I am a world-class procrastinator. I pride myself on how I can leave things so utterly to the last minute. My favourite story to tell from university (which shows how rock and roll my student days were) is the time in third year when four of my deadlines fell on the same day, and I decided to wait until the night before to tackle all of the assignments. I didn’t get to bed until 6am, slept for an hour, and then went in to hand in my essays and do a group presentation. It was not a smart move (the amount of Lucozade I drank alone was not worth it). Still, when the going gets tough, I am a master of avoiding it until I have no other option.
Even if there’s nothing hard I have to do that I’m avoiding, I’m exactly the same when it comes to going through tough stuff. Whether a situation is making me stressed or angry or absolutely miserable, working through it and facing it head on is never at the top of my to-do list. Far better to turn on the TV and distract myself until my brain switches off. Or pretend everything is OK until I get a stomach ache and have no option but to face my feelings so I can eat bread again. I’m a classic hide-under-the-covers-and-hope-it-goes-away type of girl, even though I know the problem won’t really go away.
But a few weeks ago, I got a tattoo. It’s not a typical move for someone who likes to avoid pain, and the last tattoo I got hurt so much that I swore, “Never again,” but I really, really wanted this one. Still, I waited a long time to book the appointment, and when I got to the tattoo studio and the needle gun came out I went straight into distraction mode. I lay on my side, faced away from what was happening, and kept my eyes glued to my phone for a full half-hour. It did not work.
That first half-hour was, shall we say, not fun. The tattooist reassured me that the first 10 minutes were the worst and it would get better after that – it did not. She then also mentioned that leg tattoos – which I was getting – can be tricky as the calf muscles twitch a lot, so I had an added layer of stress about my twitchy calves on top of the searing pain. And then, the icing on the cake; my phone battery began to die. My only means of escapism, and now there was no escape. In that moment I had a choice: stare into space and try to ignore the pain, or sit up and face what’s happening. I sat up, and it was awesome.
Lying down I’d had no idea of how far along it was, but now I saw most of my magpie was outlined and it looked amazing. As I continued to watch the tattooist work, most of the pain went away. It was still there, it still hurt, but now I could see the point of it. Now I could pinpoint where it hurt and why, and it was much easier to deal with. And the longer I watched, the more I could see the layers of beauty unfold. There were clean lines and shading and little flecks of white to highlight each key element, and if I had missed watching it happen I never would have appreciated all those incredible details.
When it comes to dealing with pain, it’s understandable why you might want to run and hide. Whether you’re facing a stressful situation at work or going through a break up or you’ve lost someone you love, life is painful and sometimes you just want the pain to stop. And facing it, acknowledging it, dealing with it, feels like you’d be emerging yourself in it and never be able to come up for air again. But going into distraction mode doesn’t take the pain away, you’re only procrastinating. It will still hurt later, only then you’ll be further on in time from the initial problem and less able to work out why you feel like this.
And tackling the pain head on makes you appreciate why it’s there. When you lose someone you love it’s meant to hurt, because that person meant a lot to you. When you want something and don’t get it, the pain of losing out on whatever it was shows you just how much you wanted it, and will be the thing that spurs you on to go after it next time and win. Dealing with suffering is how we grow, how we learn, how we develop layer upon layer of beauty and detail that we should wear just as openly as a tattoo on our skin. Because that’s what’s going to set us up for the next time life deals us a bad hand and we need to come out fighting, or when a friend is going through the darkness and needs someone to say, “Me too.”
I won’t pretend to know what you’re going through right now, or say that tackling it head on is going to be quick or easy, but you can’t run from it. You can’t procrastinate the pain away, or pretend it never happened, so you might as well address it, acknowledge it, pray about it, and work through it. It won’t make the pain go away but it will make it manageable. It might not magically help everything make sense but it will give you something to take away and learn from it. And it won’t give you back what you’ve lost, but you will be a stronger, richer and infinitely wiser person on the other side.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti