Before my wife’s latest depressive episode, we both expected to be in a very different position in our lives. Molly was almost through school and was offered a job upon graduation. We expected our financial insecurity to ease up. We expected to plan a vacation and stop being a burden to our family.
We both had expectations, and we hinged our hopes on them. When things would get hard, we kept our eye on these goals and trudged on.
When she felt herself sliding, she pedalled hard to stay afloat. She used her tools, practiced good sleep hygiene, upped her therapy sessions. She still struggled.
Finally, she surrendered to the fact that another episode was taking her offline. After a little kicking and lots of pleading, I did too. We all face facts eventually.
That’s when The Waiting starts.
Waiting for appointments, waiting for treatment plans, waiting for meds to take effect, waiting for her to get better. And meanwhile, life is going on without us.
When we expect to be further ahead than we are, having to wait can challenge us pretty profoundly. Waiting becomes excruciating.
Friends have the vacation adventures we hoped we’d be taking. Our wish lists and our “someday” lists seem further out of reach. Our shame over needing help endures.
We begin to despair that things will ever get better. Is this our life now? An endless roller coaster of downward spiralling and uphill recovery?
We don’t know. So we wait. Without guarantees, full of uncertainty, we wait.
The thing about waiting is it feels you are at a standstill while everyone else seems to move forward without you. You are stuck at the red light, getting left behind. You are excluded, standing on the banks of the river of time.
Or so it feels.
Once upon a time, I learned that waiting is a state of mind.
I learned that waiting can have unexpected benefits, that there is no waiting if I am in the moment.
It all started when I was bitten by a dog. My dog at that.
She was sweet and loving and wouldn’t intentionally hurt a soul. She didn’t mean to bite me, but she did mean to warn the other dog approaching her food bowl that she was NOT finished, thank you muchly. But the other dog had that determined look in his eye and I knew he was going to challenge her for it. She was sweet but no pushover. She’d fight back.
I saw it coming and got in the middle of it. Yes, I do know better. Don’t try this at home. I’m an experienced dog handler so I was fast, but she was faster, and the bite was very, very serious. For a couple of months, it completely changed my life.
I will spare you the gruesome details, but let’s just say it was horribly painful – as wounds involving your fingertips tend to be. The bite was to my dominant hand, so I had to be very, very careful how I used it.
So I did a lot of waiting.
It wasn’t for something outside myself that I was waiting. I wasn’t waiting for green lights on deserted streets, or buses that run late, or pasta water to boil. My mind was waiting for my body to catch up. My mind raced ahead. It clock-watched.
“Seriously? 10 minutes to slice a tomato? We could be eating already! Can’t you go any faster?”
When I rushed, I invariably hit my wound and suffered shocking pain. In other words, I had to Slow. Right. The f*. Down. It was mindfulness boot camp.
I did eat eventually, of course. I accomplished things even if it took longer. I was moving forward. I just couldn’t see it when I focused on the world speeding by beside me.
When I surrendered to slowing down, I saw more, felt more and tasted more. It was as though a new world, invisible to rushing eyes, was being revealed to me.
I settled into this slow pace and let go of the fear of falling behind that usually fuelled my days. After all, my only job was to let my hand heal.
I did one thing at a time and nothing else. I savoured my morning coffee. I strolled down the forest path and heard the birds talk. When I sliced tomatoes, I felt tougher skin give way to soft insides. I noticed how each is unique, with its own shades of red and orange. I tasted the varying levels of sweetness in each bite.
I can no more get life to dance faster than I can get the sun to rise by shouting at it. Instead, I can let life take the lead, and dance.
When our lives didn’t take off the way we expected last Spring, all we were seeing was speeding cars blowing past us, while we were stuck on the sidelines, waiting. We are sad and frustrated. Molly apologizes and I remind her it’s not her fault. I make tea and popcorn and we snuggle as a family for date night at Cinema Netflix. The blankets are cozy; Charlie does his best imitation of a purr; Emma Stone delivers a breathtaking performance.
And I remember that stretch of time when I had to navigate life with my aching hand in a massive bandage. When everything took twice as long as I expected. When I had to breathe through the pain and let my hand heal on its own schedule, not mine.
When I let life take the lead, I wasn’t waiting anymore. I was just dancing to a different tempo.
Photo credit: Anouk_nh, beate bachmann and Ran