How to Cope When the Future is Uncertain

As much as I wish I could plan and schedule the rest of my life, I can't. I take comfort in the constant things in my life, but sometimes life takes an unexpected turn, or there is a big new question mark in my life. What is going to happen? When will I know? What do I do now? Several years ago I found myself in that situation for a few years, and I found a way to make life work anyway.

I actually wrote a different post for today, but the idea of this post has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks, and I really felt like it was time to share this. It's very personal and covers some private experiences in my life. I've shared this with different friends when they were going through difficult times, and they have always expressed how much it helped them. I hope it helps one of you today.

I am a planner. I love a plan. I want to know where I'm going, when, how, and with whom. I love routine, habits, continuity. I like to be in control. When life becomes uncertain, I get really anxious. I feel like I can't do anything because I don't know what I'm working toward. Unfortunately, that's the nature of life, right? We can't always know what path we are on, what life will bring us next, and we can't always be in control. 

Many years ago, my husband and I decided we were ready to start our family right about the same time I started a new job. I came from a line of fertile women. They got pregnant just by thinking about it, and I assumed I would be the same way. This new job was a big step up for my career, and it was a business professional dress code, meaning suit and tie for the men. I had decided long ago that I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom, and I felt a little bad accepting this job knowing that I would be leaving in the next 10 months. My previous job had been very casual dress, and I didn't want to buy the clothes I needed for my new position because I was probably going to be pregnant next month! It would be such a waste of money! I limped by on the inadequate wardrobe I had.

I also didn't invest myself in my job as an emplyee. I mean, it was very temporary, and before long there would be a replacement. I tried to do a good job, but I didn't think longterm at all. My focus was on preparing everything for the next person to fill the position. There was just one problem. I didn't get pregnant that month. Or the next month, or the several months after that. I kept putting life on hold because "I might get pregnant this month!!" We couldn't make any plans, we didn't plan any trips, I didn't buy any work clothes, I didn't invest in my job, I didn't even keep up with my workouts because of the big fat maybe hanging over my head. Struggling to get pregnant was hard enough. Living life in limbo made it significantly harder. I had no plan, no direction, I didn't know where I was going, when, and how. Fortunately I knew with whom. I had absolutely no control over my life, and I was miserable. 

About eight months into this I made a decision. I decided to invest in the life I had RIGHT NOW. I decided that while we were continuing to pursue starting a family, I was going to start living my life as though I would never be able to have kids. I embraced my life. I bought a work wardrobe, I started pursuing my career as though I would be working until retirement age. We planned trips. I figured out a great workout routine for myself. I took some classes for fun. We started going out with friends again. I started living my life, and it was such a relief. I embraced the life I had as though it was the only life I would ever have, while still pursuing the life I wanted. I immediately felt a shift, and this enormous weight was lifted from me. I could breathe again. I didn't give up on my goals. I still did all that I could to get what I really wanted, but I had given up on the life I already had instead of living fully in the present.

I wish I could tell you that because of my new zen mentality I got pregnant the very next month, because that's the story you always hear. "When we finally stopped trying and stressing about it, we got pregnant!!" Not for us. It was a few years and some miscarriages later that I was finally able to get pregnant and stay pregnant.

The good news is I didn't miss out on those years of my life. Yes, they were hard. They were some of the hardest and darkest of my life. I had no idea if I would ever be a mother, and the doctors couldn't give me a reason why. We didn't even know what to try to fix because nothing was wrong with me. Miscarriages are devastating. Infertility can destroy marriages. I won't say that suddenly all my cares and woes were behind me, because they weren't. The difference was that I wasn't carrying this additional burden of an empty, stagnant life. I had times of joy, I loved my job once I embraced it as my career. We went on some really fun trips, and we lived our life. There were the hard times, but there was real life in between.

My first successful pregnancy was triplets. We had a trip to England planned six weeks later, and since it was such a high-risk pregnancy, we decided to cancel the trip. We adjusted. We also lived in an apartment that would have been way too small for a family of five, so we started house hunting and moved. We adjusted.

This isn't the only time I've relied on this mental shift. There have been many times of uncertainty during our marriage. If things don't develop really quickly, the anxiety of the unknown starts to weigh on me. So many things can go wrong with such a high-risk pregnancy. I could have paralyzed myself with those "what ifs". Instead, I focused on what I did have control over. I did absolutely everything my doctors told me to do, and more. I assumed that I would have a healthy pregnancy because I was being so careful, and made adjustments as things changed. I ended up on full bed rest and adjusted. I had preterm labor, so I adjusted. I had an emergency c-section, and I adjusted. Until those points, though, I didn't let the worry of what could happen consume me. I worked toward my goal of a successful and healthy pregnancy while living the life I had now.

Other times this helped me were when we didn't know if we were leaving Atlanta. What if he takes that job? What if his current job transfers us instead? What if we stay here? Do I register my kids in their activities for the year? Do we plan that trip? He did. They didn't. We didn't. I did. We did, and we adjusted. Once we moved, we house hunted for six months before we found the right house, and then it was 6 months before we could close (there was an IRS lien on the house. Miracles happened). That whole first year was nothing but uncertainty. We moved four times. Where will we live? When? How do I register my kids for school if I don't even know what county we will be in? Should I sign them up for soccer? Should we buy furniture if we don't know what our future house looks like? What if the house doesn't close after all and we wasted all that time?

I would have lost my mind if I had put life for all seven of us on hold for a year, so I took it in three-month chunks. Swimming lessons for the next three months? Yes. Furniture, no. School? I waited until the last possible moment to decide and took a leap of faith that our house would close in time. Three months into the wait we decided to rent a house in the area so we could be near all the activities and school. I was also really up front with coaches and teachers. If it was something that required a year commitment, I talked to the director and said, "We might be moving. We won't know until a few days before it happens. I'd like to sign my kids up for this, but if we do end up moving can we cancel our contract?" I even did that with the landlord of our rental house, and was able to work out a month-to-month contract. Most people worked with me. 

I give potential life changes their due consideration, thought and research, but if we don't know anything after a few weeks, I continue to move forward with the life I have now, and I can change course if things do become certain down the line. More often than not, things fall through, and I saved myself a lot of unnecessary angst, worry and sleepless nights. On the occasion these major life changes did come through, I was able to adjust my course and move ahead as needed. 

What kind of worries can this help with? All of them. I've been talking to my nieces about this topic, and I told them to work toward the goal of what they really want, and if something comes up, they can alter course. What if this new guy is the one, but I'm considering a job out of state?? What if I don't get married? What if I begin an advanced degree and our circumstances change? What if I get that new job? What if my test results come back with bad news? What if my pregnancy isn't healthy? What if the adoption comes through? What if we don't get the house we want? What if I lose my job? What if my child doesn't make it on the team? What if...?

I hope this is helpful. It has made such a difference in my life. It doesn't change the uncontrollable things happening in your life, but there are times when a mental shift and taking new actions can make life better. 

How do you cope when the future is uncertain? What situations have put your life on hold?

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