I am a huge fan of podcasts. I think it's because they remind me of the sports talk radio my dad and I used to listen to. It's fun to listen to stories and learn new things while also being able to go about my day. Anyways one of my new favorites is “Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend”. It's basically Conan O'Brien talking to friends, acquaintances, and other famous people about their lives and their relationship with Conan. Sure at times, it's a little vain, but it's fun to learn from Conan and his guests.
His most recent episode features Stephen Colbert, a personal hero of mine. Colbert is so incredibly down to earth and they had an amazing conversation about growing up in Catholic families, getting started in comedy, and the concept of “Magical Thinking".
Colbert lost two brothers and his dad in a plane crash when he was 10. Conan suffered from anxiety and self-imposed struggles for most of his life. The point is both of these men suffered immensely but only partially due to outside influences. They punished themselves in an attempt to make the pain and suffering from the outside go away. This topic hit me like a freight train. I was at work when I heard this part of the show and it's fair to say I couldn't hold back the tears while sitting in a shack at the top of a ski hill.
I wasn't raised in a Catholic family but the idea of suffering in order to gain enlightenment was ever present. My Dad grew up Catholic and although he was openly against the church for many reasons the teachings of suffering and self-imposed misery as an attempt at enlightenment was still present in my upbringing. I don't think this was a bad thing or a good thing, it's just something that shaped me.
When my dad got sick my self-imposed suffering enveloped me. I would find new ways to push myself to my breaking point in an attempt to find some breakthrough that would reverse the feelings I was being bombarded with. This self-inflicted suffering led to me completing the Tour Divide in 2016 and becoming a better cyclist while in the meantime losing many friends, falling deeper into depression, and losing track of what I actually wanted to do with my life.
Colbert and Conan describe closing themselves in hot closets to see how long they can handle it or working for 24 hours straight in order to feel that discomfort. They called this “Magical Thinking” in the podcast. This is the idea that by suffering you are hoping it will result in something positive. I am extremely guilty of this every day and the sad thing is that it works. Sure I don't need to suffer so much but every time I do I come out feeling a bit better. But similar to Colbert and Conan I recognize this as a twisted aspect of my life. Internal suffering is so foolish obviously enlightenment doesn't need to be found though misery but when you are experiencing profound suffering the self-inflicted cross-bearing is easy and pleasurable.
I have been going to therapy for a while now to help with grief and anxiety and the main issue that arises is why I am doing these races and choosing to suffer. I never really have a good answer. I chop it up to being very competitive or wanting to see how hard I can go. In reality, I think I am pursuing the Triple Crown in an attempt to find my cross to bear and release the pain felt from my dad's death. I know the Triple Crown won't give me that release but it might just a little and that's worth it. My therapist tries to convince me that the suffering can't helping me become mentally healthier and it won't lead to happiness in the end and 95% of me believe her. But 5% thinks “yea, but what the fuck do you know?” It's been my main roadblock when it comes to becoming mentally healthier. It's why I can't sit still while watching TV or reading a book. I need to be pushed. The suffering I put myself through is no longer a response and attempt at healing but is now a habitual activity that rears its ugly head on a daily bases.
Suffering has to happen in life. You need the darkness to see the light and I am not about to shut down misery or sadness when they are totally acceptable emotions. That being said I am going to be attempting to reform my habitual drive to make myself suffer. Meditation and forced relaxation will become my alternative to forced workouts and prolonged fasts.
It is hard to admit that you have been intentionally hurting yourself in an attempt to get better. It doesn't make sense and I feel like a fool when I think back on all of the stupid things I have down to find my cross to bear and reach enlightenment through suffering.
On my road ID I have the quote “pain is the purifier” it’s been my mantra since I was in middle school and it’s allowed me to work through tremendous tragedies and develop mental strength but it's been toxic for my overall mental health. I will keep the quote for the inspiration during my bike races and sporting endeavors but in “real life” it will be phased out.
Pain may lead to a new outlook and grow your mind and soul but it leads to darkness as well as self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to find more pain not already delivered to my life. Find the pain and suffering in day to day life, but don't go searching for more pain in an attempt to recreate the growth seen in external suffering. It will never be the same and any gain will be lost or the mental state will be weakened.
I ride for fun and I race for the thrill. This is my new reminder every day. Stay happy and light-hearted my friends. Life is hard but there is no need to make it harder in an attempt to get something more out of it.