Comfort Zone

March 07, 2018  •  9 Comments

I was recently talking with a friend after Improv class, telling her about some of the activities I do. She was impressed, saying something like, "it's great that you do so many different things--dancing, aerials, Improv--that take you out of your comfort zone. Or maybe you just have a very big comfort zone . . ."

So I wondered, do I have a big comfort zone? I thought about my many activities, and felt out my reactions in each of those places and situations. And I realized that the truth is exactly the opposite: my comfort zone is very, very small.

I am uncomfortable in nearly every interaction I have with another person. Every time I venture out of my house, with the inevitability of meeting someone else, I am uncomfortable. When I walk through a store and see people I might come face to face with. As I walk down the street, wondering if I'll run into a friend, or think about talking to someone I haven't met. Every time I pick up the phone. Every time I strike up a conversation. Every time I write something that another person will read. I go dancing at least once per week, and nearly every time I ask someone to dance, I am uncomfortable. Going to the gym, going shopping, meeting a friend for dinner, going to a show . . . uncomfortable. Going to Improv class or performing it on stage. And yes, trying a new activity like the aerials lyra class I've been taking makes me uncomfortable. And if I even think of approaching a woman I'm attracted to . . . Discomfort even comes up when doing solitary activities: Patent work (irritation, self-doubt), photography and photo editing (anxiety--what if I mess it up?), practicing music (disappointment if I don't sound beautiful), meditation (fear of loneliness, and experiencing the full range of human emotions).

The concept of a "comfort zone" is ubiquitous, but it's one that never resonated with me much. Now I know why--I am so sensitive to discomfort that I experience it in almost every place, time, and activity. When I was much younger, the discomfort was so intense that I couldn't handle much interaction at all. In second grade, I couldn't speak out loud in public, not even to a close friend. All through high school, I rarely said hello to anyone as I walked through the hallways. Facing and challenging the discomfort took too much energy. But eventually, gradually, the desire for connection started to overpower the fear and pain of discomfort. I worked hard to develop social skills and made close friends. With some caring guidance, I learned to dance. I pushed myself to take on leadership roles. And I have branched out into new activities.

Discomfort is still a big part of my daily lived experience. I try to see it for what it is: my body's and mind's physical, mental, and emotional reactions to situations--a bundle of sensations. I try to remind myself that it doesn't carry any meaning. It doesn't necessarily tell me the truth about a situation, or tell me what I should do. Knowing that I'm hyper-sensitive to discomfort, I have to remind myself that it is usually not a signal of danger. I still have a tendency to withdraw or hide. I often avoid engaging with people the way I want to because it feels as though it takes more energy than I have. And I am disappointed in myself when I hold back, and wonder what opportunities and connections I might have missed.

And still, I dance, and write, and play music, and share my photography, and do Improv, and try new things. I engage with people. I face the discomfort. I don't know if it has diminished over time or if I have just become more accustomed to and accepting of its presence. Either way, I am determined not to allow it to control me or rule my life. I find joy through dancing and creating and playing and simply being present, by myself and with others. Happiness and discomfort can coexist. And I am extra grateful for the moments when discomfort drops away. I wish everyone more of these moments, and I hope that I can help bring them about for all of us.


Comments

Judy Via
You are such a good writer, Hal. I realize tonight, revisiting it after a long absence, how much I have missed reading “A Still Mind.” I want to get back into the habit!

I love looking at your beautiful photographs, several of which I am lucky enough to have in my home). I look forward to catching up on all the images I have missed while I’ve been away...

Thank you for sharing yourself through these and other forms of creative self-expression that are so much a part of who you are.

Your friend forever,

Judy
Debra Kirsch(non-registered)
You are such an amazing writer. I am sorry you feel so uncomfortable. It hurts. I know. I have something similar but not the same in that I have a chronic illness that makes me uncomfortable almost each and every day and I have certain things I have to attend to each and every day in order to be more comfortable. I don't have the same anxiety you have because of the reasons you have but I have anxiety because of how it relates to my body and dealing with being out and about in the world. It's very late and I don't even know why I am attempting to explain such hard concepts but I came across your facebook post where you were disappointed that people weren't commenting on your blog so here I am!! Hugs and love to you and thanks for putting yourself out there. I have more to say on this but it will have to wait cause I don't think I am at my best in writing at this hour!!!
Alix(non-registered)
Lots of stuff in your piece for me that resonates and to think more deeply about. I'm highly anxious and still find approaching non-friends rather nerve-wracking. And boy do I hate talking on the phone. Your insights into discomfort and how you move beyond it are helpful to me. As for my own anxious experiences, I found that they lessen when I am doing something that gives me pure joy - like dancing, climbing, and cooking. Thanks for sharing, Hal.
Lauri(non-registered)
Beautifully written, honest, bold, articulate and brave in revealing your vulnerability and humanness, Hal. We can all relate to this discomfort, this sense of otherness, even the most extroverted among us. Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts. Very healing and inspiring for all of us. To keep showing up in spite of the fear and discomfort, that is the work of a true hero who listens to his own heart and soul.
B B(non-registered)
I hear the word "anxiety" strongly. It's hard to have comfort when you have anxiety. And anxiety tends to overshadow everything else (IME). I look forward to the times when anxiety drops away - maybe it's discomfort that's dropping away too.
Thanks for the thoughts, you've given me valuable clarity.
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