“I Want to Feel Good” – Why We Fiercely Cling to Our Struggles
After I wrote a blog post that dabbled into my experiences with trichotillomania (trich), the compulsive pulling out of hair, a friend reached out to me to remind me that there is a biological underpinning behind trich as well.
For those with trich, the act of pulling out a hair produces a physical sensation of palpable release and excitement and soothing all at once. So it’s actually quite natural that I would deal with stress by pulling out my hair rather than by doing other things that don’t feel as good – pulling out my hair seems more efficient in the moment than slogging through other stress management techniques that don’t work as well.
In meditation, the idea came to me that if I could release that pesky neurological groove in my brain that equates hair pulling with relief, I could learn to handle stress in other ways that don’t leave me with little bald alien eyelids.
I could find healing. I could wave my trich goodbye. I could send it to the wind with the floating dandelion feathers and wild stardust.
As I considered how to release this physical urge, a fearful voice inside me quickly responded in a clutch of panic:
This inner voice felt small and scared, like a cowering little girl who had kept her voice quiet for too long. Now I was trying to strip away something she wanted, and she was breaking her silence.
“Why not?” I asked her. I have been trying to heal my trichotillomania for over 15 years – I hardly thought that a part of me would resist letting it go for good.
And she responded so clearly: “Because I want to feel good.”
Wanting to feel good. Isn’t that what we all want? Doesn’t that explain our serial quests for happiness, our addictive behaviors, our clamoring for a relationship that we think will finally fill the void?
The little girl saying NO, my ego that believes in separation, will cling to my trich as long as she can because she wants me to feel good in the moment. She thrives on cavewoman logic:
Pulling out hair feels good.
I want to feel good.
If I stopped pulling out my hair, I would stop feeling good.
So I don’t want to stop pulling out my hair.
We cling to familiar things, people, friendships, jobs, and behaviors even when we know that they don’t serve us. Painful habits are the childhood blankies that we revert to in times of change and unknowingness. If you have ever tried to pry a blanket from a child who uses it as a comfort, you know how dreadful the backlash can be.
Our egos believe in scarcity, that there is only so much to go around. We convince ourselves that nothing in the world will feel quite as good as our drinking habit, our codependency, our self-criticism – even if we admit that these things aren’t working for us either.
It hurts to hold on, but we fear it will hurt even more to let go, and our comfort zones are an enticing place to play. Some people even stay there their entire lives, too afraid to dip their toes in the waters of What Could Be.
Our egos have us convinced that if we let go of our destructive behavior, all of our fun will go away. The idea of life without our vices can feel noble-yet-boring, like an endless expanse of days where we slowly learn to acclimate to a life less passionate. Sometimes I find myself believing that for the rest of my life, I am doomed to feel a flash of anxiety when I see someone else’s crooked eyelashes.
We don’t allow ourselves to consider that the grass could be greener on the other side. We convince ourselves that bleak futures are inevitable, and we focus on the loss, the unknowingness, the struggle, but we can dare to tell ourselves a different story.
We must open ourselves up to the possibility that our lives could be even more fun, passionate, fulfilling, and vibrant once we let go of the things that bog us down. The grass could be greener, or maybe it wouldn’t even be grass anymore – it could be a field of lavender, a sparking garden, a rolling plain of color and sound and light. We don’t know.
Today is the day to consider a new ending to your story. An ending free of self-destruction, where life is brimming with delight and peace and opportunities. A life where one day, I could see a crooked eyelash and embrace its unconventional beauty – its winding uniqueness that makes it stand out from the rest.
Big, transformational, earth-shattering change can take time. Step by step, story by story, daydream by daydream, let’s give ourselves permission to feel good in bigger, wilder ways than we ever thought were possible.
Tell me a story of why you need your anxiety, and then tell me a different story about how letting it go might free you. Tell me about a time when you forged ahead through the fires of your own fear. Tell me about your ego – what it looks like and how it speaks to you.
Love and Possibilities and Tender Inner Cavewomen,
5 thoughts on ““I Want to Feel Good” – Why We Fiercely Cling to Our Struggles”
Intriguing suggestion. Right now my anxiety has to do with flying, brought on around my 23rd birthday or so. I have assumed it was more along the lines of recognizing my own mortality – like the college frat boy who realizes binge drinking won’t help in the longevity department – being in a plane that blows up or crashes won’t help me out either. Of course the media plays up my fears – whether it is fiction in movies, fiction on the news or possibly reality on the news.
