Events That Are Torture (But Really Aren’t)

Painful dentist visit - LIttle Shop of Horrors

Painful dentist visit – LIttle Shop of Horrors

I’ve noticed another trend in my behavior when writing my last blog.  No, not creating multiple grammatical and typographical errors, I don’t tend to notice them (give me a break, I majored in science and my parents are immigrants.)  I realized that I don’t tend to find events that are supposed to be torture to necessarily be torture.  Quite the opposite.

In my last blog I wrote about how great moving can be when that event is commonly (and rightfully) viewed as painful and awful.  I realized that this is a recurring theme for me regarding supposedly tortuous events.  I won’t go so far to say I’d recommend them to anyone, or would want to do an encore of any of them either, but I found these so-called painful experiences to be far more positive than I had anticipated.

For example, most people hate going to the dentist.  I don’t love it per se, and don’t go when I don’t have to, but relaxing in that comfy chair with someone attending to me, no interruptions, is in it’s own way a mini-refuge.  A very scaled down version of going to the spa, so to speak.  My smile does look great when I leave.  Plus I love the staff there.  They are like family to me and I look forward to them brightening my day.  (BTW I don’t feel the same way about going to the gynecologist though he’s pretty awesome too.)

I loved changing diapers (no I won’t change the diaper on your baby!)  We chose to use cloth diapers with the babies while I was at home with them, so they had to be changed frequently.  Yes it was stinky sometimes, but I loved being able to see my sons in their naked glory, get them clean and fresh once again, several times a day.  I had to be completely present during the experience or I might miss something (phew!) or get soaked.  The number of days one’s kids allow them to be undressed by a parent are limited and fleeting.

I also found my oral comprehensive exam (the formative, 3 hour oral exam with your committee of 5 faculty for the doctorate degree) to be a really great experience as well.  I don’t know about other programs, but we generally had the luxury of taking 3-4 weeks to do nothing but prepare for the exam.  During that time, I read anything and everything I wanted regarding my dissertation.  It was pretty much focused and uninterrupted (except by the 1989 San Francisco earthquake) and I luxuriated in the once-in-a-lifetime freedom to just learn about whatever I wanted.  During the exam itself I enjoyed giving the presentation (another thing I enjoy doing that others hate) and the Q&A session felt empowering to me because I did a good job answering the questions.

I would even go so far as to say the divorce fell into this category.  No, I wouldn’t have chosen a divorce for me or anyone else compared to a successful marriage, but for a troubled marriage it was the right thing to do.  I’m also very proud of my ex and me for how amicably we parted, and so the divorce was a positive, not devastating experience for our two teenaged sons (I realize there may be some rationalization on our part here).    The post-separation period, though literally terrifying, was a liberating experience for me filled with growth and discovery.

Maybe such traumatic events are really only traumatic if we believe them to be.    We can “horribilize” them and make them worse than they are, or we can find the opportunity and turn the event into a neutral, if not positive and enhancing experience.

My younger son started college this summer and he talks about how much “fun” exams are.  I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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