What to Do When You’re In-Between
1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold
A place where everything is possible and nothing exists. Wildly exciting and terrifying to the very marrow.
The peak of the breath, where only the pause exists, and you are balanced between life and death.
A necessary place to visit. A hard place to live.
I’ve found myself existing in liminality lately. Have you ever seen The Lovely Bones? (Yes, I know it’s a book, too. Is it good?)
That’s what I feel like: “Susie’s in the In-Between.”
I know it sucked for Susie. It sucks for me, too. For us.
In May, my husband and I moved into a new apartment. We were about one-third of the way unpacked when he — unexpectedly and inexplicably — lost his job. As a freelancer, I make enough to cover some of our bills.
But not all. Not even close.
We found ourselves in the In-Between. I pulled out the heavy artillery looking for new work, while he dedicated every waking hour to finding a new job: Anywhere in the world, doing anything in his field.
But what to do with ourselves? Should we unpack? Repack? Conduct our lives like normal? Establish a new routine? Take up a new (free) hobby?
We’re figuring it out. Here are five things I’ve learned about being in the In-Between that may help you, should you ever find yourself there, too.
And hey — don’t worry. The very nature of In-Between demands that we must move somewhere, at some point. You will not live here, forever. I promise.
1. Take Stock of Your Immediate Needs
Often, we get tossed into the In-Between like so much useless crap off the back of a Goodwill reject truck.
You have more power than that. And you are not useless crap.
What happened? Did you wake up to a Post It note from your lover saying, “sayonara”? (SATC fans, I am looking at you.)
Maybe you walked into a 4:30 meeting with HR where your company thanked you for your time, but hey, get the fuck out?
Whatever happened, assess the situation that you are currently in. Start from issues of most immediate concern — think food and shelter — to least immediate — like sadness and anger (although they may feel like emergencies. I get it, trust me). Are you safe? Do you have enough money to feed and shelter yourself? Do you have resources to these things? Do you have people?
These are the immediate concerns that you need to address before moving on to your emotions, let alone the next four steps. If you don’t have access to food, shelter, if you feel unsafe, or you’re in need of other resources like unemployment, COBRA, etc, reach out to places like those linked. I’ve done it. People do it.
There’s no shame in asking for help.
Now that you’re safe, assess the emotional damage. It may feel like a roiling jumble of anxiety. It may feel like anger or rage. Or maybe, deep down somewhere, there’s sadness. Fear. Shame? If any of those feelings start to feel like something you don’t want to handle alone, find a local therapist or a affordable resources here.
2. Make a List of Things That Are Working
Now that you’re safe and stable, check in with your daily routine. It’s probably shifted a bit; that’s to be expected. If something big changed in your life and your routine didn’t shift a bit, that would be kind of crazy, right?
So, what’s working for you? For me, I found that I really liked sleeping in a little bit, even if it meant I worked later into the evening. Before (and after a big shift, there is always a Before), I would get up at 5:30 a.m. most days. I would have a huge burst of energy until about 10 a.m., and then slowly decline until about 4 p.m., when I would want to crash on the couch. Now, if I sleep until 8, I’m good to go until… Forever? I usually have to force myself to bed around midnight or 1 a.m. I have a lot more energy than before.
That works for me.
3. And of Things That… Aren’t
Before, I would wake up to the coffee already dripping down. I would grab a mug, go to the gym with my husband, and then come home to my home office, where I would work until… Until.
His job gave us a routine: He needed to be there at certain hours, and so if we didn’t go to the gym at the crack-ass of dawn, we didn’t get to go.
Before, I also felt badly if I had a work-from-the-couch day: He had to work in a tie for god’s sake. The least I could do was work at a desk, while in my yoga pant uniform.
Now that we’re both at home, our routine is very lax. We can go to the gym at 2 p.m. if we want to. (But I always do want to ask the other people, what do you do? Why are you here now? It’s the middle of the day. So rude of me.)
One thing that doesn’t work that we are trying to stop? Working from the couch. In our pajamas.
It’s cozy. It’s easy. Our couch is nice?
We’re in a rut.
For us, not having the external motivator of his job is a difficult obstacle to overcome, in terms of forcing ourselves to “go to work.” We still work. We just do it in our underwear.
This needs to stop. Why?
Because we’re not mole people.
We need to be people of the light again.
4. Establish a Routine
Look at the things that are working. Look at the things that aren’t. See your life Before. See your life Now.
Are you looking at the same fucked up decoupage that I am? Like, it kind of looks like your life, but after it went through one of those $500 blenders?
Time to pick through the half-masticated soup and tack together a routine that works for you, in your new life. It won’t look like it did before, and it probably won’t last forever.
But it will get you through the In-Between.
Include the things that work. Leave behind the things that don’t. Make sure you have plenty of me-time, of things that feel good for you: Get plenty of time outdoors, limit your screen time, and eat at least one cookie per day (I got really attached to my nightly mug of ice cream). Even if it doesn’t feel like something you want to do, move your body: Go to yoga, go to the gym, get outside and run down the sidewalk, waving your arms like a maniac.
Just get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. Taking breaks for exercise helps your mind consolidate (so does reading) and will help you feel accomplished. Plus, your night-cookies will be guilt-free.
5. Be Kind with Yourself and Your Neighbors in the In-Between
This is a tough one. Chances are that you didn’t choose to be here, and the situation that caused your arrival is crappy.
Don’t beat yourself up.
It’s easy to listen to that negative voice inside — the one that says, “you deserve this, you suck, you’re the worst, you’re awful, you’re a failure, you have bad teeth.”
If you must, wallow with that voice for five minutes every day. Let it be heard (or it tends to scream). And then tell it to fuck off.
You don’t need that shit.
Every time it tries to speak up for the rest of the day, pretend it’s Opposite Day (this is actually a Buddhist practice, Pratipaksha Bhavana): Replace that negative thought with the opposite. So if that negative voice tells you that you’re the worst, train yourself to reply, “NO. I’M THE BEST.” If it says, “you’re awful,” say, “I AM MAGNIFICENT.” If it says your teeth make Austin Powers look like a Colgate model, respond with, “I WILL EAT YOUR FACE.” Or similar.
You get the drill.
Soon enough, positive thoughts will outweigh the negative. Trust me on this.
And for your neighbors? Our spouses, lovers, families, children, that occupy the In-Between with us? Practice patience and kindness with them, too. It’s all too easy to lose our tempers with the people we love most when we’re feeling low. You know, when they forget to load the dishwasher and you want to scream, “you ALWAYS forget to load the dishwasher AND you forgot my birthday four years ago WHYAREYOUTRYINGTORUINMYLIFE DID YOU EVER LOVE ME AT ALL?”
Don’t do that. That’s your frustration and sadness over the situation — over the In-Between — getting the best of you.
You’re the best of you.
Not the In-Between.
You’ll make it through.
We’re going to make it through.
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