Crossroad moments. Life changes. Big transitions. We’ve all experienced them.
- Sometimes they come in the form of a medical diagnosis as we sit on crinkly paper in an exam room.
- Sometimes they arrive at 3am as a phone call from the police.
- And other times life transitions sneak up on us until suddenly we’re engulfed in their tentacles. The unexpected divorce. The job change we didn’t see coming. The empty nest that now has us wondering who we are.
Life changes can be labeled good or bad, or some combination. Some may seem inconsequential. Other’s not so much. It’s when they affect our roles, relationships, life views, or situations that they become transitions. We know they’re taking hold of us because we feel anxious, stressed, can’t sleep at night. We question our identity, what we believe.
We feel like the ground beneath us, once firm,
is now unnavigable swampland.
For me, when my eldest child began to think about heading off to college, I entered the empty nest transition with an accompanying major identity crisis.
Who was I if not someone’s mother? What would I do without their schedules to keep me busy? What would my husband—who found the empty nest exciting–and I talk about without the daily details of our children’s lives?
It felt as if the carefully constructed scaffolding I’d spent eighteen years building around my Selfhood had suddenly collapsed like a house of cards. Without healthy supports, I grieved in silence for years and filled the void with drinking, shopping, and buckets of tears.
Many women I work with have had similar experiences with not only the empty nest, but also retirement, death of a partner, or divorce.
Our culture is often less than supportive with its easy clichés that tell us to just get over it.
Hearing it’s time to move on, is not helpful when we can’t even find those damn bootstraps, let alone pick ourselves up by them. And we wonder, What’s wrong with me? How will I manage this?
Here’s what I know now,
what has taken me over a decade to come to know:
But, when we take the time to understand ourselves within the normal transition stages and take good care of ourselves, we can begin to regain a sense of control, perspective, and positive movement.
The beauty of transition work is that each person moves through the stages as they are ready. There is no rush, no predetermined timeline. We start to banish the words: “I should be over this by now.”
Letting Go, In-Between, and Accepting:
The normal stages of a transition
- The first stage may seem counter-intuitive, yet it’s Letting Go of the Old Way. Something has ended, something that we can’t go back to. How can we honor what is gone? What can we take with us as we move forward? What objects might we need to let go?
- The second phase is generally the broadest and deepest: The In-Between. As a life transition mentor, I hear women describe this stage as a chaotic, disorienting, confusing, roller-coaster of a time. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath their feet. When in this stage, you might feel hopeful one moment and lost the next. A lot of psychic energy is spent here just trying to keep our nose above water. Yet, this time is also one of wild dreams and thoughts that are worth capturing. The In-Between time can be an intensely creative time.
- Eventually, we move into the third stage–Accepting the New Way. We know what has passed is gone, yet we’re hopeful for what’s to come. We’re discovering a new way of navigating our life and being in the world. For example, I have a 70-year-old client who has been grieving the loss of her husband since his passing five years ago. Imagine my delight when she walked into one of our sessions and said, “I’m so excited. I have a date this week, and I never thought I’d say that.” She was navigating towards her new beginning.
Take Care of You
Throughout the transition process, taking exquisite care of yourself is paramount.
When I asked Saundra how she was managing the transition of moving Shira to another state, she told me she was relying on what has always sustained her: her daily rhythm of meditation, writing, 25-minute work periods, naps. All of these supports are essential to Saundra in order to maintain her energy and sense of self during this transition.
From a life transition mentor’s perspective, Saundra’s practicing good self-care, creating a new daily rhythm in a strange environment while giving herself permission to be compassionate about her needs so she can be fully present for her daughter.
Giving yourself permission for self-care is necessary, especially for us as women who generally are good about offering care and compassion to others first and not doing the same for ourselves. This is one of the reasons I created a Transition Survival Guide: 5 Strategies for a Stronger You, a guide to help you begin the practice of taking care of yourself. This free guide is a series of quick emails that provide journaling or reflective prompts so you can begin to remember who you are, create a new daily rhythm, practice self-compassion, discover what sustains you, and more. All of this is good self-care medicine.
What about you? What helps you manage the swampland of a life transition that can be filled with fear and uncertainty? What do you rely on? What would be part of your Survival Guide? I invite you to explore these questions and others as you create your own Transition Survival Guide.
Ginny Taylor is a Life Transition MentorAt Women of Wonder, guiding women in life-change chaos towards new beginnings. Utilizing the power of writing, transition knowledge, creative expression, and yoga, she helps women discover hidden strengths, build resiliency, and unearth their own innate transition wisdom even during times of chaos and change.
An advocate for writing through a transition, Ginny regularly offers a five-week eCourse Caterpillar to Butterfly: The Power of Writing through Change to help women get started on their new transition journey. We begin again this October.