When we arrived in Middleborough, nearly three weeks ago, the world looked and felt blurry. The air was grey and damp, making the town seem dreary. I was constantly disoriented. I had forgotten about the tall trees lining the Massachusetts highways, making it difficult to locate landmarks. And I couldn’t figure out how the streets connected, where the stores and restaurants were in relationship to the B&B and to one another. I had to use the GPS to get everywhere.
We came here with the intention of depositing Shira at a residential treatment center, but when she arrived at the facility, it was much smaller and significantly dingier than she had imagined. She couldn’t wrap her brain around spending six to eight weeks confined there, with only occasional outings.
The five days she spent deciding between staying residential, opting for the day program (partial hospitalization), or packing up and going home, were agonizing. As it became clear that the middle way was the best option, I was glad that on the one hand we weren’t giving up. On the other hand, I felt even more discombobulated.
Where would we stay? What would we eat? No AirBnB options here and the restaurants are not what’e we’re used to in Austin.
Also, it will soon be leaf-peeping season here, as well as the annual cranberry harvest, making it more difficult to find accommodations.
During those first few days, when Steve had returned to Austin and I was left to figure out where we would live and what we would eat, not to mention how I would cope with six to eight weeks of single parenting an anxious child away from home, I spent the better part of my days sleeping.
I dropped off Shira in the morning and immediately went back to bed. I managed to stay awake for a few hours, but then after lunch, was unable to keep my eyes open. Clearly my brain needed to catch up with where my body had relocated.
It time, our days here have come more into focus. We’ve scheduled weekly trips to Whole Foods (a forty minute drive each way) and regular trips to Target (twenty-five minutes away) for office supplies and warmer clothes as needed. We discovered a Barnes and Nobles thirty minutes from here with a Starbucks nearby so we can fill up on familiarity, as well as stock up on books.
And I can navigate the town of Middleborough now, getting from Point A to Point without the assistance of Siri.
Over the next few weeks, I will share the strategies I’ve used to clear my head and get grounded, allowing me to make progress on my manuscript even as my life is turned upside down. I hope you will find them useful as you navigate hard times.
The first two are the hardest because they involve sitting with unpleasantness.
Years ago, during an intensive with Natalie Goldberg, she told the group,
“If you want to be a writer, you have to learn to live with uncertainty.”
You have to get used to being lost in a story, not to mention not knowing if your magnum opus will find a home.
I’ve thought of that advice frequently during our first few days here. Looking out over the cranberry bog behind our apartment, I remind myself daily that I know about uncertainty from writing. The more I accept it, the more my mind relaxes and I can get on with my days.
This is similar to what Shira is learning in her therapy here. Anxiety seeks certainty (thus the unpleasant feeling of unfinished work) and OCD will do almost anything to avoid uncertainty. The treatment is learning to tolerate the discomfort around core fears.
I share this reminder that Shira keeps as the screensaver on her cell phone:
I don’t like to tolerate it, but I can.
Next time you are face to face, with the unknown, remind yourself that even though it’s uncomfortable, you can manage it. Uncertainty is uncertainty and not a harbinger of doom.
ALLOW NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
Don’t fight anger or grief. Let them run through you until you feel clear again.
I’ve had to tolerate many difficult days here, when Shira was an emotional mess and/or my autoimmune symptoms were flaring.
One evening, I was sitting by the pond (it is lovely here), and the thought arose, “This is a just bad day. We have bad days at home, too. We might as well be here, where Shira is getting help.”
Then few days ago, on Rosh Hashanah, I was caught off guard by grief. It had been too difficult to stream services from home the previous evening, so I had decided to skip over the holiday as though it weren’t happening. (I see you smirking from here.)
Rosh Hashanah morning, I woke up heartbroken, thinking of years past, the sound of the choir, the familiarity of the liturgy, Steve standing on the bimah.
I dropped off Shira for treatment and then I let myself have a good, long cry. I put away my manuscript for the day and took a walk. Strolling around the pond, watching the water lilies glide over the surface, I realized that this was a meaningful way to begin the Jewish New Year, taking concrete steps toward healing our daughter and our family.
We’ve all been reminded repeatedly to stay in the present moment. However, sometimes, our circumstances are so difficult an emotions are so strong, we don’t realize we are fighting the moment.
My dear friend, Zen student and haiku master, Beth Howard, often holds out her arms as if to embrace the world, reminding us are big enough to hold it all.
We are capable of more than we think we are. We can handle what life throws at us, if we learn first to accept.