“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” ~Ferris Bueller
For as long as I can remember, my life has consisted of change.
I grew up moving around the world. I went from Canada to Pakistan, Egypt to Jamaica, Ghana to Ukraine, then finally China to Australia.
Moving to new countries and adapting to new cultures is like a cold plunge to your entire system and way of being. I felt I had no choice but to fit in as quickly as possible.
By the age of six or seven years old, I pre-empted every move by being constantly prepared. I thought about every possible scenario and planned in detail how I would survive. This technique served me well as I bounced around the world, saying goodbye to my best friends and immersing myself into a whole new culture, time and time again.
However, when I became an adult and had control over my life, I no longer needed to plan and prepare for my next move. I could live where I wanted, I could stay where I wanted. Yet my overthinking and planning continued.
Even if I had no intention of moving to another country, my body prepared me for it anyway. It served me up a million scenarios; it prepared me for the heartbreaking goodbyes, and the awkward hellos.
I became addicted to thinking, and not the kind of thinking that earns you academic achievements. It was the kind of thinking that was built by years of worry. But the thing about worry is that it feels like productivity when in reality it’s a depleting sense of anxiety.
It feels like I’m doing the right thing by planning ahead, and for many years I felt like this was a very good, honest way to spend my time. It seemed very normal to plan every little part of my life in infinite detail and would-be scenarios. I mean, doesn’t everyone do that?
Apparently not. Apparently, some people deal with every situation as it comes. They don’t spend any time pre-emptively worrying about things before they happen or imagining all the possible scenarios that could unfold.
Instead, these particular people go about their daily life and once they encounter a challenge, they deal with it in the moment. They just handle the situation and then move on. I can’t even imagine how calm and pleasant it must feel to have a mind like that.
Right now, we are in the middle of a crossroads, yet again. We are expats living in a country far away from any family and raising our young daughter on our own.
We’re debating whether to move closer to my husband’s family or closer to mine. We’re trying to figure out what jobs we could get and how much they could pay and if we need to go back to school. We want to do what’s best for our daughter, but also for us. We want to stick to our values, but we know we can’t have it all. We’re aware we need to compromise and sacrifice something.
My old self is rearing to plan, prepare, and organize my potential new life. It’s constantly on over-drive waiting to pounce and dive down a rabbit hole of overthinking. It hates living in uncertainty. But with this many potential scenarios, my head will explode if I sit down and think about every single one of them. Not to mention the life I will miss out on now by thinking about the life that awaits me.
Right now, it’s summer in Australia. The days are long and warm and humid, just the way I like it. As much as I feel like I need to spend every single waking moment planning and worrying, I also want to enjoy my life now.
The other day I went to the beach with my husband and one-year-old daughter. It was a sunny, hot day and as we were getting ready to go, I began worrying if we’d ever find parking. “It’s okay, if there is no parking then we’ll just go home,” I told myself reassuringly.
We drove to the beach and miraculously we found parking extremely close to the water. I found a little, tiny spot under a rock with shade to ensure no one would get burnt. My husband took my daughter and off they went in the water.
I stood back under the shade with my long sleeve shirt and responsible hat, taking photos of them as I always do. A cheerful voice inside of me said, “Go swimming, let’s enjoy the sun!” For the first time in a long time, I decided to go into the water.
The water was a bit cold; I prefer when it’s very warm, but I paddled around anyway. I disregarded any fear of sharks, any fears of getting burnt, and just enjoyed the water.
My husband wanted to do a few laps, so I took my daughter and sat on the shore with her. Gentle waves crashed at our feet, and she looked up at me and smiled.
I grabbed a fistful of wet sand and my daughter stared in amazement as it formed into intricate blobs on my bare legs. I normally hate the feeling of sand on my body, but in that moment I didn’t even notice. She squealed in delight as I started to build little sandcastles on her legs.
I remembered that I hadn’t put sunscreen on my back, and I’m very pedantic about sunscreen. I wondered if we should move to the little shady spot I found up on dry sand. But we were having so much fun there I didn’t want to leave. I could tell my daughter didn’t either. So we stayed.
The waves came again and again, washing away the sandcastles we built. My husband came out of the water and joined us. I felt so much love and happiness in that moment. I wanted to run to my purse and get a photo of how happy we were. But instead, I sat there continuing to build sandcastles.
When we finally got home, my back was burnt. Normally this would really concern me. I have known people who have died of skin cancer, and I do everything I possibly can to avoid a burn. But on this very day, I let myself be sunburnt. I let it be okay.
I had so much fun at the beach that reflecting on it left me with tears in my eyes. I cannot remember the last time I was so fully present, alive, and engaged.
So often the voice of anxiety is pulling me away from my life and trying to protect me by forcing me to think about all the things that could go wrong and how best to avoid them. For once, I didn’t let that voice win, and it wasn’t a battle. It was a natural feeling of allowing another voice, the one of calm, to take center stage.
I know I can’t plan for everything. But I’m trying to take confident strides in the direction of what feels right, moment by moment. Believing that whatever comes, I can handle it. Life happens fast, and I don’t want to miss these many special moments building castles in the sand with my little family.
About Kimberly Hetherington
Kimberly Hetherington is a Canadian writer and Art Therapist based in Sydney, Australia. She loves to write, read, create, listen to podcasts, be in nature, and experience the kind of conversations that go beyond the ‘mask’ of everyday life. Check out her website for more on her journey through grief and loss, to hope and self-discovery.