“I’m waiting to find out.”
“We were hoping to close before the end of the month but the buyers are stalling.”
“The doctor thinks it’s benign but we won’t have the results for another day or two.”
“My son applied to sixteen colleges. We won’t hear until February.”
What are you waiting for? In my case, there’s the writing-related waiting: for my teenage beta readers to finish with my YA novel so I can fix it and submit it; to hear from the couple of agents I’ve sent query letters to. Then, there’s the family waiting: to learn what my husband’s next job will be, to find out my daughter’s schedule, my son’s teacher—so I can get on with the back to school shopping already. And of course, as it is for so many free-lance moms, though we’re loathe to admit it (sometimes), I’m waiting for school to start so I can get something done. (Of course, back in June, I was waiting for summer to start so we could all relax a little!)
For review: I can’t shop until I know their schedules. I can’t revise until I’ve gotten feedback. Hear that message? I can’t do X until another person does Y. I’m in Limbo. You’ve probably saidthat to someone recently. If not, I’m sure you’ve heard it.
Webster’s defines Limbo (the secular definition) as “… an intermediate or transitional place or state … of uncertainty.”
Limbo is a hard place to be. Your life has been hijacked; everything is on hold, your eyes fixed on the uncertain future. You’re a prisoner to the whims of others. Checking your voicemail, the mailbox, the email, again, and again. It can be a recipe for anxiety, irritability, and depression. But guess what? Limbo doesn’t own you. You can choose to be free.
I know a woman who has survived cancer, bravely enduring the diagnosis and the painful, sickening rigors of treatment. Then more treatment to make sure the first treatment really worked. Then more tests and continued monitoring. The waiting is never over for her, but somehow she refuses to see it that way. “I can’t live my life in fear of the future.” She has children who need her now; she has a husband, and a job, now. She takes pleasure in her family and her garden, in beautiful weather and in rain, in cooking and in reading. She gets scared sometimes, sad sometimes, and frustrated with people who try to make her dwell on illness when she’s focused on health. But mostly she lives now, surrounded by people who love her, who appreciate her joie de vivre and who join her in the seizing of each day. She’s grown strong on the love of life, exchanging hats for headbands, losing the headbands as hair grows back in. Maybe one day it will be gone again, but now is what matters, her children and husband and friends. The little things, like a phone call or an email that hasn’t come yet, some editor’s elusive approval—these wouldn’t faze her. She may yet have all the time in the world, but she won’t waste a minute of it in Limbo.
I try my best to learn from this and I’m getting better. When I start to get anxious and hyper-focused on the future—on the parts I have no control over (whether an agent will fall in love with my protagonist, whether I can make a feuding couple hear one another, whether my daughter will make friends in middle school)—I do a few things:
- I sing. In the shower, in the car, with my kids: show tunes, the Beatles, Queen, Journey, Katie Perry, Taylor Swift, The Little Mermaid … anything. Just sing. It feels good, and I actually read a study once that found singing enhances your mood.
- I treat myself as if I were my own client. I nurture myself, reality check, point out my own strengths or the strengths of my kids if it’s their uncertain futures I’m worrying about.
- I breathe—like a yogi. Full disclosure: I don’t do yoga, (the only reason being the time; if I have it to spare I’ll dance, which I never get to do enough). However, a yogi friend of my husband’s taught him a series of deep breathing exercises, which he taught me. And though this is third hand stuff, the deep breathing really does help get me out of future-panic mode and back into the moment, the present.
- I read.
- I connect with people I love and miss. You know—the ones you’re too busy and angst-ridden to see? Hearing about their lives takes you out of your own. Cheer them on, console them if they need it, share yourself, laugh together. Be in the moment together.
- I think about my mom, how she worries about me and my family just because we’re her children—how silly I think she is for doing it. Everything is going to be fine, Mom, it really is. And saying it to her, I believe it.
- I play with my kids. Because they are the moment.
- I hang out with my husband (oh yeah—him!)
These things are the opposite of Limbo: they are how I make the most of the meantime.
When my father was dying, when my mother and I knew it would be soon, we were in a very trying kind of limbo.
“It’ll be any day now,” said the visiting nurse. Any day now seemed like a pretty big margin of error. In any case, we were in a holding pattern, as my mother described it. We didn’t want to go too far or commit to anything. We were determined to be with Dad when he passed. The waiting went on for two whole weeks.
Then, the night before he died, my mother and I watched a movie together on the small TV set in the living room. Though it wasn’t a comedy, the relief of doing something besides wait got the better of us and soon, we were both in stitches, enjoying each other, enjoying this small piece of life, though my father was leaving us gradually in the other room.*
We hadn’t abandoned him; he was in the care of a nurse who’d get us as soon as we were needed. But during those two hours, we were free from Limbo, making the most of something beautiful in the meantime … life.
What about you? When you find yourself in a holding pattern, what do you do to celebrate “the meantime?”