The culture around travel has changed too, long lines with people handing over their shoes as readily as they hand over their civil liberties, backscatter machines with radiation…so is it an irrational fear and anxiety that I am holding on to or one continually perpetrated by my culture to keep me from moving freely?
I could suggest that not traveling by plane keeps me from having new, possibly scary, experiences but I have made sure that I can find transportation to anything I want to do, via train or car so that doesn’t hold water necessarily.
I was able to travel here without Chris, toting 3 kids, by utilizing meditation and being “present” in the moment. It gave me a weird sensation every time I internally chanted “Right now what is happening, nothing is happening. Right now I am fine.” It was empowering to recognize that, but the whole process was much like a nauseating roller coaster, gliding from relief to panic every two minutes.
Past plane rides have been better when another adult is there for me to put my feet on – I feel more grounded and relaxed, plane floors are so wobbly feeling. I guess that could suggest that I need to feel grounded, that I don’t like the idea of taking risks, leaping, etc. but still I moved my whole family without jobs across the country, as far you can go and didn’t flinch.
Maybe some struggles are just struggles that we endure until the end like some psychological nature channel special where the lion catches a zebra and it flails around until death.
Hi Emily – what a cool and well-thought-out analysis of your fear of flying! I feel like many people just leave it at the surface level “I’m afraid of flying” but I love what you said especially about frat boys realizing the impacts of binge drinking. You have had such an interesting, wild, and adventurous life without flying.
I am going to try your mantra of “Right now what is happening, nothing is happening.” You taught me so much about mindfulness in all the years of yoga practice, and still in daily life I snap into anxiety or defensiveness so many times in the course of a day.
Have you been writing lately?? I know you are superbly busy with the family and with grad school but you have so many cool associations (lion catching a zebra and flailing until death) that are poetic and empowering and I hope you record these for posterity.
I am starting to become comfortable with the fact that we may endure some struggles until the end — that the point isn’t to eradicate it, the point is to evolve in tandem with it. With pulling out my eyelashes, I have always been so focused on getting rid of the impulse entirely – being mindful of my thoughts and being “spiritual” or “Strong” enough to actually overcome it instead of the ups and downs. So I think there is something freeing when we begin to ponder that we may always have these anxieties.
Can’t believe I missed this comment. I love reading your blog and absolute agree – the point of yoga is to remove the root cause of suffering and pain but I think that is done by evolving with and through our issues, they never truly disappear like a puff of smoke. We learn to bend and not break.
You asked me to write about why I need my anxiety. Which my mind replied “I don’t need it, it just follows me” Worrying is my anxiety. I’ve been trying meditation & breathing countdowns to help me deal. Even yoga has helped in some ways. I’ve also thought of trying hypnosis or acupuncture or therapy. But what I really need to work on is not caring so much and leaving my thoughts alone. Which is very very hard to do. I’ve had panic attacks since I was 15 all brought on by worrying. Worrying I ate too much or the food was prepared wrong which lead to worrying about throwing up which lead to worrying about choking to death on my puke which lead to full blown panic attack mode. My mind takes off without my consent. I struggle with this constantly. Having my boyfriend & mother give encouraging words & being there has helped in so many ways. Also knowing I’m not alone makes me feel less alone. You help me in ways you cannot imagine. Keep writing <3
Sara I am so grateful for your words and your friendship and really just all the joy you have brought me and others throughout your short time on earth so far. This comment brought me to tears!
You are brave to allow yourself to be vulnerable by describing your own experiences with anxiety – so many times, we all live in our separate bubbles and are afraid to admit these struggles to others. But the more we talk and share just as you have, the more we realize how similar our experiences all are – in all their their imperfections.
I often try to remember that I am Me – expansive, stardust, infinite – and that my anxiety is just a passing cloud, a visitor who is trying to show me the places that need healing. This helps me make tiny steps towards working through those scary thoughts that you also described because I remind myself that they are just thoughts and they are not Me. Maybe this has helped you too, or similar techniques
We should Skype soon! I want to hear about your experiences and your engagement 😉 All of my love, Kelsey