AdventureChange and transition-The Uncomfortable Middle - Stacy Willoughby

March 23, 2020by Stacy

Change and transition are difficult for most people. There have been several situations that have come up recently with friends and family that have made me think deeper about those transitional periods.

My little brother has decided to move to Portland. He is fortunate that he will get to keep his job and work remotely. His partner will be moving in with him. He is super excited about a fresh start in a new city that is weirdly wonderful. Even with all of that excitement, that kind of change can create anxiety. He called me this morning because he wanted to hear a friendly voice. There are so many unknowns. Humans like familiarity. It’s how we are wired.

Adventure is fun, but you know that the best part after a vacation is coming home to sleep in your own bed.

A friend came to Chelan to visit her dad and see the house that he is building. I got to go along and see the new house. The framing and roofing are complete. He has moved on to plumbing and electrical. And what a view! While he is building, he and his puppy are living on a tiny camper on the property.

I thought my transitional housing was small. Her dad and I just met, so I don’t know exactly how he feels, but I can imagine. He might feel comforted by being closer to his siblings. Or he might be excited about the new house and every small step of progress. He could also be feeling anxious about the costs associated with building. There is also the possibility of feeling exhausted by how long the process is taking, and maybe just a little doubt about the decision to move and build.

Some changes are exciting, some are nerve-wracking, and some are entirely beyond your control.

Another friend had been renting a house for a few years when the new owners decided that they wanted to sell the house. She had thought about moving at some point, but now she was forced to move. It took a while to get over the shock. The process of taking control of her living situation was a process. It included living with a friend for a bit. She did a lot of looking at possible options. Then there were many glasses of wine and conversations. Now, she is happily living in a condo with her name on the deed.

A local friend was struggling with living in our little town. Of course, it’s beautiful here during all four seasons, but sometimes that isn’t enough. For a while, she went around and around about what to do. Eventually, she decided to move to the west side of the state. Once she finally decided to move, some of the angst went away.

Questions like where to live, would she be able to find a role with the same company, and when to move still had to be answered. Then there are still a lot of smaller decisions. What to keep and pack, what to sell, and so on. She is still living in that uncomfortable middle, waiting to get settled and figuring out what she will do when she gets there. It helps to know that there will be some friends and familiarity when she moves, but right now, it is still uncomfortable.

All of these stories resonate with my own.

I feel like we have been in the uncomfortable middle part for years. In my dream plan, Rick would retire in the summer of 2016. We had already built our new house. We would have sold our home and several U-haul trips later, we would be happy and comfortable in our happy place. If you have been following me, you know that isn’t how it happened.

I had to get uncomfortable enough with waiting to tell Rick that I would be moving into the cabin with or without him, although I would prefer it if he went with me. He decided to go along—for which I am so very, very grateful. He needed that little push too. Then our road washed out. While waiting for us to repair the road and build a bridge, our builder moved on to another project that took longer than expected. Once building on our property finally started, winter followed shortly after. Unfortunately, our private road is too primitive for lumber deliveries in the winter. Ideally, March or April will bring warmer weather, and we can get back to the building.

Transitions are uncomfortable.

Waiting for what is next is uncomfortable. Uncertainty, temporary living situations, and doubt are challenging. Fears and anxieties around security and finances come up. Fortunately, I have some practices that help me live with the unease of change and transition.

  • Honestly acknowledging what you have been through that has gotten you to this place is helpful. I prefer to journal those thoughts, but you can also share them with a therapist or friend. Whatever you are trying to do that is different from what you did before is heavy emotional lifting. And, you have done challenging things in the past. If you need a little more confidence, list those things that used to be hard that are now easier for you.
  • Make a decision. As hard as it will be to either stay or move on from your current situation, it is also difficult to live in that time where you can’t decide what to do next. Make a list, chart, or mindmap to help you sort out your reasons and feelings. Talk to friends, family, or a therapist. They can help you see what you are missing or provide other resources as you make your decision. Once you make a decision, what’s next becomes clearer.
  • Let your friends and family know that you are okay, but what you are going through takes some emotional support. Tell them that you need acknowledgment and support to get through this transition. And when it comes to moving day, they can help carry the heavy boxes.
  • When I used to have to slog through the snow to get to the generator, I would think of Caroline Ingalls. In one story, she had a rope tied between the barn and the house. During snowstorms and blizzards, the animals still needed tending, and she would have to walk from the barn to the house. Without the rope, she could have gotten lost in the blinding wind and snow. My life is not that bad, and Caroline wishes that she had a generator! During some tough times, it helps me to embrace that part of me that aspires to be like Caroline Ingalls or your favorite superhero.
  • The next practice for me is to trust that most of the time, things work out. It may not work out exactly how or when you expected them to, but they work out. My favorite tool to help with this is the Serenity Prayer. This prayer is not just for recovery, but for anyone working through issues of loss of control, perfection, worry, and even procrastination. I have been known to make a list of the things I can change and the things I can’t so I can find the wisdom to know the difference. Then it is easier to find the courage and take action on the things I can change. What I love about this prayer or practice is how I can learn to relax and lean into faith and trust.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Gratitude, being present, and mindfulness are other helpful tools. These may seem trendy these days, but that’s because they are practices that make a difference when you are feeling anxious, worried, and uncertain. I’m grateful that more people are aware of how they can help.

When I am lying in bed and thoughts start swirling, it helps me to recognize that and switch to an attitude of gratitude. For me, that means noticing my comfortable bed, the texture of the sheets, the warmth of Rick. I go on noticing what is present around me and being grateful for the safe and warm space that I occupy. My breaths get slower and deeper as I go along. After a little while, I am more at peace.

You can do this anywhere, but if you are doing it in your car, keep your eyes open and say what you are grateful for out loud. I know that I am oversimplifying these practices. There are lots and lots of resources for working gratitude and mindfulness into your life.

  • Like I said earlier, humans are wired to find comfort in the familiar. In my life, one constant is my morning routine. A cup of coffee, a comfy place on my couch, my journal, and an inspirational book are an anchor to my day. Even when I travel, this morning practice helps to ground me. Having something familiar like your favorite book, sweatshirt, or flavor of tea is comforting.
  • Or sometimes, I make cookies. They are usually peanut butter cookies because I always have those ingredients on hand. My friend, Leslie Irish Evans, the Om Baker, recently shared that when she was in college and living with a lot of other women, most evenings, some treat was being baked, especially during finals week. It makes sense to me. She said it was because of the instant and expected reward of making something with your own hands. I get that. I also think it goes back to those familiar feelings from childhood. Being able to make cookies as an adult and ease that anxious child inside yourself can be comforting.
  • Last but not least is grace. When my brother and his family would visit every summer, I loved how my house felt so full. Full of love, food, and good times. Then one day, at the end of July, they would pack up and go back overseas to their home. I would usually spend the rest of that day doing laundry, looking at photos of their visit, crying, and drinking wine. Over the years, I learned to set that time aside. It was important. And I gave myself permission to miss them and fall apart on that day. How can you give yourself more grace?

How can you be more okay with the uncomfortable middle?

Can you let yourself off the hook a little? Do you need to allow yourself to fall apart a little bit? Would a pity party help you in this time of change and transition? Give yourself some time to be with painful emotions. You don’t have to keep feeling that way all the time, but it helps to acknowledge what you are feeling. Then do what you can do to take that next step forward.

Anyway, this has been on my mind lately, and I wanted to clarify my thoughts. Thank you to those friends who have given me grace in sharing these stories and were there for me during my transitional periods. Acknowledgment, being your own superhero, finding the familiar, trust and faith, and grace. You got this, and I got you. 😉


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