“Sometimes chaos is the very thing that deliberately shakes up our neatly ordered worlds in order to get us out of the neatly ordered ruts that have kept us stuck,” says Craig Lounsbrough.
I just stumbled into a place commonly called a limbo.
There are three big things that may have brought me here: becoming an “all-out” wife, thriving (or merely trying to thrive) in the first year of expatriation in an entirely new region of the world, and going through a first pregnancy.
The joys of these incredible changes all at once are not lost to me. As my husband reminded me this morning, all these things were choices we made together.
I have been beaming as much as possible day after day, positively embracing the new life and making the most of it.
Just last night, almost too suddenly, something happened. Woefully, I cannot deny a feeling of being stranded, of being lost.
I am a wife and mother. And yes, a fresh expat, too. I am still discovering the roles and trying to fit the “me” I know to the roles I irrevocably now play. The me I know seems to be separating itself from the me I see now. Every second of my every day is consumed with fulfilling the self-imposed standards for these new roles: being a good wife, that model expat who rarely complains, and the mother (at least a mom-to-be) who’s got it together.
For all the beautiful moments and discoveries these changes entail, I find myself stepping into a dark spot where I don’t hear the lovely desert birds and smile at the new life I’m heading to. I am in this quiet lonely corner where all I see is a loss of self: a disintegration of the proud life, career, and identity I worked so hard to build. None of the old packed schedule all about town, a certain self-identity, amazing friends I’ve known for years, high-stakes client meetings, luxurious self-treatments, intense workouts, weekends at the mountains or with nature, salon hair, my college students, and just the encompassing familiarity of knowing a city almost too well. I miss the routines of my old life and have yet to build clear new ones in our new place. I miss that peaceful and that intimate sigh of being home.
I look at all the things I miss and I berate myself for the shallowness of my list in comparison to the priceless joy of being with my husband and best friend. We are in a new adventure while building a family we have dreamed about.
And yet, for a minute, I allow gratitude to elude me. I take off my sunnies of optimism that tried so hard to place a sunshine-y filter to everything in sight.
I would really like to give myself the permission to face this feeling of loss, and to come to terms with it face to face. Sometimes, we need more clarity than positivity.
“You can’t avoid the daily tremors. They come with being alive,” writes Oprah Winfrey (who I have newfound respect for after reading her reflections).
I want to hold my life in reverence for I know I am in a great place. We are indeed prone to forget that the many things we enjoy now are things that we used to pray for. I prayed for a beautiful marriage that made it well worth the wait. We prayed for this baby who will be part of our loving and crazy family. We chose this country, this region, this “newness” and had only big hopes for the life we would live here.
I know I hold the key to release myself from my own rut and to be aware that we are always choosing our thoughts, feelings, and responses.
“Sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb.”
How do I celebrate this process of becoming, of evolving, of still discovering myself and reinventing my life without pining too much for what I may never go back to? How do I fully feast in the present when I truly do love my own past?
I guess the answer is in simply yet powerfully saying that “It is okay.” I’m acknowledging that it is never always going to be a straight and smooth road, and it is okay. I will still feel lost from time to time, and it is okay. I will be disoriented at some bends and turns, and it is okay. I don’t have all the answers now and I won’t have it soon, and it is okay.
All it matters is to stay the course and to keep going…without letting anguish win over anticipation. At least, not all the time.
Weakness is a reality of every human being, and is not a bad thing. I am learning many things about myself and will continue to do so. I don’t have it all figured out: It is okay. There will be madly imperfect days ahead of me with raising our son: It is okay. For a time, I will still not have a full-time career to go back to or to get a full head start on: It is okay. I will make a lot of mistakes: It is okay.
For spouses, new parents, expats, people making or facing changes in their lives, the “lost dilemma” is one we will know, begrudgingly or not. It happens to everyone, maybe someone changing careers, a person recovering from an illness, someone who is moving to a new life stage, and more. There is no race to overcome it. It is okay.
There is a degree of difficulty in simply saying “It is okay.” It goes against an innate and long-developed habit of setting high standards for how things should look like and feel like. I have to fight the feeling of half-defeat that I get from the bowed-head admission of “It is okay.” I have to accept that being too hard on myself leads more to the path of defeat (and frustration).
It will help tremendously to have a partner who continues to honor you and love you even, if not most specially, when you feel stuck in a rut. To shine the light you put out. To hold your hand when you are lost, confused, anxious (and, as a bonus: heavily pregnant and not as mobile). To listen and speak to you gently when tears take the place of words. Being someone’s partner or spouse comes with a great deal of responsibility. You look out for someone else’s happiness and it is not a constantly and intuitively easy job. It is also one that is all-too-easy to forsake when you’re too tired yourself.
Many people have to get through things on their own and have to countless times tell themselves that it is okay.
My head is still not out of the rut. But for today, I can spend precious minutes alone in the garden with a coffee in hand, water the plants, start another book, do a short prenatal cardio, and use pent-up energy elsewhere, or prepare for some work this week.
One deep mindful breath after another, I may be able to find my center, to love myself anew, and to find other certainties that I can hold on to, for now.
Or maybe all I’ll get for today is the awareness that permits me to listen to the desert birds perched on our backyard fence, unperturbed by the scorching summer heat, pecking its way into our tree, and showing me how it’s done.
Little by little, moment by moment, gratitude by gratitude, I’ll get there. It is okay.