Living in the Middle
Beginning: Once upon a time there was someone with a good life.
Middle: This person encountered some type of problem and experienced difficulty.
End: Eventually the person figured out a solution or someone came in to save the day and everything turned out great and the person lived happily ever after. (INSERT APPLAUSE )
How many times have we seen this storyline? Every fairy tale and movie plot recreates some version of this idea. Yet somehow it never grows old. Our brains know what to expect and we know what we are supposed to during the various stages of the story. We connect with the character during the opening moments, feel the tension as they work through their problem and feel relief when they resolve it.
But those are stories, and this is life.
And in real life so often the middle is very, very long. And waiting for our ending can be as hard as dealing with the problem itself. We have an injury and we have to wait for it to heal. We experience a trauma and we have to wait for our emotions to stabilize. We have a miscarriage and we have to wait in the hopes of getting pregnant again. We lose a job and have to wait for the next call. We are treated horribly and we have to wait to see if our community will see through the lies.
Other times we experience a tragedy with no possibility of a happy ending. We lose a child and we have to wait for a day that isn’t consumed with tears. We get the diagnoses from a doctor and we wait until death heals our constant pain. We all have different middles, but at some point, things fall apart, we take action, it doesn’t work and we have no choice but to wait until the storm passes.
Waiting in the wilderness doesn’t mean sitting around not doing anything. But it does mean being forced to take action without having any idea what will actually work. You don’t marry the first girl you like and you don’t cure a disease with the first pill. You don’t know what to change, but you know you can’t live like this so you keep trying, desperately hoping something will actually work. And then you become exhausted from trying and so you try something else, and something else, and something else. Because in the wilderness of the middle you really only have two options; bunker down and wait for the storm to pass or do everything you can think of to get out of the storm. Bunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass typically brings on feelings of helplessness and depression. Choosing to do everything you can possibly think of to get out of the storm often looks like this.
Day 1: Research the best kind of storm weathering gear available on today’s market. Schedule a meeting with a meteorologist to try to gain clarity regarding the storm outlook. Buy a new rain jacket because it makes your butt look cute.
Day 2: Form a plan. Try to dig an underground tunnel to hide from the storm. Get struck by lighting because you are holding a metal shovel. Tell yourself you are stupid because everyone knows you aren’t supposed to go outside and hold metal during a thunderstorm. Cuss.
Day 3: Think positive. Spend an exorbitant amount of energy climbing a mountain. Take a cute selfie and get a ton of Facebook likes. Feel better. Keep climbing. Hit a loose rock and fall down the mountain.
Day 4: Hide in a cave.
Day 5: Try to kick down the cave while screaming to the universe about how lame storms are. Remind whoever will listen that rain is ridiculous. And so is lightning. And caves.
Day 6: Eat all your food and whine to the bear you find in the cave.
Day 7: Wake up feeling positive. Get out of bed and get mauled by the aforementioned bear. Reconsider the whining.
Some days we have to laugh because we are so dang tired of crying. The wilderness of waiting is so hard and despite living in the information age, we are not given many answers on how to manage the middle of our stories. We have so few role models willing to speak out during the middle, because the wilderness of waiting is filled with all the words people don’t say out loud. The words of the middle are coated in confusion, anger, and vulnerability. The words of the middle make everyone who hears them uncomfortable. “I can’t believe this is how my life turned out! Why did this happen to me? I am so freaking tired of waiting on something good to happen. Why is it never my turn? I don’t even want to talk to my friends anymore because I am so tired of hearing how wonderful their lives are. I made the same choices he did and look how it blew up in my face. I feel hopeless. I don’t think anything good is ever going to happen to me again.” There is a reason our storybooks and movie plots don’t end in the middle. If our storybooks and movie plots ended with the characters talking this way we would probably hate the characters. And all too often when we remain stuck in the middle we end up hating ourselves.
