Comfort Zone

Everybody has a comfort zone. It varies from person to person. Mine is, to put it bluntly, pretty small. Historically, I tend to be pretty closed off, and a relatively sedate person. I tend to hang around with a small group of people, take part in relatively few activities, and reveal myself to very few. That’s the kind of place I feel secure in, and where I tend to have the lowest level of anxiety.

Yeah, you probably know where this is going. Stepping out of my comfort zone has been part of my treatment, because for the last decade or so, my comfort zone has been so small it practically fit in my room. I haven’t spent a lot of time going out to new places, or getting to know new people; I let my depression run my life, and that, predictably, did not go very well. I was afraid to go out and find friends because I thought people would reject me, and without people to do things with, I didn’t go out to do much myself.

At Menninger, I got the chance to get to know a lot of new people. I’ve mentioned it many times. Many of them I would consider to be good friends, and I would still consider a good portion of the rest to be friendly; there were very few people I didn’t get along with to some degree. Some of the people I didn’t get along with I’ve also mentioned before. But just getting to know so many new people, to be willing to talk to so many new people and reveal parts of myself that I had previously kept hidden, was very freeing, even if it was very nerve-wracking at times. But the environment at Menninger was one that was very controlled, and one that was designed for the patients to get to know each other.

Things are different here at the step-down. We aren’t all housed in the same space, and so while many of us still see each other on a daily basis, we don’t spend our days together, all day, every day. We have a greater degree of choice concerning who we spend our time with and how we spend it. While there are still some rules, we have a great deal more freedom. And so we get more chances to step outside of our comfort zone. We can go out and find people outside the program to do things with, and find cool things to do with other people in the program. Hell, on Friday night I went out with some people to the symphony. Granted, it was the Video Games Live symphony, so it scores me some geek cred, but it was still something I don’t normally do.

I guess what I’m saying is that comfort zones are OK. Obviously they’re OK, because they are where we feel the most comfortable and secure, and also apparently where we are the most productive. But Before I came to Menninger, I didn’t even know how small mine had become. It’s something we shouldn’t just accept thoughtlessly, but stop every once in a while to examine, because there are a lot of things in life that we might miss if we just assume that we’d be uncomfortable.

Yes, there will be times when we will fail, and when things go wrong, but those things shouldn’t be what define us. Our comfort zones are what we make of them, and it seems to me that unless we watch them and look for ways to expand them, even if only slightly, they slowly start to constrict until we are left alone in our rooms. Granted, our rooms can be cool places – I mean, it’s probably where we keep our coolest stuff – but if that’s the only place you’re comfortable, your life is likely to be pretty lacking. I’m tempted to quote Ferris Bueller here, but I think I shall avoid doing so and instead just assume you all know what I mean.

Also, I am now in possession of pictures of me in my goth phase. But you’re going to have to offer me quite a bribe to see them.

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2 comments on “Comfort Zone

  1. Nick says:

    Jamie, I’ve been catching up on posts – so I’m sorry for the late reply to this one. That said, reading them in the order I did provides a good opportunity to comment on something that struck me in your most recent post.

    Here you talked about how small your comfort zone has been, and that may be true in the sense that it was limited to a narrow swath of activities, interactions, and even emotions. However, in some ways it was (and presumably still is) quite expansive. In your most recent post, you talked about pursuing your PhD because it was in your comfort zone. That sort of blew me away. Most people would not describe such an undertaking as “in their comfort zone” or the path of least resistance. Most people would see pursuing a PhD as extraordinarily intimidating, if not impossibly stressful both intellectually and emotionally. Yet you, probably because of the very nature of comfort zones, have not identified it as particularly impressive.

    Idiosyncratic differences in our comfort zones sometimes lead to friction: in how we prefer to communicate with the people around us, with how the world expects us to act, in the requirements for thriving in our society. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to stretch our comfort zones to fit the world around us (and reduce the friction!), but idiosyncrasies in our comfort zones also contribute to our unique combination of strengths.

    Just a thought.
    Nick

    • If that is just a thought, then I would’ve happy to hear more. It is true that considering a PhD program a part of my comfort zone sounds strange, but at the time I was just finishing my MA, I knew all the professors and many of the students, and I preferred a familiar environment, even an intense one like that, over the strange (to me) environment of a full-time job.

      I have to agree with you on expanding comfort zones and working with others who have different areas of comfort, because the different perspectives we provide each other have certainly helped me in my recovery. I hope I have done the same for others.

      In any case, thank you for the insightful comment, and I look forward to hearing (well, reading) more!

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