Stuck in The Middle With You

When I was 14, I was awkward.

I had terrible acne on my forehead, my self-esteem was virtually non-existent, and I had to emotionally come to terms with the fact that fat was appearing in places it had never appeared before. Everybody said it was normal to go through changes and feel out of place, but when I looked around me, it felt like everyone had everything figured out.  

People just somehow knew what to do, how to dress, and how to act. It looked like all they had to do was wake up in the morning and life just flowed in the right direction for them. For years I always wondered if everyone else had been handed the pages of a guidebook that I was clearly missing.

As a 22-year-old trying to make her way in the real world, I often still feel the same way. Except now I know that there’s no guidebook. No one is walking around with the answers, and the majority of people are still lost and unsure of what to do. All of us are just taking it one step at a time and hoping we’re going in the right direction.

That’s the most frustrating thing about adulthood.

We think it’s this magical era where things suddenly click into place. Except, when 18 came around, I was far more lost than I was at 14. And when 21 knocked on my door, I was only beginning to scratch the surface of who I was and what I had to offer the world.

If you’re anything like me, then you probably have big expectations of your life. You desire to do great things and have them mean something. You strive to look back and know that you’ve left a positive, long-lasting impact on people.

But when I look around, my life often doesn’t reflect where I want to be at all. Most of the time, it’s like I’m on a giant treadmill where, no matter how hard I run, I’m still stuck in one spot.

I’m willing to bet that perhaps there’s been a time where you felt like there was no getting out from the place you’re in. No escape button or map to guide you to the next season. Just uncertainty shrouding your mind like a fog.

You’re talking to the Queen of restlessness. As someone who wants to live life in the fast lane, it pains me to feel stuck in one place and have to wait on the next step to unfold. If we were on opposite sides of a shopping centre, I’d be the one to say ‘I’ll come meet you’ because I’d rather be the one on the move.

But if there’s one thing that’s certain about this life, it’s that at multiple points, we’re all going to feel stuck in a place we don’t belong. Perhaps it’s stuck in a pit of depression. A pit of attempting to heal from rejection. Stuck in uncertainty. Stuck with people who don’t understand you. Stuck in a random country with only loneliness as a constant companion.

But there’s a tremendous difference between being stuck and being still. Being stuck is attempting to use all of your energy to break free from a position you don’t want to be in. You can rage and throw tantrums all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re there to stay. Being still is far more peaceful and relaxing. Though you’re not where you want to be, you accept your current circumstances is contributing to a higher purpose- even if you can’t always see it.

I’m a huge believer that there’s purpose wherever we are. That, although we feel like we’re stumbling around in the dark, we’ve been divinely led to the places that will refine and transform us into the people who are going to achieve great things. Something bigger is going to unfold in our lives, if only we just trust the process.

Throughout my corner of the internet, I’ve referenced multiple times that I used to be stuck in a battle for depression. For years, I was constantly going to war with the darkness for my self-worth, and I tried looking for it in all the wrong places. No matter what I did or who I turned to, I felt like there was no escape from the dark thoughts that constantly threatened to snuff out my light.

Dark thoughts and mental illness aren’t something I wish on anyone, and it can be infuriating to hear someone say that the painful things that you wish never happened to you, happened for a divine purpose. But now that I’m on the other side, I have to acknowledge the beautiful and golden things that came from being stuck in that one dreadful season. Wrestling with the darkness to hell and back has given me the words I need to talk about the despair and painful emotions so other people can feel understood. Where others only cringe and feel uncomfortable, I’m able to dive in and sit with you in the thick of your mess. Now, I get to tell my stories of hope, victory and redemption, so that no matter where you are, you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Something beautiful happens when you can see the value where you are. Although it may be the last place you want to be, we have to trust that if we’ve been led here, then there’s something we need to do or learn. As much as we would like the magic remote from Click to speed it up, we’re here for a purpose so we may as well milk every last opportunity from it.

I’m by no means advocating that you stay in a situation that’s no longer serving you. A lot of us have also been lulled into a false sense of security by staying in places that are no longer for us, such as a dead-end job or a relationship well past its expiry date. If you know in your heart that its time to move- then girl you gotta move.

I just think that it’s tempting to look for a back door when things get hard. But there’s a tremendous amount of value in just staying. Just because your circumstances right now may not reflect where you want to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t mean that it’s to be discounted or written off. You have no idea who needs you to be present, right here, right now.

I don’t know where you are right now, but I know that it’s not a mistake you’re here. You did not arrive by here by accident. You are not living out a remake of The Truman Show where everyone is in on some secret except you. The circumstances you’re facing, the emotions you’re enduring, the pits you can’t get unstuck from- it’s all contributing to the person you’re supposed to become. It’s preparing you to be someone who can handle those lofty dreams and big plans you’ve always envisioned for yourself.

