Stretching your comfort zone…to the breaking point

By Caitlin Kelly

We got up at 6:00 a.m. to attend Daybreaker -- an enormous dance party held in various NYC venues. That was a new adventure for both of us!
We got up at 6:00 a.m. to attend Daybreaker — an enormous dance party held in various NYC venues. That was a new and fun adventure for both of us!

If there’s a phrase I hate, it’s “comfort zone”.

How big is it?

Why is it so small?

Or so large?

Women, especially, are socialized to make nice — to make everyone around them comfortable. That can leave us hamstrung saying “Um” a lot, avoiding the difficult, when we really need to become comfortable with discomfort — extending the edges of that zone as far as we (safely) can.

And, really, what’s “safe”?

Many women are also still socialized to expect little of ourselves intellectually and economically beyond the tedious maternally-focused media trope of “having it all” — working yourself into a frenzy to be perfect at motherhood/work/friendship/PTA cupcakes.

To never show a moment’s vulnerability.

To do it all, all alone.

As if.

I do mean developing and consistently using and trusting your own power, a strength and resilience that sees us through the scariest and most unexpected moments.

They'll just keep going...
They’ll just keep going…

That might be physical, tested through sports or the military or parenting or adversity.

That might be intellectual — studying subjects so difficult they make your brain hurt — coming out the other side wearily proud of your hard-won new skills.

That might be spiritual/emotional — helping someone you love through a tough time. Or yourself. Probably both.

Jose and I have had an interesting, eye-opening few weeks caring for my 85-year-old father in Canada, where I grew up, after a hip replacement.

He’s the kind of guy whose biceps, still, feel like touching concrete. Who, in the past two years alone, sailed in Greece for a month and flew to Hong Kong and Viet Nam.

Like me, he doesn’t do “ill” or “weak” or “helpless.”

A comfort zone -- enjoyed far too long -- becomes a soul-cage
A comfort zone — enjoyed far too long — becomes a soul-cage

It’s been instructive, and sobering, for all three of us to see how intimatelyย  — not our norm! — we’ve had to interact through this transition.

Seeing someone you care for ill, in pain, nauseated, is frightening and disorienting. You desperately want to fix it, right away, but all you might be able to usefully do is wash a bloodied bedsheet or empty a pail of vomit.

You become a reluctant witness.

They become reluctantly passive, forcefully humbled by the body’s new and unwelcome fragility, even if blessedly temporary, a painful way station on the road to recovery.

It’s not fun. It’s not sexy.

Nor can you hand it all off to someone else.

It’s your job to give it your best, no matter how scared or freaked-out or overwhelmed you might feel.

It is real.

You also, if you’re lucky, get to see your partner be a mensch. Jose is an amazing husband in this regard, a man who steps up and gets shit done, no matter how tired he really feels, no matter if it’s all new and unfamiliar.

No whining. No complaining.

We never had children and have no pets, so the whole cleaning-up-bodily-fluids-thing is not part of our daily life and never has been.

But drives to the pharmacy and laundry became daily activities, plus cooking, cleaning up, housework, helping him back into bed. By day’s end, we both needed, and took, a long nap.

And Jose’s caregiving of me for three weeks after my own hip replacement in February 2012 was, in many ways, easier: I had less pain, a nurse came in every few days to check my progress and our hospital at home is a 10-minute drive from home, not an hour, as it is for my father.

I’d never seen my father ill and he’s never spent a night in the hospital, so taking medications, (very few, but still), and constant attention to the physical came as a shock to all of us.

As a family, always, we tend to live in our heads, to focus on art and politics, to thump the dinner table in vociferous arguments over (yes, really) geeky shit like economic policy.

We don’t do a lot of hugging or “I love you’s”. We’re private, even shy in some ways.

We typically don’t inquire after one another’s emotional states nor really expect or even want a candid answer. (WASP, Canadian, whatever…)

Feelings?

Surely you jest.

Frailty? Pain?

Not so much.

And so three comfort zones now have entirely new boundaries. I doubt such extensions arrive without cost.

We now know one another better than after years of brief less-intense visits, and have forged deeper, richer bonds as a result.

(Dad is doing great, so we’re now back at home; he’s well on the road back to normal, active life. No more tinkling of the bedside bell for help, a tradition we used for me as well.)

New horizons!
New horizons!

Have you been stretched recently?

How did it turn out?

21 thoughts on “Stretching your comfort zone…to the breaking point

  1. I am reminded of my parents deaths–or rather, the year leading up to them. Humbling to see how even the strongest among us is in the end–and yet, so humanizing also. I think when you’re wired as we are (and I know we’re wired similarly), it is also hard sometimes when navigating relationships to find that balance between tender and strong.

  2. thankyou for sharing. I was thinking about the same thing (exploring beyond the confort zone) while teaching yoga this week and something really like a storm arrived yesterday.. so I don’t know how it will turn out… not ye,

  3. A little distressed you even said ‘Comfort Zone’ in public. You are forgiven. At least you never ‘delivered’ or had thoughts outside your box. Good luck with the old guy, you, you WASP, bzz.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. this is such a transformative experience, thanks for sharing what it felt like. i think the things that we participate in that are out of our comfort zone are the ones that lead to our largest leaps of growth.

  5. You describe this trying time with such compassion and realism. I admire you for that. Have I been stretched? Oh yes. Having a chronic illness tends to blur (if not eliminate) the boundaries of one’s personal space. My intimate business was everyone’s conversion fodder. Nothing was kept for me alone. The same is true for those with a diagnosed mental illness or an addiction. Others feel comfortable talking about things that were once very personal. I may be going off topic now, but these are the thoughts you provoked in me from reading your post.

  6. Caring for my mother-in-law during her last year of life and helping my parents after my father’s heart surgery were both extremely growthful (challenging) experiences.

    As you so often do, you have shared something that strikes a chord for many. Blessings on you and Jose for coming through for your father as you have.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s