Here's how to see your transitional period as an opportunity for positive change.
by- Posted on May 2, 2017
We manage transitions throughout our lives, but managing change can be particularly challenging when multiple transitions happen at once.
For me, the complications began a few years ago after I returned from a nine-month stay in Madrid and settled in Washington, D.C. I was excited at the prospect of starting anew after my whirlwind international adventure teaching English, but I quickly found I was ill-prepared for managing multiple transitions at once. I floundered, completely. Not only was I lonely and having difficulty making friends, but I couldn’t find a job. My first month in D.C. I bounced from interview to interview on a high, fully believing I would settle in quickly, only to crash when things didn't work out the way I planned. I had very little money and no connections to other people other than my father, who I was living with at the time. I only grew more disenchanted as the days passed.
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader
I'd wake up very early, although I’d slept very little the night before; I'd cry for hours at a time, only leaving bed to use the restroom. I didn't shower, I bypassed eating altogether. I repeated this pattern day after day. I tried to get over the feelings of worthlessness, the panic I felt over leaving the home I'd created for myself in Madrid. But only when I spoke with other friends who were struggling with depression did I start to understand what I was going through. I decided to seek help from a therapist.
Renowned theologian Richard Rohr describes my six-month liminal period more eloquently than I could:
"[W]here we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin [...]"
Now, looking back, I can see that the reverse culture shock I was experiencing was an opportunity for the "genuine newness" Rohr mused about. Here are some tips I learned for coping in the midst of transition;
1) Increase and sustain self-care
Self-care is taking care of yourself spiritually, mentally, emotionally and psychologically. When life is chaotic or overwhelming, I increase my self-care efforts. My self-care consists of regular sleep, hot cups of tea, journaling, painting, cooking myself a nourishing meal and more. These things help me feel replenished. I listen to what I’m feeling and choose what activity I need that day. Pay attention to what your body is telling you it needs and give yourself those things.
2) Cultivate and lean on circles of support
It’s easy to flounder through transitional phases of life when we try to rely only on ourselves. Yes, self-reliance and self-soothing are important coping skills to have in our lives, but when things get tough, we will need to lean on friends or family for extra support. Our connections with others have the potential to carry us through the valleys in life. Make finding and nurturing those connections a priority.
3) Speak to a licensed professional for extra emotional and psychological help
Speaking to a licensed psychologist bi-weekly made a tremendous difference for me when I struggled in the midst of my transition. It was hard for me to admit I needed help outside of myself to feel more whole. But I was depressed. I had to tend to my mental health. I still view therapy as a needed healing space for me. It's important to have a safe space to release emotions. Over time therapy has the capacity to shift our lives in ways we don’t have the foresight to see beforehand.
4) Shift your possibility consciousness. Believe that better is possible and coming
The key thing that got me through that time, other than bi-weekly therapy, was shifting my frame of mind to imagine the possibilities. When I was depressed and drowning in my hopelessness, I couldn’t see that anything was possible.
When we feel intense emotions, we often think they’ll last forever, instead of recognizing those feelings as temporary. Everything passes eventually. I learned to focus on the things I had done by keeping a running list of what I had accomplished, with no one thing being too small. This not only helped me to create space for what I was experiencing currently but also to create space, once more, for joy. It helped me appreciate the strides I was making.