The other day I went to help Mollie with her garage sale. I brought her husband, Dan, a drink from Starbucks and it took them three lids and two cups to get the lid on. It was an amazing process to watch. While we sat and waited for someone to come poke around, we talked about life and story-living. At the time, I was in a state of limbo, unsure if I’d stick around Vancouver or if I’d move to rural New York, or perhaps Nashville could be cool. The options felt endless and pros/cons got me nowhere.
As I continued to verbally wrestle with the endless possibilities, Mollie started talking about “analysis paralysis” and how sometimes we get so caught up in thinking about what to do that we become frozen and completely unable to move. Like when I sleep on my arm weird and it takes all of the courage and strength I can muster up to move my fingers, and I lay there wishing sleep to take me again and let my arm slowly wake up. Instead, I end up talking to my arm. “You got this, left arm. Just move. It will hurt, but soon you’ll be awake and moving and we won’t even remember this.” I really do that. I also have that same kind of pep talk with myself to get out of bed every morning.
When it happens with my arm, the experience lasts about five minutes. But when it happens with my life, it can last for months. I bite my nails and fill my time with stupid, pointless activities like doing puzzles of kittens or finding projects I’ll never do on Pinterest. Usually, I also drink absurd amounts of coffee, meaning that I am even more enthusiastic about doing absolutely nothing.
My problem in getting past my life paralysis is that the nature of it states being unable to move or choose or function, but that is the only solution. When I was in behavioral therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder, my therapist told me that one day I’d step on a crack. “How?” I inquired of her. “By stepping on a crack,” was her simple response. I thought she was stupid and wondered if all of her patients were being told the same dumb stuff.
I didn’t last long in therapy because I kept waiting for the secret, like there was some handshake I needed to discover that would take me from the realm of “mental disorder” to “normal human being.”
I never found it.
I was in Oakland, California trying to find a place to get food before my bus departed. As I was watching my feet pass over crack after crack, I remembered what my therapist had told me. I would one day step on a crack by stepping on a crack. So I gave myself a pep talk. “Look up, Stephanie. See what is ahead of you, not what is beneath you.”
And I did. After the first few steps, I started skipping. People probably thought I was a lunatic, but I was free and I didn’t care what people thought. My feet fell wherever they felt like it, and I was finally able to notice the world around me. It was as if I had been living in darkness, only sensing with my ears and nose and touch (when I ran into people) the things that were going on around me. But then I could see, not just sense, what the world had to offer. I had been paralyzed, and deep within my spirit, a voice said “Take your mat, get up, and walk.”
Being frozen with the burden of decision is the same way. I hope that somehow I will see a sign or get a sense of what to choose, so I sit back and I make no choice in any direction except indecision. And that is just a choice to stay where I am.
There are times when you are waiting for a piece of information or that last puzzle piece so that you can make a well-informed choice, and in my case of life limbo, my decision was made the very moment the last piece fell into place, and I was able to shake the sleep out of my arm and start running through the field of life.
I always like to think of myself running through fields, especially with flowers. My arms are open wide and I’m wearing some nice dress that flows when the wind catches it. My hair is longer and wavier than it is, and there’s a nice braid in it. With some flowers. There are always a lot of flowers.
For the record, I’ve never run through a field with flowers abounding.
I hate running. But it sure beats the kitten puzzles.