Our movies and inspirational speeches teach us that the voice of success sounds confident, powerful and hopeful. We don’t want to appear unsuccessful so we too try to sound confident, powerful, and hopeful despite navigating the middle. Logically we know the voices of our motivational speeches and happy endings are talking about their problems with a lovely beginning, middle, and end. And logically we know it is much easier to sound confident when there has been some type of resolution or change. However, we still feel like we should speak with the voice of the end despite being stuck in the middle. So we try to appear more confident than we actually feel and then we experience shame because we know we aren’t being honest. If we are being honest with ourselves and others we know the voice of the middle sounds angry and defiant some days and still numb and monotone on others. If you are talking to a person in the middle and they sound like they have it all together then they are lying! They are likely stuffing it down and pretending they aren’t in the middle and they are fine with how everything has turned out and they are great with waiting. Friends, this is likely a sign to others that they are not really dealing with their pain. The middle hurts. We can lie to people, but we can’t lie to our nervous system. Living a life in the middle means our brains are trying to make sense of a life situation that doesn’t make sense. Which often comes across as angry and hopeless.
When you only hear from people who have already found their path, it is difficult to figure out ways to handle the messy middle of our own stories. So often those of us in the middle tell ourselves that we should already be at the end of our stories. And we aren’t. So we’re angry. For this reason, our society doesn’t typically schedule speaking engagements with people during his or her middle and we don’t base storylines around people who haven’t made it to the end. Because it is so much more pleasant to wait and have people tell their stories after they get their happy endings. Their ending voices are infinitely more confident, clear, and calm than their middle voices. Because once the storm has passed and they are no longer in the wilderness it’s easy for them to talk about the struggles of the wilderness. Because, at that point, the conversation is no longer about their current situation, it is a story about the journey to their current situation. And, that is much less vulnerable.
But from where I stand in the middle, talk is cheap in the land of happy endings. You don’t have to show all your cards. You can pick and choose which emotions you want to display because you aren’t actually feeling them anymore. Your trauma won’t tell on you after it has been resolved. The middle of your story is a memory rather than reality so you can tell us your story and as an audience, we will know when to sit, when to cry and when to clap. In fact, as you will tell us your story and we will be so grateful that you aren’t in that horrible middle place anymore. Our brains are wired for happy endings, resolution, and feel good moments so when you tell us your story we will instinctively know when you cross from the middle to the end. And we will cheer. The idea that everything is going to work out and every problem is going to be solved is simply how we are wired conditioned to think. Even as children we know not to clap in the middle of the movie.
The fact that I am in the middle of my story is not unique. The desire I have to open up the conversation in the middle of the middle is the only difference. I had a really good life and then several terrible things happened. Life fell apart in ways I could never have imagined or predicted, and now I wait. I believe that one day I will have my “And then…!” moment. Truths will be made known, karma will kick in, and I will have the story to prove that the universe has my back. I will wrap my ending up with a bow and smile and feel as if I have all the answers again. I will tell you my story and you will clap at all the right times. I will thank God while silently congratulating myself on the hard work I put in or on that one choice on that one day which led to my redemption. “Gosh, wasn’t I smart/blessed/lucky!” Time will pass and I’ll forget how confusing and difficult the middle is and how many days I was angry at the unfairness of life. I will only remember how hard I worked and how strong I was. Because as I look around at others that seems to be what we humans do. However, I think there is not nearly as much vulnerability required in telling your story after the happy ending. No bravery in telling others how it all worked out for your good. So I tell my story now. In the middle.
I am both sad and happy.
I am growing and struggling.
I am powerful and helpless.
I am both practicing self-discovery and embracing how good I am at knowing myself.
I am at war with my thoughts and at peace with my truth.
I am mourning the life I thought I was going to have and embracing the life I am able to have.
Life in the middle has more questions than answers. But, I try to remember that the wilderness of waiting is the good part. That the middle of my story is where the growth happens. This is where I find out what I am made of. So today, I will try to embrace the messy middle. And still, hold out hope that tomorrow will bring my happy ending.