Posted by: M.C. | 8 September 2010


The other night we watched a couple of episodes of Hoarders and then the beginning of an episode of Obsessed, initially out of a morbid fascination. Though I can’t help but feel sorry for the people portrayed and their struggles, I’m sure I also feel gratitude that my life isn’t worse, no matter how convoluted or imperfect it may feel to me at times. But as I watched the other night, I couldn’t help thinking that I–and maybe all of us–share something with the deeply troubled people on these shows.

Each show begins by depicting the depths of someone’s dysfunction: piles of objects or trash on Hoarders, or the repetition of rituals and actions in Obsessed. We marvel at the intensity of their disorders, then we are introduced to the therapist who’s going to try to help them through this thicket. As the therapists begin to address the problem, we get the same reaction on both shows: anxiety. The person with the disorder, no matter how much he or she is miserable with their current life, begins to feel overwhelmed, often to the point of anger or tears or some other emotional outburst. And the more I thought about this anxiety–this common thread–the more I saw it in my own life.

I have my own desires–to write, to run, to be healthier, to be more creative–that I somehow avoid engaging in. And I have behavior–TV watching, Freecell playing–that I know consumes chunks of time that could be better spent. I do too little pursuing my desire and too much time wasting because of the same anxiety I see on those shows. Of course, my version differs drastically in degree, but I can see that anxiety forecloses or reduces my ability to live the life I’d like to live.

To be my best self, to be the person most satisfying to my sense of myself, I have to step over a threshold of discomfort. It’s easier to hold onto my current dissatisfactions and habits, however much they limit my life. They’re comfortable; they’re familiar. To be what I might be means letting go, and it’s amazing how much letting go–even of what we dislike–hurts (though I suspect it’s often the anticipation of the pain that hurts more than the pain itself).

So I’m thinking that my life needs to be a bit more uncomfortable than it is. I’m thinking I need to spend more time stepping into my anxiety, not for it’s own sake, but to find out what’s on the other side. Because I’m beginning to understand that sometimes (often?) discomfort is the only way to get where I really want to go.


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