how I missed it; I’m not anxious for death and danger. There are no significant dangers, beyond the every day dangers of existing in the world. 

A potential night out in the open would be decidedly uncomfortable. Not finding food for breakfast isn’t fun. Having my gear stolen would really piss me off. But you know what, it’s not dangerous. Merely uncomfortable. I have resources.

The real story that anxiety is warning me about is discomfort.
It’s funny, in a tragic way, how badly we fear discomfort. I see it all the time. 

No, let me not make this about you, because you are a lovely human being and I don’t know what goes on with you.

It’s funny, in a tragic way, how badly I fear discomfort. It’s there all the time. When I ask for favors, or when I speak up, or when I don’t have every last detail of a project planned. I fear being cold for an hour or hungry for two. I fear being asked a vulnerable question. I fear being found out.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes, often times, there’s something more valuable than comfort waiting for  us. When I risk discomfort I also risk connection, beauty and intimacy. I risk truth and love and justice. Risking the discomfort of my journey I also risk finding meaning.
So here then is a new question:
Am I anxious about danger, or discomfort? And if it’s discomfort, is there something more valuable that I can gain?

Can something that is painful not be harmful?

Yes. Yes it can. Think of that painful breakup, or that time you ran so fast, so exuberantly, your lungs and legs burned.

The opposite is definitely true. Sitting on the sofa instead of moving enough is certainly not painful, but it is definitely harmful. And I don’t mean that in a patronizing fitness industry way, but in a body-mind-health way. Our bodies are made to move and so keep our minds mobile.

Pain calls for attention and care. It asks us for ways that this can be easy. It asks us to acknowledge the hard and the resistance.It asks us to look at our boundaries and decide whether we are ok with where they are.
Sometimes we are in pain because our container is too small and we need to expand.
Contraction is painful, intentionally making ourselves small. Expansion is painful too, as our parts release into the newfound space, shifting painfully. Getting to stand up straight is scary. Scary is painful, it is the contraction just before the release.

So if we put avoiding harm, before furthering the mission, what is the relationship to pain? Pain sits on the edges, both the edges we want to dissolve and the edges we want to maintain. It is a guide, asking for care and attention. And yes, this does sound super kinky.

My friend Debbie on the Camino told me „Others give us pain, but we create our own suffering.“ I keep understanding this phrase and then forgetting its meaning, always relearning: I can try to avoid all the pain and suffer at its inevitability, or I can learn what it has to teach me and move on. It is my choice. What am I choosing today?

I am choosing to enter into conversation with the pain. I choose to bring it all into this life.
This beautiful, scary and painful life.

What are you choosing?

Fun Fact

Even today, 14 years since I first became a chemist and 4 years since I left the lab, I get anxious and feel guilty if I only label the top of a jar of spices, and not the glass, too.
Very important in a lab environment where everything is either crystalline and white, or liquid and clear, and a mixup could have, literally, fatal consequences. Not so important in a kitchen where all I could mix up is the cumin and the tumeric.


“Becoming without being is pointless. Being without becoming is boring.”
– Ursula le Guin


Full belly,
Full heart,
Empty mind.

As it should be.


I am, literally, sick with the modern propensity for pathologising otherwise healthy humans, be it in the health(y) food or fitness industries.
Your body has an amazing capacity for healing and regulating itself. Learn to trust your body to know what is good and to survive even things that aren’t good for it. Learn to listen to your body. Learn to read when it needs more rest and when it needs more movement and all the other things that bodies need. Learn to listen for the foods that nourish it. And if it is telling you that something is not right, find someone to give you advice who actually knows a thing or two about helping bodies heal and is willing to listen to the wisdom you have about your own body.


For all those who need a little boost to begin:
“Invocation for Beginnings” ZeFrank

The good life

The good life is about finding the just-right mix between “good enough” and “exceeding your own expectations”.


Unapologetic is the flip-side of Vulnerable. It’s about doing it, even if it isn’t perfect.