No Parking in the Comfort Zone

The following entry is the fourth in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

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Continuing with this series of Things I've Learned during My Struggle for Happiness, one of the things I've realized is that getting out of your comfort zone will make you a better person. Look, I hate this one too because I've discovered that with pain, depression, and just plain age comes fear. Fear of fucking everything. Fear every time you open your computer and read about what's happening in the world. Fear every time you walk to your car at night and remember that story you read about the woman who got raped in that neighborhood last week. Fear of quitting your job and losing everything. Fear of divorce. Fear of the death of your parents or children. Fear of getting really sick. Fear of dying alone. Fear of everything until you stop trusting in people. And then you start fearing anyone who is different from you or any situation you haven't previously experienced.

This last one seems to consume us the older we get. The more we fear, the more we isolate ourselves. The more we isolate ourselves, the more we're getting our perception of the world through secondhand sources, like television or the Internet. The more we trust others' perceptions of the world instead of our own experiences, the more likely it is that our perceptions become skewed. You forget the age-old adage of "don't believe everything you read," and you become more susceptible to trusting the news, which is designed to make you what? Fear even more shit. It's a vicious cycle, man.

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To counter this, I'm trying hard to get out and meet the people in my community, to put faces on people belonging to groups about which I understand little so that I can broaden my worldview (check out my previous entry about this). I don't want the face of the Muslim religion to be something I read about on Gawker. I don't want the face of cops to be everything I read on the endlessly one-sided, clickbaity web "news" sites. I don't even want to paint the picture of all Trump supporters as the ignorant, racist hillbillies they're often portrayed as. That means all I'm getting is the one-dimensional shit; I'm not understanding the deeper issues at work. It's human nature to blame another group for the world's woes. It's always the blacks, the Mexicans, the Irish, the Muslims, the gays, the feminists, the Soviets…and on and on. But living with all that hatred is not only harmful to you (anger and anxiety lead to health problems), but it's harmful to the world to buy into that mindset---you become part of the problem. It's essential that you make connections to individuals.

Listen, this shit is hard for me too. It's no different than the promise you make to yourself as you fall asleep that tomorrow you'll wake up an hour early and get to the gym. We always wanna believe that tomorrow is the day we're gonna be our best selves. For me, I wanna think that tomorrow is gonna be the day I leave the house and go do something really different, something helpful that allows me to make a connection, something that pushes against the boundaries of my comfort levels. But fear stops me. When I told my shrink about these things and how I don't engage in activities I claim to I want to do and that I know are in my best interest out of sheer laziness, he said he doesn't believe in laziness. He thinks that there is always something behind the laziness that's really stopping you. For me, that thing is FEAR. It's an interesting theory, which has made me pay attention to what's really going on in my head when I say I don't want to do something. Why don't I want to do this? Because it would be easier to stay in bed and watch Netflix. Okay, but easier how? Because you're scared to have to go and interact with people? What's going on beneath your desire not to put on a bra and leave the house?

I still struggle with this, y'all. I'm just happier being home these days. Except the thing is, when I don't leave the house, I turn to all my usual distractions: weed, booze, Facebook, Netflix. And then it turns into a shame spiral pretty quickly. I lie there and think about whatever thing I got invited to and begged off of, and I beat myself up for not being in the world, telling myself over and over that I only have one life to live and is scrolling through Facebook how I want to spend it? Or do I want to go to things, experience things, see things, talk to people? I know what the *right* answer is, so I continue to lie there and beat myself up, all while ostensibly doing what I'd rather be doing---staying at home. Your brain really is its own worst enemy. As my other shrink says (I know, I have a team of professionals trying their best to keep me sane) "How's all the negative thinking working out for you?" Dr. Phil-isms aside, she's right. It's not working for me any better than it's working for you. But turning off that stream of "I'm-a-piece-of-shit-because" thinking is one of the hardest things we struggle with.

Look, this shit is so common, someone made a meme. You are not alone.

Look, we have been conditioned to fear for our lives every time we set foot out in the world. Either it's the Bay Bridge, which will collapse at any minute, surely killing me while I'm en route to the city. Or it's the crime in West Oakland, of which I will surely be a victim should I choose to place myself in that "disadvantaged" neighborhood. Or it's the possibility that the angry dude in front of me at the coffeeshop berating the barista will be carrying a concealed weapon. Or it's that the air we're breathing and the water we're drinking are slowly killing us. We are conditioned now to fear all of the time, and if you don't think that that's doing a number on your psyche, on your flight-or-fight instincts, on suddenly developing panic attacks for no reason…you are just flat-out wrong. It's taking its toll. This mentality is making us turn inward and want to be in the world less. Trust, bitches, I know. I am their poster child.

There's a dude who, post-divorce, developed a card game for the very purpose of getting himself out of his comfort zone. He, too, was paralyzed with fear, so he vowed to do one thing every day that scared him, where there was a possibility of him getting rejected since rejection was *his* biggest fear. And it changed him. I haven't made any sort of pledge like that for myself because it's, well, scary. But my point is, this is a common affliction from which we ALL suffer. Again, we mock and scorn things that scare us so that we can justify not engaging with that person or not putting ourselves into a certain situation. And it keeps us terribly isolated. And fearful. Fear does not equal happy. You have to get out there and try new things and meet new people. By any means necessary. And I still struggle with this, y'all. It's not easy. But it is essential. Honestly, the cards look cool, and I think I'm gonna get myself a set.

There's no shame in admitting you need extra help with any of these things. If it takes a set of cards or some other means of bribing yourself, do it. We spend all this time and energy and use every tool available to us to work on what our outward bodies look like, yet very few of us put that same level of effort and energy into making our minds more fit. That extra 10 pounds you think you need to lose every time you look in the mirror? How do you think you'd view your body if your mind were in a better place? Those 10 pounds wouldn't fucking matter---and they shouldn't. Who gives a fresh fuck about your muffin tops when you are mentally healthy and happy? I mean, I know this falls under the category of DUH, but if you feel good about yourself inwardly, you're not gonna give two whits about what other people see on the outside. Given the choice between a six-pack and contentment, I'm choosing contentment every time.

And even though I sorta suck at getting out of my comfort bubble, when I do manage to do it, I'm rarely sorry I did. Usually it results in meeting someone new and having a really cool conversation with them, going to a new place and having a new kind of experience, or hanging out with old friends and really, really connecting with them. So I know it's hard, y'all, I really do. But trite clichés aside, you really do only get one life.

I know it's easier to lie on the couch and watch episodes of Roseanne for the tenth time---and I'm not saying that's never okay---but when you look back on your life as you get older, will it make you happier to remember that you spent most of your middle age horizontal on a couch quoting "Steel Magnolias" line-for-line or will you remember that you went into the sunlight and frolicked when you had the chance? Me? I already know I can do the former, so now I'm working on the latter.