Choose Discomfort



This quote (one of my favorites) is all about avoidance and procrastination. Avoidance and procrastination, the twin demons of my psyche, generate anxiety and guilt. Dr. Brown offers the antidote to anxiety driven by guilt in her concise, direct way. If I were a tattoo kind of girl I’d tattoo that quote into the palm of my hand so I could see it everyday.  Choose discomfort over resentment.

“But I don’t want to be uncomfortable!” I whine. Uncomfortable sucks. Is it really better than resentment?

Yeah. I’m afraid so. Discomfort is a moment to work through. Resentment is forever. Discomfort is like a sleepless night before confronting a task at work or presenting a report to the boss or picking up the phone to say “No” to the latest request from a friend, the kids’ school, a cause you really believe in. Oh my God, my heart is beating faster just imaging this! Does yours?

When we push through the guilt and nerves, we make the phone call and keep our promise to ourselves to say “No”, we feel relief, maybe even pride. No resentment; anxiety gone. What’s left is an eye blinking moment when we admit to ourselves that that wasn’t so bad. We sleep like babies.

What if the stakes are higher? Starting a new business, taking the first step in breaking up a relationship, facing those monstrous obstacles that get in the way of our happiness… The higher the stakes the greater the discomfort and the potential resentment.

We all know people who have “If only” syndrome. “If only I did this when I was younger,” or “if only I did that when I had the chance.” If we’re lucky we know a few people who did choose discomfort over resentment. They say, “Yup, I quit that soul sucking job, one of hardest things I ever did, and then I did something I’d been wanting to do all my life.” Or…”When I finally left him I was scared to death, but here I am free to make my own way and I’m so excited for the adventure of it all.” Often they are the same person, which can be very cool.

The Explore What’s Next logo represents a hill which itself represents a well-loved metaphor about confronting anxiety. The thing we avoid is at the top of the hill. The hardest part is putting one foot in front of the other, believing in your worthiness and strength  even when every cell in our body wants to turn around and run back down. Therapy is often about learning that you’ve got what it takes to lean into that discomfort, get to the top of the hill and enjoy the view.

Four Elements of a Good Marriage

When it comes to marriage, a mentor of mine said, there are no rules. As long as there are Two Consenting Adults, the possible types of marriage are infinite. You can have bi-cultural marriages, bi-racial, bi-coastal, marriages blending different religions, arranged marriages, open marriages, May-December couples, straight, gay and transgender. Traditional or not, all that matters is that the two adults involved agree on what defines their particular coupling.

Two. Consenting. Adults.

After that what are the elements of a good marriage? Everyone wants to know that, right? What my mentor said was a bit surprising. He said that after doing a meta-analysis of studies on happily married couples, researchers boiled down the corner stones of a good marriage to four:


3 Ways to a More Resilient Self-Esteem


Or, How is Our Self-Worth Like a Bug?

When I was in therapy back in graduate school I had panic attacks. My therapist said I was susceptible to anxiety because I wore my ego on the outside where it was too vulnerable. She said if you look at evolution the creatures on the low end of the food chain wear their skeletons on the outside and the inside was all mushy. Beatles are like that. The slightest thing could crush them. If the exoskeleton was cracked that is the end of them.

More advanced, evolved animals have their skeleton on the inside and their mushy bits are on the outside. If the mushy bits were hurt (as a rule) they may be battered and bruised but they could still stay upright and strong because our core, our bones, are on the inside.

We want our self-esteem to be more evolved.

When our confidence is anchored in ourselves rather than outside us, we are more stable and more resilient.  For example, many of us are people pleasers. We tend to measure our self worth way too much on others’ view of us, instead of what we think about ourselves. That’s not to say other people’s opinion isn’t important. It just ought to be less important than our own belief in ourselves. It means that if they turn away from us, it may hurt, but we can still stand and stay strong. That’s real power.

How do we get our self-esteem skeleton on the inside where it belongs?

Start with some very simple, basic exercises:

  • Raise your awareness of who that harsh critic is in your life.  Whether in the form of another person or a critical voice in your head. Distiguish between that voice and the True You. You are kind, good and tougher than you think. You just need to raise the volume on your True Voice and tell that other nasty voice to bug off!
  • Remember who You really are. List all your best attributes. Re-affirming who you truly are (instead of what others say you are) is a lot harder than it sounds but it works!
  • Play a little defense. Say No. Start small. Turn down an invitation to join a committee when you already have too much on your plate. Say no thank you. Repeat as needed.

