What To Do When You’re Living In Limbo
Coping with the in-between times
Waiting is the pits. Thankfully as an adult you don’t have to wait for much; you have agency over your own time.
But what happens when you temporarily lose that agency? You’re waiting for more details about a job transfer, you’re moving interstate, or there is a hairy issue with your landlord that won’t end well. You can’t plan for next week, let alone next month and your brain is running circles.
Meanwhile life stops for nothing and you’ve got work to do. Focus!
A story about being in limbo:
I recently returned to my home city, and found myself temporarily living with a friend. The rental I had lined up wouldn’t be available until another tenant moved out.
In naïve hope, I left my belongings packed up in my friend’s shed. But as the days drifted into months, I pulled the boxes apart one by one, first to find my yoga mat, then my bike lights, some socks, a wooden box, a hard drive, and then an old charger cable, (which, after all that digging, was not even the right charger cable). I made no attempt to repack.
During this time my work began to suffer and I couldn’t get anything meaningful done. My mental health was sagging and I felt lazy and disgusted with myself. I attempted to remedy this by setting up a little work space on one corner of the kitchen table, but I couldn’t shift the thought that there was no point, when surely I would be moving soon.
I call this ‘suspended space’. Limbo if you like. It’s that period of time when change and disruption are just around the corner and you’re itching to get going, but there is nothing you can do to move things along.
You find yourself sending emails like, “looking forward to hearing more details about the move, let me know if you need anymore information from me, smiley face, smiley face…”
Your brain is incredibly active, but all decisions are on hold. You are anxious, but your anxiety has no edges.
But if I’m getting no work done, why am I so tired?
Even if you’re not actively thinking about the future, your brain is constantly looking ahead, visualising yourself in future situations, picturing where you’ll be in the next days, weeks, and months. It’s a real busy bee like that.
And these brain scenarios don’t happen in a void; they are intimately linked to place. If you currently don’t have any of those details, your brain goes into overdrive, drawing out EVERY POSSIBLE SCENARIO.
“I could be living in a van, my housemates could be any one of five million people in this city. Will I be north of the river, south of river, will I need a car?!?” Of course it’s tiring; your brain has nowhere to land.
Life is full of these suspended situations. It’s a neat result of not having much control over our lives. We are dependant on other people, on circumstances, on nature, on things.
So how can we better navigate these times?
- Socialise. People are great distractors, and talking to others helps clarify your anxieties. Your worries will fall out soon enough: “I am having too much time off and when this big project starts up, I won’t know how to work hard anymore.”
- Take a break. Acknowledge there is nothing you can do — Say it out loud if you need to — then TAKE A BREAK. It is your job to rest up.
- Be productive in completely different ways. You will always need to eat, so while you have the time, cut loose and make 100 lasagnas.
- Have boundaries. If there is something small you can do to help progress, put a time-limit in place and stick to it religiously. Decide when you will allow yourself to pick up this worry again. In two months? In two days?
- Trust yourself. Trust that when the time comes to put in all your energy, you will bring to the table what is needed.
Waiting is everywhere. The sooner we learn to recognise these limbo periods, the more freely we can move through them, with less anxiety and more agency over where we put our energy.
I can’t leave without acknowledging that as an Australian my country is guilty of leaving many people in limbo. We currently have a refugee policy that allows indefinite detention of people seeking asylum. As indicated by this article, leaving people in places of uncertainty, even in its mildest form, is very poor for mental health.