Courting Discomfort

Courting Discomfort

When is the last time you had a negative emotion?

If your answer is the last four months, there is no judgment from this end. I can hear New Zealand dance at the joy of having zero active cases of coronavirus.  Meanwhile, in my beautiful country of wonderful people, governors are allegedly installing ICU beds in their homes. You read that right.

There are enough reasons for despair, fear and burn out. We are in a race with no finish line. The caution fatigue of what masks to wear, the politicization of protective fabric, misinformation, economic predictions, buzz words like the ‘new normal.’

You have enough reasons to have ‘negative’ emotions.

Here is my question though, why is it a negative emotion? When we are happy, positive, upbeat, and we do not prefix the emotion with ‘positive’. We do not say:

I am positively happy.

Everyone in the office is positively elated.

Why are you positively upbeat?

Are you positive happy?

Emotions that feel good are described by the word attached to them. Those that do not feel good we justify with a ‘negative’ as though to put a buffer between us and the emotion. As an African born and raised on the continent, it is not unusual for a parent to whoop your behind.  Any gesture to suggest an intention to cry is met with a stern warning that a tear will worsen the beating or punishment.

Before you suggest this as a case of Western acculturation and I am suddenly pro-time out, hear me out. When a teacher beats you up for failing in math. What is the expectation here? In my case, I associated math with pain and misery after getting my back numb from beatings with an electric wire because I failed a test.

Imagine my disbelief much later when I learned that the problem was not daftness but rather how I understand functions. I found a teacher in high school who had a conversation with me and gave me practical tips to understand math better. I got better grades.

Suppressed emotions, both good and uncomfortable could explain our fumbled communication as adults. Too much joy is childish. Not too sunken either. Keep an equilibrium.

Civility is maturity but not an excuse to ignore uncomfortable emotions because they will erupt when you have had enough.

This past week I felt hollow. After a recent emotional burnout, I am more aware of the signs of an impending cloud and how to make my way to the sunny side. It has gotten easier over the years. The challenges do not get easier but tolerance and capacity grow in tandem.

When you feel uncomfortable, the first thing is to acknowledge what that feeling is in a way that comes easiest to you. Write, pray, speak it out, call someone who cares about you, or literally sit in it. The news at the beginning of the week left me lying on the floor after a shower and I let the panic have a go and then I made myself a happy meal. I journaled, prayed and called a few people in my inner circle.

I felt better a few hours ago. The whole process has taken almost a week.

If we leap for joy and endorphins have a field day in our brains,  why are we not equipped to deal with those that make us uncomfortable? I do not offer a simplistic view of a complex humanity. Instead, I propose a conventional approach to pain, anger, bitterness, desperation, annoyance and any other uncomfortable feeling.

Neither am I shrink or certified Yogi to help you connect with your inner chi. I am in search of answers and share them with you to offer the possibility of relief.

Take bitterness for example. Oxford Dictionary defines it as, ‘ anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly; resentment.’ If we broke it down into a chain that produces discomfort, it would be something like this;

Set expectations –> Unmet expectations –>Dissapointment –> No redress –> Pent up resentment –> Bitterness.

If you literally break it down,  the miscommunication (or lack thereof) is clear. And even with the best communication, there could be different mental models that need clarity but because we are out to keep the peace we say nothing to those who do us harm. Sometimes that person is me.

The pandemic.

You set up your work station. Buy a desk and comfortable chair. Figure out all the bolts and pieces. Get lighting for Zoom meetings. Everything is going great. Bake through all the recipes Google offers. Discovered how to cut hair. Tik Tok with your kids. Great.

Back home.

My mother continues to work a 12-hour day. Her smile every so bright even through the mask. Goes without pay to support her employees who are all young people. She understands that this is a lifeline for her and them. Nevertheless, she is grateful for everything that is going well.


Everything gets old. The excitement dies down and your body is courting lethargy. We are back to the unending race. The world is coming undone. The numbers are going higher but your bank account is noncompliant. It gets uncomfortable and we are stuck.

Science is discovering as we go. Other countries seem to get to act in order (Hey Angela). Billionaires are getting richer by the day. You are out of work. School is up in the air. College is..well college. People are dying. Other problems seem to have taken a backseat but their effects are on overdrive.

We are stuck.

There is no prime solution to all those emotions that do not feel good. A step towards defining them helps to recognize them. It is easier to deal with a known enemy than a lurking uncertainty.

A little help might ease the process. If you can afford therapy, please get help to gain clarity for where you are at. Share with loved ones. Lean into your faith. Read about it online. The internet is as well of experiences that offer a community. Rest if you can.

Do what you must. Get cozy with discomfort. Track the chain and break the link if you cannot reverse it.

Each step counts.

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