Perhaps the impact you’ve always been longing for starts when you embrace where you are.

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The Truth About Change

Ash Chow the truth about change

I flew home from England this time last year.

I’d completely forgotten about the date until I caught up with my friend Jess last week. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to bring the kindred spirits you meet overseas back home with you, and Jess was one of them.

“I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we’ve seen each other,” she said as we sat down. “What’s happened since then?”

A whole flurry of memories from our time abroad rushed through me as she said that. Some were nostalgic memories about the people I’d met, while others were of more traumatic incidents that I’d buried and repressed.

Then came the aftermath.

People who go on exchange or travel for an extended period of time like to joke about never wanting to come home. But for me, it was a hard fact. In the days leading up to my flight, I remember hoping that something would happen so I wouldn’t have to get on the plane. Maybe I could stay here for a few more months, I thought to myself- a sentiment that was destroyed once I checked the state of my bank account.

If I was strikingly honest, I was afraid of coming back home and feeling restricted by people’s judgements and the responsibilities of the real world. Above all, I was afraid of coming back to a place that I believed wouldn’t have good things for me.

And sure enough, once I landed, everything crumbled.

One of my favourite writers likes to label this point of time as the valley. The valley is something we all go through. It’s this rocky, cavernous space in-between each highlight moment that we have to navigate before reaching the top again. You might know it as the low point in your life when depression came back or when things felt stagnant, no matter how much you tried to move. It’s that place where you feel like giving up every two steps and you’re unsure if you’re ever going to see sunlight again. 

Time slows to a crawl when you’re in this emotional pit of despair. All of a sudden you become this fortune teller who only ever predicts crappy things about your future. This person would most likely go out of the fortune telling business in real life, yet when it comes to our lives and our voice, we’re quick to believe the bad things. 

My valley lasted for two whole months. This sounds like nothing in the grand scheme of things, but every day that passed felt as long as a year. All I could feel was anger towards a God that hadn’t pulled through on the promises He’d made, and a devastation that all I was ever going to know was the ache that stemmed from loss and heartbreak.

I’m only able to recount these memories now after looking back at my journals from last year and seeing every page with ‘I’m angry!’ and ‘This sucks!’ scribbled across it. But when I sat across from Jess and thought back to those moments last year, I could only feel a flicker of what used to be intense, fiery emotions.   

All this to say, so much has changed since I landed back in Melbourne a year ago. A lot of the beliefs I held about God not having good things for me are gone, and the things I cried over or worried about are now only distant memories. The worst outcomes that I’d believed for myself never came true, and when I look back on the things or people that hurt me, the only thought that reverberates across my mind is how ‘the victory is sweet.’

“Everything has changed since last year,” I told Jess.

Change.

That word used to be a death sentence to me. Whenever I was in a good place with friends, family and work, I would always pray that everything would stay exactly the same. I was so sensitive to it that on my first day of my 2nd year of Uni, I could actually feel that everything was different and I called a friend that night to cry about nothing being the same. We sold our old house a few months ago and I remember texting everyone that I wasn’t emotionally ready to move out even though our new place was literally 10 minutes down the road.

But a few weeks ago, I got a string of messages from someone going through their own valley season. She’d lost faith, felt forsaken, and was basically quoting lines from my journal right back to me. And turns out, the thing I said that gave her the most comfort was that ‘things change.’

The way things are now is not how they’re going to stay.

This can be an incredibly scary sentence depending on what position you’re in. For some, it can feel like a sense of foreboding that the triumphant mountaintop they’re on now could come crumbling down. But for others, it’s a comforting reminder that things will get better. That the feeling of grief or heartbreak or lost sense of hope, is not going to sit heavy on their chest forever. That they will not have to bunker down and declare their emotional pit of darkness ‘home’ for the rest of their lives.

Regardless of what feeling it evokes, change is inevitable and necessary. We are not meant to stay stagnant. Gosh, what a boring life we would lead if we were allowed to remain as we were. There would be no room for new beginnings or second chances or fresh relationships. There would be nothing to give us momentum or push us forward. We are intricately designed to move and evolve and grow, and funnily enough sometimes growing requires us to go backwards first.

My close friends who know my past like to tell me all the time that I’ve changed. Yet all I can see and feel is that I’m the same mess of a human being I always was. But I think that’s how change manifests itself sometimes. There won’t be a finish line that tells you to stop running, or a banner declaring you’ve made it. Instead, the best, long-lasting, transformative changes happen incrementally over a long period of time. You most likely won’t see all the ways you’re growing when you’re in the thick of your mess, but rest assured it’s happening.

So, at every point you feel defeated, remember to hold onto this- things change.

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