Being Stuck

It’s been two months since I wrote in this blog. In that time, we decided to “downsize,” so we sold the house we lived in for 27 years, sorted through our belongings and the precious mementos of our lives, and moved to a house half the size of our old home. I can tell you that this cut-and-dried explanation ignores the heartbreak of leaving the comfort of our old neighborhood, the grief of separating from the house we designed and loved, the harshness and shock of acknowledging that the phase of our lives filled with the joyfulness and wonder of small children is over, and the fear of what life in our new house and this next phase of our life would be like. Although it looked from the outside like a lot of activity, on the inside I felt stuck. When I sat down to write, my thoughts were jumbled and wouldn’t coalesce into a coherent idea. There seemed to be something physically in the way of my moving forward with life. I realized that our possessions were not the only things we had packed away. All of those feelings and more were packed up in those boxes, leaving me with a feeling that I don’t like to have.

Whether it’s the decision to have another child, which job opportunity to select, if we want to add another activity to our already busy lives, or just a vague unease, “stuck” is a frequent feeling. And not a very pleasant feeling, as Rilke describes in his poem, Pushing Through:
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

Most of us enjoy the periods of vibrant activity in our lives – we delight in the knowledge that we know where we’re going and how to get there and in the confidence we experience as we move toward our goals. In that stuck place, we squirm and contort ourselves – making lists of pros and cons, rehashing our dilemma with our friends and advisors, keeping busy with anything that will distract us from the discomfort we feel and hoping that we will suddenly realize the “right” decision.

But as Byron Katie says in A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are, “Decisions make themselves…they come when the time is right.” As we remain in our stuck place, those decisions gradually take shape and are exposed, as proteins open and expose their binding sites when the right cofactor floats by.

So what are we to do while we’re waiting for our decision to “make itself?”

We can do what Julia Cameron suggests in her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, and we can journal. Simply putting our unedited thoughts down on paper allows us to remove the debris – those “fallen branches and stones” that Mary Oliver speaks about in The Journey (see my page, Poems That Will Inspire You!) and examine feelings and thoughts that were previously buried. What fears are there? What hurts? What hopes? What passions?

We might also examine the ideas that confidently tell us which path is best. These messages often begin with, “you should” or “you shouldn’t.” Our next question should be, “whose voice is that?” Frequently we are guided (sometimes harassed or intimidated) by voices that belong to our past or to people who have other agendas than our values and our benefit. (To find your values, see my post on October 24, 2011.) If we find that the voice is not ours, we can gently move it aside and return to our stuckness. Sometimes, we find that our decision has already been made but was being obscured by that voice.

Too often, we find that we are simply stuck. But “stuck” isn’t the stagnant place it might seem to be. There is usually something of great value to be found and investigated, so sometimes just sitting with the discomfort is the best thing we can do. We can feel the sadness of what we might be losing. We can feel the fear of the unknown. What else is there for us to feel? Explore? Understand? Most of the time, a catharsis occurs as we feel the feeling and let it pass through us. We are often left with a greater calmness. Not necessarily a decision, but certainly more confidence that we can withstand the not knowing until the time is right for our decision to make itself or our path to become clear. So that is where I am, and I’m wondering…what are your experiences with being stuck? What has helped you through those times? How have you loved yourself while you remain in the place of not knowing? I hope you will share your experiences in the comments section below.

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About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in honesty in medical care, physician coaching, physician fulfillment, physician work life balance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Being Stuck

  1. dreamheidi says:

    Love it Helane – thank you! So good to hear your sweet voice through the words. love, Heidi

    • Dear Heidi,
      I know that you can relate to this post, with the changes in your life you have so elegantly negotiated. Did you ever feel stuck through the process, and how did you get unstuck?

  2. Joyce Vining RVt, LPN says:

    Missed your post, sounds like you have been very busy. I love to hear your words of wisdom!
    Hope to see you at the ACP in Boston? Oh, also I hear John Kingsley is trying to get you to come to the Phlebology Colorado meeting. I went last year for the first time and plan to make it a yearly event, well worth the altitude issues! Very engaging conversations (open, honest experiences) and interesting cases. I believe it is the best meeting I have attended. Hope you will be coming!
    Best wishes, Joyce Vining

    • Dear Joyce,
      So great to hear from you! Glad that you enjoy the posts. Thanks for the encouragement about the Colorado meeting – I love meetings that involve open and honest exchanges of ideas. Truly, often the most important learning from a meeting happens in those casual conversations in the halls.

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