Why is this transition so hard?
As I write, I am sitting on a ferry. It seems like the perfect time to write about transitions, not just because I am between countries, but also because I will be entering quarantine when we arrive home. Over the last month, I haven’t really felt like writing much. I am between jobs, between countries, between innumerate anxieties. I am discovering that my creativity and security seem to be inextricably linked: unless I feel settled, not much seems to happen!
This is best illustrated by the fact that I managed to live the 4 months of lockdown at my parents-in-law out of my suitcase. A two-week holiday; anyone can understand, but 16 weeks when there are perfectly good cupboards and draws to use, sounds pathological to me. Any good therapist would ask me what I thought it meant to me and I would say, “It means that I am not ready to accept that this situation is permanent: I am holding onto the belief that Covid is a two-week interruption to life and it will be as quickly forgotten as two weeks on the Costa Del Sol.”
I’m sure it’s not just me. I see signs of resistance to transitions all around me. Some are obvious, like the protests against wearing masks, but most are subtle: Mainly people trying to claim that the transition is already over. I have even seen a few Covid books on the shelves, a bit like writing about a World Cup final at 40 minutes! I think I heard the phrase, ‘new normal’ on week 4 of Corona. Every day since, it has been rolled out by anxious people to convince them that the brakes are finally on and that this is as bad as it gets: we can finally unpack our emotional suitcases and settle in.
Instances of mental illness have grown exponentially since lockdown, and I am sure there are all number of drivers for that, not least loneliness and isolation. However, the sheer magnitude of change and uncertainly has to be both fuel for the fire and the greatest inhibiter to recovery. William Bridges in his seminal book ‘Transitions’ identifies the three key phases as ‘The Ending, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning.’ Whilst there is much to commend Bridges work, it has honestly been hard to reconcile it to Covid largely because the ‘Ending Phase’ just keeps going.
Those of us who struggle with their mental health generally work on a lily-pad principle. When the waters of life are turbulent and unsettled, we deftly hop from one secure point to another; let things settle and then continue on. Of-course it only works if the lily pads aren’t moving. Many of the communications we have received at Mind and Soul have stated variations of, “I’m exhausted”. When your principle methodology for self-care is impeded, it’s no surprise. At the same time it isn’t all pessimism as we are all learning new ways of living in transition.
As a Christian leader I have become more aware of my overreliance on material and physical security. My privilege has enabled me to find safety in a world that hasn’t afforded others health security or a family home. I have become moved by the plight of refugees and those for home there are no ‘lily-pads’. I can see how I have subscribed to a ‘Trust in Jesus +’ doctrine and whilst I’m finding it really hard, I am trying to me more real about just trusting Jesus in this unending transition. One thing is for certain, and that is, ending or not, I have to unpack my bags and start really living.
Tips in transition:
Try to identify the ways in which you may be living is opposition to this transition (your suitcase moments). Don’t critique these but use them as an indication of your levels of comfort/discomfort with the changes you are going through.
Try to vocalise the disappointments and fears that being in transition provokes in you, either in a journal or in conversation with others. Is there anything about the transition that is actually helpful to you or pushing you to grow healthier habits?
List some of the things that you have ‘put off’ until this is all over. Decide, which of there it is conceivable/safe to try to achieve now and take steps to make them a reality.
Pray with a renewed focus on the ‘alongside presence’ of Jesus. You may want to reread the story of The Exodus in the bible, as the people of God experienced a forty-year period of transition. What can you learn from their experience of uncertainty and struggle that might be helpful for your life today?