Do You Feel Trapped?

Trapped. An image from the pictorial memoir Fifty Days to 50: A Mini-Memoir of My Midlife Crisis by Andrea Dean

When I was in the middle of my midlife crisis, I felt completely trapped. Hemmed in. In a box. Stressed out. Unable to move.

I felt trapped in my work. Trapped in my house and in my community. I felt trapped in my relationship.

I have been a change agent my whole life. I’m a woman who dreams up projects and then makes them happen.

How did I get so stuck in the mud? Why couldn’t I see my way through to more satisfying circumstances?

Well…I don’t really know how I got to feeling so stuck. What I do know was that it was an important signal that things needed to change.

A few things I learned

It was important to acknowledge how I was feeling about each aspect of my life and to do some self-inquiry about my work, relationship and community. I made an art project out of it. I used images and words to help me identify how I was feeling (For example, I got inside a cage and took a picture, then labeled it TRAPPED.)

Even though the temptation was to quit my work, sell the house and jettison the boyfriend, it turned out that level of overthrow was not necessary.

I discovered that I did need to shift my work, I wasn’t learning and growing anymore. I was burned out on writing grants and reports, and managing community events. That was true for me. I had honest discussions with all of my project partners about how I was feeling (which was no surprise to anyone!) and gracefully finished out my contracts. Knowing that there was an end in sight helped to alleviate the feeling that I was trapped. No, I didn’t have a pile of money waiting for me at the end of the rainbow, and I didn’t know where the next dime was coming from. I only had the bandwidth to take one step at a time, so that is what I did.

It was true for me that I needed a break from my farm property and small rural community. The property was a ton of work and was taking it’s toll on me physically. I also felt that trying to recreate myself in a town where everyone knew me as my old self, “the local foods girl,” was challenging. Job options were very limited where I was, if I wanted to do something different and get paid for it, I needed to be in a different place.

I was lucky to have a boyfriend in California who was willing to take me in. But I also queried friends and family in far flung places and garnered a few invitations. You’d be surprised at who would be excited to see you and help you unwind.

I didn’t pack up all my things and sell my place. I just cleaned up a bit and put it on Airbnb. No goodbye party. No permanent declaration of leaving. Just a temporary sanity break.

I was able to finish out quite a bit of my work from afar, so I took some of my work with me.

What my boyfriend and I needed was counseling. With some regular guidance, we went from nearly imploding to becoming really close.

More than anything, what I needed was a change of place and a change of pace. That helped give me the time and space to rest, take supplements, and work on my art and writing. What you need may be different.

Somewhere during that process I experienced a shift in perceptive. I realized that I wasn’t trapped at all, in fact I could let myself out of the cage. And, I didn’t need to make radical or unhealthy changes. I didn’t need to hurt anyone or further stress myself out. I could make conscious, responsible choices to change my circumstances.

When I was under a lot of stress and in the thick of it all, I was under the illusion that I was indispensable to everyone around me. I thought that I could not press the pause button on my life or else the world will fall apart. I thought I would go broke. I would fail people. None of that was true. I pressed pause and took a little break to rearrange things. Reality rearranged itself to suit my new circumstances. New products were created, money started to flow from different sources.

Inquiry Questions

-Do you feel trapped?… in your relationship, by your job or by debt?
-Are those things really trapping you or are you making a choice to be there?
-Do you need to make some changes, or come to a place of mature acceptance about your circumstances?
-How is being stressed out clouding your judgement? How can you make good decisions when you are under stress?

Post developed based on content in Fifty Days to 50: A Mini-Memoir of My Midlife Crisis.

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