Living in Limbo
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I’ve always wondered why some people are addicted to haunted houses and scary movies. Is it the surprising twists and turns? How your heart pounds and races in your chest making you feel alive? Or is it the thrill of the unknown?
Whatever the reason, I never understood this fascination with fear -despite how exhilarating the outcome may be. Maybe it’s because I was a bit sheltered growing up. I had no desire to see or hear about adult movies and topics. I stayed a kid for as long as I could. And it didn’t help that my fear of the dark was enough to get my heart pumping.
Going on roller coasters was the closest I got to indulging my fear factor. Even though I was always anxious to experience a ride for the first time, after I rode it the rollercoaster never brought me the same level of thrill again. What was once a suspenseful ride with unexpected turns, drops, and twists became predictable.
But that didn’t bother me. If anything it made it more exciting because I knew what to expect and when. I knew when to close my eyes, when to brace myself, and when to raise my arms and scream! Essentially, I enjoyed being prepared.
I realize now that this comfort of certainty is what I crave. I like having clear and defined expectations because then I can learn how to meet them. So I struggle with the unknown because I don’t know my relation to it. How do I know what’s needed of me if there’s no determined goal?
This fear of the unknown has shaped my life more than I’ve realized. It’s kept me from breaking out of my box and setting abstract goals. Although I’m smart and able to accomplish most anything I put my mind to, I rarely moved my mind beyond what I knew was safe and comfortable.
But my mindset has changed because, as you might have noticed, that was then and this is now. Now I know how to break away from the fears I thought protected me but were actually limiting me instead.
What caused the change wasn’t a life altering event or a miracle, it was a relocation. As simple as that sounds, it was really due to a year’s worth of stress from living in limbo that inspired this new state of mind. But for you to properly appreciate the amount of stress and anxiety I experienced, you need to know the whole story -or at least the highlights.
It starts back in September 2015, the beginning of my love story. I had recently graduated from college and was back home living in my childhood room. I didn’t want to give up all of the independence I had gained at college by reverting back to my younger self. So when the opportunity to join a sand volleyball team presented itself, I jumped at it! For three months I stepped out of my comfort zone and after our final game I was introduced to my now husband.
Although I had noticed him right away that night, I didn’t think we would lead to anything serious. At that point in my life I was very pessimistic and tired of looking for love after many failed attempts that never got beyond a second date. But I was open to going out after the holidays -once he returned from Sweden. Which was the second reason I never thought anything would come of us. How much could I possibly have in common with someone from another country?
I soon discovered that my initial judgments couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the next few months I realized how similar we actually were. We had grown up on two different continents but had similar experiences with the most important parts of life. Whether it was music, movies, pop culture, or our plans for the future, we didn’t find much to disagree about. Months turned into years as my then boyfriend extended his work contract so he could stay in the US with me.
We were just like everyone else in a relationship. We went on dates, took trips in and out of the country, moved in together, and got engaged. The only difference was that he happened to come from Sweden. To us this wasn’t a deal breaker and we knew our love was strong enough to cross the globe. Until 2019 we had only been apart a few times, sometimes for a long weekend or occasionally up to two weeks if we traveled separately. But each time we came back with heavy hearts.
Our love language is through spending time together. While technology has come a long way and can bridge the gap between long distance love, it’s still a temporary solution. Only when we’re together does it truly feel like home. And we made the decision to relocate our “home” to Sweden after we got married. Which is when this story really begins.
The immigration process is, to put it nicely, draining. It drains you mentally and emotionally everyday while you wait for the final decision. For us that decision took almost a full year.
We had previously applied for a residency permit for myself in early 2018. But I got denied a few months later as my husband had to be living in Sweden when we applied. So we waited until January 2019, the year we were planning to move.
Before I get too far, I want to preface that we knew we didn’t go about the immigration process correctly. We knew another couple in a similar position as us that had already been living apart “properly” for 6 months with no end in sight. This was not an option for us. But there was no “official” way to stay together for the duration of the decision making process -even though we’d been living together for over two years. It felt like we were being punished for being in love.
The initial time to a decision was 7-10 months. So we took our chances and stayed together for as long as we could -which lasted until October 2019. Our luck had finally run out. We moved to Sweden together in July -a week after our wedding- with a plan to apply for an extended visitors visa. This way we could stay together while I waited for the residency decision.
Little did we know how much we didn’t know about immigration laws. Apparently you can’t apply for two visas at the same time. So I used up my 90 days in Sweden and had to return to the US. Which is something I wasn’t aware of until I was already on a plane to Washington D.C. for my residency permit interview. Instead of leaving my husband for just 4 days, it was 44 days.
Luckily he was able to come and stay in the US for a few weeks in December. And when he flew back to Sweden in January I was able to go with! My application had been accepted and I was granted a permanent residency card which allows me to live and work in Sweden.
I no longer had to live with the fear of being rejected, kicked out, and having to start the process again. I didn’t have to worry about being kept apart from my husband. Finally I could breathe again. Because since I had left the US, leaving my job, friends, and family behind, I was living in limbo. I had no control over my own life. I was living in my biggest fear, the fear of the unknown.
It wasn’t until I was living in limbo that I understood how stressful it is to feel powerless. When I first arrived in Sweden I couldn’t work, so I rarely left our 600 square foot apartment. I couldn’t speak the language, so it was hard to make friends or explore the town. I had underestimated how much I actually relied upon my independence to give me a sense of security. Although my husband was working and we had the basic necessities, I was still living in fear.
Once we found out how far behind and drawn out the immigration process was, all I could focus on was how long my life was going to stay paused. I hated the feeling of not knowing my next step, what I was working towards, or where I was going. And I didn’t want to feel reliant on my husband to support me.
I was alone for most of the day throughout most of the week. So I had lots of time to sit with my thoughts, which tended to turn towards my fears. Before moving to Sweden I had assumed I could easily and quickly find a decent enough job, move out of the starter apartment within a year, and begin to blend into the Swedish culture. But now I feared I had made a mistake.
I’d given up certainty and stability in order to seek a new way of life. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t content either. So I kept telling myself that it was just a transition period. Once I got my permit and found a job my life would start to feel normal again. It was during one of these fear-based thought sessions that something clicked inside of me.
I was reminded of a book I read a year or so before –The Power of Now– which focuses on living in the moment. How to find happiness now. My mind was tired of thinking and worrying, so I made the decision to stop putting my thoughts and energy towards fear and focus them towards something productive instead. So I started to write.
I always found writing to be therapeutic when I had too many thoughts bouncing around my head. Now was the perfect time to let it all out. But instead of writing about “me”, I found myself writing about “we”. I was writing to anyone who was struggling with the same insecurities of self-worth I was experiencing. I wanted to share my insight from years of introspection that I thought could help others on their path to becoming their truest self.
It was when I was stuck in the dark that I needed light the most. So if my experiences and insights could give someone even the slightest glimmer of hope, then my fear, anxiety, and pain was for an even bigger purpose.
Reunite with You was something I created during the darkest time of my life. Yet it was because of the stress that I was forced into confronting my fears so that they didn’t control me. Only from living in limbo could I see that I was actually in a place of possibility.
Looking back I can see, despite the negative moments, how truly lucky I was that everything happened the way it did. Without meeting my husband, moving to a new country, and experiencing the worst fears of my life, I wouldn’t have been pushed mentally and emotionally to explore my true potential.
Sometimes it really does take the darkest nights to make way for the brightest days. Even though I’m barely breaking dawn, I can see light on the horizon while still appreciating the darkness I’ve left behind.
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