When I look at Facebook, my newsfeed is full of friends getting engaged, getting married, and having babies. There are announcements of new jobs, promotions, exciting cross-country moves, and international vacations. These events are the ones that rack up the likes on social media.
Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating these big moments with my friends, but these posts aren’t an accurate portrayal of real life. Life is not primarily made up of these milestone moments, but of the times in between — between graduation and employment, between a broken heart and a new relationship, or perhaps between two jobs. These times of transition can be tedious, lonely, and even painful, but I also think this time can connect us to one another in unique and profound ways.
Times of transition can make us nostalgic. I graduated from college three years ago, and I still often find myself longing to be back in cramped campus housing eating dorm food and doing homework with my best friends. Many life transitions provoke these wistful, melancholy feelings. (I suppose that’s why the Greek root of “nostalgia” literally means “pain” and “return home.”) Even when looking forward to an exciting event, we might feel a sense of loss. A friend of mine excitedly celebrated her engagement and enjoyed planning her wedding, but she also grieved the change. She struggled with radically shifting every aspect of her life to include her future husband and his life. When we’re in a new season, we think back on times when we felt safe and sure and grounded. The memories bring comfort, but we know that we can’t actually go back.
So, we go forward.
Moving forward is terrifying, especially when we don’t know what’s coming next. My recent job hunting experience was like this. I felt lost and blind as months passed – hundreds of applications, dozens of interviews, and still no job. I was living with my parents, and I was struggling with anxiety and depression. I made some money with some freelance jobs, but I wasn’t able to be completely independent. Sometimes having hope for the future seemed impossible, and I felt like I was stuck in a perpetual “in between.” As much as I hate to use a cliché, this one happens to be true: “The only way out is through.”
I briefly thought I could sort of skip this in between time. I tried to deny my struggles and put on a brave face. It was very important to me that no one felt sorry for me, so I pretended that everything was fine. Eventually, I wasn’t just trying to fool my friends and family. I was trying to fool myself. I realized I was suffering because I wasn’t processing my emotions or expressing my frustrations. I started to feel better when I admitted to myself and to people close to me that I was upset about things not going as planned.
Sometimes our plans and goals change, and sometimes it just takes us a little bit longer to see our plans come to fruition. These in between times might involve things like living with your parents, working crappy jobs, or delaying graduation. These things are all perfectly acceptable parts of many of our journeys. Just because something is a societal norm doesn’t mean it’s what is best (or even possible) for everyone.
The good news in all this is that we’re not alone. The discomfort of leaving something behind to pursue an unknown future – that’s something everyone experiences. If we make an effort to reach out and connect with others during these times, we will find community and support. I am an introvert, and I’m not great at expressing my emotions. I like to write in a journal in order to process my feelings, and I find that it helps tremendously.
However, introspection and self-reflection can also make me feel lonely and isolated. I’ve learned that talking to someone about what I’m feeling can help, though it’s extremely difficult for me. I can’t always articulate what is in my head. I don’t like crying in front of people. While some of my friends have good intentions but offer unsolicited advice instead of an empathetic listening ear, others in my life listen patiently and know me well enough to offer the right sort of encouragement and guidance. When I was finally willing to admit that I was feeling like crap because of my circumstances, they were there for me.
I also decided to see a counselor who would help equip me with resources and tools for coping with my symptoms of anxiety and depression. Everyone can benefit from meeting with a mental health counselor. Therapy is not just for people with trauma or diagnosed disorders. Many counselors are trained to help people with these difficult in between times.
It is challenging to be vulnerable in these situations, but being vulnerable and honest enables us to thrive in spite of the disappointment we face. When we share our struggles, we admit to ourselves and our friends that life is not a shiny highlight reel of mountaintop moments, and we move toward healing and hope.
Originally published July 26, 2019.