When we are born with thin skin it’s especially important to remember our inner strengths and practice them every day.

3 Things I Learned When My Blog Got Hacked!

Dear subscribers and readers of the Explore What’s Next blog:

I am so sorry!

For weeks I’ve been trying to figure out why a rogue link to some lame online office services was appearing on EWN subscribers’ email notifications. Yesterday the hackers upgraded from an innocent (but still unwanted) link to full-on nasty-scam in the form of advertisements for pharmaceutical sexual enhancers. ARG!

It was as if they were saying, “Well, they didn’t chuck us out for the little hack so that must mean we can go all out now!”

Lessons learned:

1. Do not hesitate to kick anyone out of your life who is not treating you nicely. Don’t wait for them to go away on their own or for them to change just because they said they would (“I promise”). No. Kick the jerk out first, ask questions later. Firmly say, “Oh, no you don’t! Straighten up and treat me with respect or get out!”

2. Be grateful for your support system. When it comes to creating and maintaining a good website/blog it takes a village. The first notifications that something was way off came from three intrepid friends/readers. All reported a variation on “You’ve got a serious problem here!” Once alarmed, I immediately sent up the Bat Signal! Or in my case the SmackSmog Signal. The SmackSmog team jumped all over the interlopers and drove the bad guys out within hours! Thank you, thank you, thank all of you!!! I heart my Internet village. XO!

3. Take passwords seriously. Passwords are a pain in the ass but it may be the only thing standing between you and the spineless pig hacker in pjs, sitting in his mom’s basement sucking down Mountain Dews and chowing on Cheetos. Ew! In my case, one way the hackers may have gotten in was because I was lazy and didn’t assign a super strong password where I should have. Those days are over.

As God is my witness, I will never choose a cheesy password again!

It is my hope that you may learn from this little episode as I have. Please continue to enjoy the Explore What’s Next blog knowing we will do all in our power to keep it informative, helpful and classy.

With much affection,

Dr. Aletta


The Chronic Illness Wrangler

To prepare for writing this book, “How To Have A Chronic Illness So It Doesn’t Have You!” I wanted to find a way to describe the person with chronic illness without having to say ‘person with chronic illness’ all the time.

Fishing around in my mind I came up with some petty lame efforts. It was hard to conjure up anything that didn’t smack of victim-ness, the opposite of what this book is about.  Then ‘the Chronic Illness Wrangler’ popped up. Hmmmm…

I’m a cowgirl from Kansas who grew up with horses, so the idea of a wrangler has happy connotations for me. Nellie, (our little quarter horse mix mare when I was a kid), was full of energy and fun to ride. Or she was unless she got spooked and bolted. Kind of like the way my disease took over my body. Therefore… the Chronic Illness Wrangler: the illness is the horse that needs to be lassoed and trained to behave. The wrangler does the training. Get it?

When I was first diagnosed with scleroderma and for a couple of years after that, my doctors described the illness as ‘galloping.’ They said it was a nice way of saying the disease was running away with me and no one could tell me where it was headed. Did they say nice?

Then again, maybe it helped that I actually knew what it was like to be on a run away horse. The panic, both mine and Nellie’s, the noise, the wind, the desperate prayers to stay on, or if I fell off, the plea that I’d land on something that didn’t kill me. Galloping? Hell. Try riding a rocket!

Did it help that I knew that to stop a run away horse you needed to keep your head and think, know that the run couldn’t last forever and that what the frantic horse needed was guidance? As long as I could keep my head, I didn’t yank back on the reins, causing her more panic. As long as I could think, I kept my center of balance with my mare’s and stayed on. As long as I could think, I chose not to think of every possible woodchuck hole she could fall into.

Best of all, as long as I could think I could remember that to stop a run away horse you reached down on the rein and turned her head firmly to one side. Whoa!

Without knowing it my doctors gave me a metaphor I could live with.

My twice monthly appointment during that time didn’t amount to much more than the nurses and physicians tut-tutting about how the disease had progressed. Pain management was reduced to a game of ‘What non-steroidal shall we try this week?” I would go home despondent, feeling empty and powerless.

Until I remembered the run away horse.

All at once I was the cowgirl wrangler ready to outrace any stupid galloping illness. It wasn’t much but it was what I had. No matter how long it took, I was ready to ride this baby out. Just keep a cool head and stay on. As long as I could think, I could reach down, turn this crazy mount’s head and gain control again. Whoa!

Photo courtesy Kristian M via Flickr

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