Limbo: an uncertain situation that you cannot control and in which there is no progress or improvement.
We’ve all experienced periods of limbo in our lives, right? Waiting, hoping, willing for a situation to change or improve. Whether it’s being unemployed and trying to find a job, being trapped in a difficult relationship, waiting for exam results or waiting for treatment for an illness… limbo is not a nice place to be.
Living with depression and anxiety is like being in a perpetual state of limbo. For the last four years, I’ve felt like I’ve been trapped in limbo, waiting for this dark shadow that’s hung over my life to pass, longing for brighter days. It’s really frustrated me. Any hope that things might start to feel better at some point in the future are completely overshadowed by the fear that things will never improve.
“Everything in life can teach you a lesson, you just have to be willing to observe and learn.” Ritu Ghatourey
Last weekend, I learnt a huge lesson in how to deal with living in limbo. I went to visit ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. No one knows what it’s like to live in limbo quite like a refugee. They have lost their homes, their families, their jobs. They are trapped living in dirty, impractical and unpredictable conditions. As they wait to rebuild their lives and will to find somewhere to call home, there is little sign their situation is going to improve any time soon. They simultaneously hope and fear for the future. This is extreme limbo and it was a hard-hitting experience to see this first hand.
Meeting some of these refugees humbled me. They demonstrated to me an invaluable approach to life. I asked one refugee if he had hope that life would be better in the future. “We only live for today. We hope for tomorrow.” That was his reply. In other words, the only way to deal with life is to take it day by day, a bit at a time. What great words of wisdom! If, like me, you tend to get overwhelmed by life or feel like you’re struggling through a tough time, waiting for the resolution to a problem or situation, then the solution really is quite easy: simply focus on only ever needing to cope with now. If the refugees I spoke to can do this in their current situation, then so can I. Take each moment as it comes. Make each moment okay. Then before you know it, all your individual okay moments will add up and your whole life will be okay (simple maths!). In fact most of the time, with a bit of added positivity, life can be more than okay… it can be great!
“Life is a sequence of moments called ‘now’.”
Often, the reason(s) we feel we’re in limbo are external circumstances beyond our control. My depression and anxiety is not self-inflicted and the powerful negative feelings associated with it cannot just be shaken off. But rather than allowing these circumstances to determine whether or not I will be okay, I can decide to be okay now, regardless of how hard things seem. “Is everything going to be okay?” I repeatedly ask my Dad (often through choked tears) when the darkness in my life creeps in again and everything becomes unbearable once more. “Everything is okay,” he assures me. And he’s right. (He’s a pretty smart man, my Dad.)
“Confine yourself to the present.” Marcus Aurelius
You see, it’s easy to say, “Everything will be okay when [insert resolution to your problem here],” but in reality there will always be something in our lives which will drag us down and stop us living life to the full if we let it. Accept and appreciate what is happening in life and right now. Sometimes, now will be hard work; other times it will be brilliant. But we can choose to stand firm and make the best of that moment regardless.
It’s absolutely fine to hope for the future and look forward to tomorrow (hope is a wonderful emotion which often helps us to be okay in difficult moments). But actually, the future is promised to no one. If we’re always anticipating the next thing, waiting for something which may or may not happen, then we miss out on all the somethings happening now. By living in the present, we become fully alive, more engaged and more engaging – that’s the sort of person I want to be.
Of course, if I actually take a step out of my own head and compare my limbo situation to the lives of the thousands of homeless and jobless refugees in the world at the moment, I feel like a bit of a whining numpty. How can I really know what it’s like to live in limbo after seeing how the refugees are living? The refugee crisis has opened my eyes to some extreme struggles – situations much worse than anything I’ve ever had to (and probably never will) endure. It’s put some perspective on my own life and reminded me not to take anything for granted. Comparing situations and struggles doesn’t make my own instantly go away though (depression and anxiety don’t work like that). Our struggles in life are different. But our approach to life should be the same: live in the present.
Life is happening NOW!
What are you waiting for?