Holding Pattern


Back when I was a psychotherapist working with severely and chronically mentally ill adults, I started each of my therapy groups by handing out copies of the Emotions Chart and asking the group members to start an “I” sentence with the stem “Today, I feel _________.”

The goal, of course, was to help them begin developing an emotional vocabulary, the basic ability to recognize, define, and articulate a range of feeling states. But it was ridiculous, really. First, we’re talking about adults who have spent the longer part of their lives emotionally illiterate. Second, take a look at that chart. Could YOU define each of these emotions? (Not to mention whether the drawings actually convey the kind of expression you’d assign to each feeling).

Anyway, I was thinking of the emotions chart earlier this week. Monday and Tuesday were weird, weird days. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel cranky (as I did last week, complaining about the heat, and the fact that we don’t have air conditioning, and how it just zapped all my energy). But I didn’t feel happy, either. I don’t know how I felt, really, and that was the problem. I was lazy, but lazy’s not really a feeling state; it’s a being state. All I wanted to do was watch television–which I *never* do. I didn’t want to read (which I always want to do). I didn’t want to write (ditto). I didn’t want to go to a museum or a lecture or a performance or watch a documentary. I wanted to be and do something mindless. My friend Anne said she felt the same way during the most stressful moments of grad school, when all she could do was look at the New York Post (arguably one of the worst papers ever and definitely not in line with her politics or mine) and think “The more pictures, the better.” When she said that, I totally got it. A New York Post would have suited me just fine.

I wasn’t worried about how I felt, but it bothered me that I didn’t have a word to describe the state I was in. I scrolled through my mental index file of feeling words. Nothing came to mind. I browsed through metaphors, mostly easy ones, and decided the closest I could come to describing how I felt was that I was in a holding pattern, like a pilot who was within landing distance of the airport but was told she needed to keep circling until traffic cleared on the ground. She loops around and around with no fixed goal, dependent on another person to let her know when it’s time to reset the course. Yet she’s not aimless, either. Yes, I decided, though the metaphor had its shortcomings, that was as close as I could get to describing how I felt.

A holding pattern.

Yesterday marked exactly one month until our due date, though we all know babies arrive when they’re good and ready. The past couple weeks have seen subtle changes (seen mostly by me, I suppose): the increasing difficulty of a restful sleep, as I wake up multiple times a night to strangely sore hips. The baby’s angling for space just beneath my rib cage, causing moments where I’m conscious of the need to breathe more deeply. Little things. Nothing to complain about, but I have the distinct sense that I’m in this holding pattern: I can’t get much bigger or much more uncomfortable (I hope– mothers are reading this and laughing, I know). I don’t know exactly how much time I have to get certain projects done. It’s all dependent on someone else.

I felt myself again today-motivated, wanting to read, to write, to talk, to do something other than sit around and simply be (which, you won’t be surprised to learn, I’m not so good at doing). But there’s still this undercurrent, this shift–In what? Emotion? Thought? I don’t know, really–this new awareness that the next few weeks will probably continue to have this holding pattern sensation.

And that when all I want to do is watch TV or read the New York Post, well, then that’s what I should do.


2 responses »

  1. Thank you for this, Julie–you have summed up my recent feelings so I am spared the effort–“holding pattern” is exactly right. I know a large part of it has been grieving for our sweet puppy who died much too soon, but there’s an undercurrent of something else weird. And the waking up fifty times a night to achy hips–arrrggg. I keep thinking I wish I could buy the latest Cosmo in English, or rent Sex and the City on DVD and veg out and not have to talk to anyone for a while. Anyway I feel better knowing I’m not alone in this… (P.S. Midwife readjusted my due date–now I’m due BEFORE you, on the 20th. Race you!)

  2. Tere-

    Wow, I feel better knowing I’m not alone either. 🙂
    And I’m sorry to hear about your dog; if Penelope died right now I think I’d really be a nutcase.
    Achy hips? Not just me! Woohoo!
    And I wish, for the umpteenth time, we lived closer and could get together and just watch cheesy movies.

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