The Middle

I’d like to take a moment for honesty. In case someone out there has read this blog and mistaken my brief highlights as some smooth sailing adventure often published on the internet. I know, I’ve read the stories too, “couple gives up everything to travel the world and are now better than ever” or “Guy quits high paying job to travel and now owns this company.” The stories are everywhere. And I know, I could keep posting highlights here and sound like one of them. I am sure too that if I post highlights long enough, eventually everything will make sense again and be better than before leading people to believe it was the simple act of quitting jobs and traveling that lead to success. But I don’t want to. I don’t want that to be my story. Those stories leave out the most beautiful part; the heart wrenching unsure moments in the middle. Those poignant moments when the dream feels within reach and so far away at the same time.

I started this blog in my head 6 weeks ago as I drove across Kansas. Michael and I had made jokes about how boring driving across Kansas would be. We even tried to plan driving down to the south to visit friends, adding hours of driving, and hundreds of miles to trip just to avoid it. But as I drove across Kansas I had a completely different experience. I felt so blessed to see everything I had always skipped over taking a plane. Since I was young, my family and I would fly to Georgia or Florida often to visit family. And here I was, driving each mile of that “boring middle part.” Instead I got to see miles of farms that grow the food that I ingest almost daily and I felt intimately connected to that land. On top of that feeling of gratitude and connectedness, we saw some of the most amazing thunder and lightning storms I have ever seen. It was the most thrilling day of the whole drive.

It made me realize how many problems stem from trying to avoid that painful middle part. And how much joy can be missed glossing over the turmoil. I saw it often as a therapist in parents who were baffled by their teenagers. It was like the second a child reminded their parents that they are free thinking sexual beings life was over. Parents had no control and suddenly they couldn’t relate. What are the teenage years but a perfect example of the essence of a painful middle on the journey to becoming an adult. I remember those days! Flooded by so many emotions and all the uncertainty. But it was all worth it. It shaped me and helped me grow.

As I reflected about this concept, I couldn’t help but link the epidemic of over medicating young kids and teens. It is so obvious that to medicate a child is to attempt to skip over that painful middle part. The time in life when experiences and behaviors really don’t make sense. And now we have a culture of therapists and doctors who instead of supporting parents in how to dig into those incredible uncomfortable emotions and cope, medicate children’s brains not to feel. They choose to numb out the uncomfortable years and behaviors. And that’s what it is, a numbing out of the uncomfortable. The worst part is that it is discussed in our society as a “fix.” At least numbing out feelings is well known to have side effects on development but a “fix” sounds like it will improve things for the better.

But I digress from the larger social picture. Here I find myself in yet another painful middle part of a journey. There is a part of me that still wants to report things like, the house is almost finished, or I love it here in Asheville. However, that has not been the dominant experience. Instead, upon arriving in Asheville, I have felt confronted with feelings of disappointment, depression, anxiety, and an overwhelming sense that things weren’t supposed to turn out like this. I have kept quiet the past two months in an attempt to sort through these feelings and to try not to offend anyone. And as I have done that, the feelings have continued to grow and gain power. I tell my clients in therapy all the time that what makes anxiety and depression feel so powerful is the expectation that one shouldn’t feel that way. The act of keeping those emotions tucked away fuels them. And for the first time since my tumultuous teen years, I am reminded of that fact. The days that I dig into life in the present moment I feel fine. But there are dark moments when I feel and fear I have made an utter mess of my life. And in those moments, I feel shocked to feel that way. After traveling this far, waiting so long, planning so carefully, blah blah blah, how can I possibly feel regret, despair, sadness, and so far away from myself? As I read that now, I hear the sense of entitlement. The conditioning from a society obsessed with A leading to B and equaling C. But that’s not life! Life is messy, uncontrollable, and always changing.

This journey has been such a reflection of the reality of life. It has felt so small and so enormous at the same time. I feel like I have been away for lifetimes and like I have grown a decade or more. Nothing about this time off has gone the way I had hoped, planned, or dreamed. The only thing that went as planned was closing my private practice and Michael graduating from PLU. At every critical point Michael and I moved from plan A to plan B to plan C to plan as we go to fumble around and freak out, and none of that worked. It has completely shifted my perspective of life. I can’t believe how much I used to think I could plan and prepare or how much control I had fooled myself into believing I had. I feel I have tapped into just how wild and free this life is. I’ve tapped into just how much our lives are shaped by the daily acts of reading the news, driving a car, going to work, living in a house, and the other daily routines that begin to grab ahold of our lives and disconnect us from the true heartbeat of life. The true shape of life. The ever changing powerful force of the universe.

About a year ago I heard a clip of Louis C.K. (a comedian) talking on Conan O’Brien about how technology disconnects us from life and fills the time in life we used to spend thinking. He talked about how he pulled up to a stoplight and started to check his phone but instead he remained present. He described how in that one present moment he was consumed by how utterly terrifying life really is and how alone he actually felt. I have felt so many of those moments over the past year. And instead of getting my shit together to see a client, or continuing to research or write a paper, I sat with it. Befriended it. And even now, amidst all the chaos and feeling that every plan has failed and I have no idea what will happen next, I am eternally grateful for it. I am grateful for every emotion I have felt, every pain I have experienced, every loss I have endured, and every failed plan because when I get down to it, everything I think I lost I never really had. A routine, a business, a contract position, a rented house, and familiarity in my daily life were not my possessions nor were they my life. My life is so much bigger and deeper than any of those things.

These past 10 months have been the most difficult task of my life. I have felt so much disappointment, rejection, isolation, and loss of direction. At the same exact time, I have felt so much joy, connection, freedom, and love. I have no doubt that in a few years Michael and I will laugh about this time. It will be funny how lost we felt even though every step we took was on the right path or at least helped us find the right path. But I don’t want to skip over this part. As painful as it may be or as homesick as I may feel, I appreciate this moment of the journey. The moment I could feel both joy and sorrow at once and began to truly build a life. Not a life built out of routine or things I should be doing at 30 years old, but a real life connected with God, in touch with the environment, and a loving force.

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