Big + Beautiful Middles

Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

“If you want my honest opinion,” (I had a feeling I was about to hear it anyway), “I think you’ve been through a lot, and you’re being too hard on yourself.

Exhale.

Oh how much grace is given when your therapist says, “You’ve been through a lot.” It was the professional reassurance I needed to accept that simply living in my own head was exhausting.

In the last few months, I graduated college. I reconciled with the end of my three-year relationship. I created a huge body of writing I am deeply in love with. I got a job in a community of smart, creative people. My anxiety came back with a new fire. I backpacked through the mountains of Montana and saw the ocean crash against cliffs in Big Sur. My family helped someone I love cope with something too traumatic to put back into writing. I moved into a cozy little Minneapolis apartment. I went back to therapy.

Are you exhausted yet? I’m still playing catch-up. And 2019 is just getting started.

At once, I’m a recovering college student and newborn adult. In this season of life, the changes have come in swinging on a pendulum.

I can remember the moment I saw that email with a job offer in my inbox. I’ll never forget reading the text that swept me on to the ground in sobs. Or the first night I couldn’t sleep in a new apartment with empty, white walls. I can see another set of walls, too — the ones of my favorite bathroom stall to hide in with a panic attack.

The moment when these “life” things happened — their beginnings (or in some cases, their ends) — was the eventful part. It was the celebratory Instagram posts or the car rides that were charged with dread. It’s the personal movie scene I replay tirelessly in my head.

But the middles — those are the tricky part. The middles are the thoughts that linger well past when you should have fallen asleep. They’re the questioning and overthinking and the “I don’t know, but I guess I have to figure this out” moments. It’s when the real work begins.

One of my coworkers often reminds me to “act my age,” as if she’s trying to jog my memory that I’m still so young, and have it pretty simple in the grand scheme of life. She’s right. It’s hard to pull myself away from paying bills and keeping the sink dish-free and logging the sixtieth hour of work for the week. It’s hard to remember that instead of keeping your head down and pushing through, sometimes it’s worth at least a quick glance up at the life you’re creating.

So I’ve resolved that in these in-between moments, I’ll allow myself to do precisely whatever the hell I want.

To me, that means taking the doors off of a cabinet so it’s turned into a poor-girl’s book shelf — simply because seeing my collection of books when I wake up makes me happy.

It means getting a yoga membership I thought I couldn’t afford (until I stopped my dangerous “wandering around Target” habit).

It means staying in on a Friday and ignoring that voice saying how “lame” I am for wanting to make tea and reread my favorite book. And meeting up with friends the next night to shout karaoke songs through a bar of strangers.

More than anything, it means inviting in more uncertainty than I have pages in my notebook. I can’t tell you, dear reader, how many networking happy hours or get-togethers with new friends have been spent with eyes darting around the room, unsure about whether I’m supposed to be there. All of the meetings where it’s felt safer to take notes than speak up. First dates I need to pep talk myself in the mirror for. How the list can go on!

Recently, I found myself at a tiny cocktail spot near my apartment, laughing and having a drink with friends I only met a few months ago. It was a small moment I couldn’t have had even six months ago. A really happy part of my middle. I realized that while the in-betweens are really, really hard, they’re also wildly beautiful.

I’m learning that the more I open up let that clueless feeling have a seat at our cocktail table, the more exciting things tend to get. Maybe one day, I’ll even crave this sweet, tumultuous middle.

So yes, reassurance from my therapist and a gentle reminder that I’m being too hard on myself from a kind coworker isn’t just needed — it’s more than welcome as I navigate it all. Why keep your eye on the prize when the second you get there, another new “end goal” will push that prize out of the way?

In the spirit of saying, “Fuck it,” I’m jumping right in.

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