Quicksand or Chrysalis? The Unbearable Stuckness of Being

Illustration with a green chrysalis hanging from a branch on the top right corner, and a puddle of quicksand with a warning sign in the bottom left corner. The are separated by a diagonal brown dotted line. The text reads "Chrysalis or Quicksand The Unbearable Stuckness of Being"

Every person has hit that point. You can’t put your finger on the source, yet you feel it on a cellular level. It’s maddening and inescapable. You can’t sleep, meanwhile waking hours are agonizingly unproductive. Meditation, long walks, and the usual centering tools are ineffective. You’re stuck. No, perhaps not stuck physically, but emotionally, mentally, and even creatively? You just can’t seem to… move. It’s excruciating and yet, stuck might be exactly where we need to be. The question we must ask is: are we in quicksand… or a chrysalis? Let’s look deeper into The Unbearable Stuckness of Being.

Both quicksand and a chrysalis are types of being “stuck”, but they have very different causes and results. We’ve all seen the dreaded quicksand in film and TV. Some unsuspecting fellow wanders into a small clearing only to find himself sinking deeper into a quagmire, arms flailing about, screaming for help that almost always arrives too late. The camera pans to a lonely hat in the middle of bubbling liquefied soil. Bloop bloop. Bloop bloop. /dramatic music/

Terrifying, right? Even the thought of being sucked into a patch of earth triggers an anxious response. Check yourself right now - are you fidgeting, shifting your feet, ensuring you can still move? That reaction is almost compulsory. However, the murderous image of evil quicksand depicted on screen is less than accurate. In reality, quicksand occurs when loose sand becomes saturated with water and is then agitated in some way, such as by walking, causing the soil to lose strength and stability. A person will sink to some extent and have difficulty moving, but so long as they don’t panic, they will likely be able to dislodge themselves with slow deliberate movements and navigate to safety. Fear of the quicksand is actually more paralyzing than the quicksand itself. Much like in life, we sometimes get stuck because the fear of [fill in the blank] is more overwhelming than the reality.

On the other hand, a chrysalis forms when a caterpillar is ready to transform into a butterfly. Caterpillars hatch and will eat, eat, eat, storing up energy until they move on to their next life stage - the chrysalis. At that point, their outer layer molts to form a hard shell, enclosing its whole body. The caterpillar appears dormant and lifeless, but is actually undergoing an extreme metamorphosis. In fact, it releases a digestive enzyme that basically dissolves its entire body into caterpillar soup. I’m not judging you, little caterpillar, but EW.

However, out of this protein-rich soup, clumps of cells begin to completely reform the body in an entirely new configuration. Delicate colorful wings develop while legs and antennae grow long and slender. For some species, parts of the caterpillar’s nervous system remain intact, retaining memories from its former life. Eventually the butterfly emerges. All of that energy stored by the caterpillar allowed it to create a completely new form, yet it’s still the same cells. The butterfly just realigned them and grew the areas it needed for its new life stage - a messy process with a beautiful result.

Right now, you may be asking yourself, “WTF is she talking about?” There is a point to this! I honestly struggled with finding a focus for this blog post not because I couldn’t think of worthy topics to discuss, but because none of them resonated as the “right” one. I gave myself off last week, hoping the Muse would return and clarify my purpose, but she didn’t. I wrote, then deleted, wrote some more, then deleted again… I was stuck. However, the reality is I wasn’t only stuck with writing and it wasn’t just the past few weeks. I’ve been feeling this since the summer and doubt I’m alone. So maybe… that WAS the topic I needed to focus on? When you’re stuck, it’s challenging to see the path out. You need to figure out how you got stuck in the first place, determine what is keeping you from moving forward, and finally, figure out in which direction you need to move. Yes, I was stuck, but was I in quicksand or a chrysalis?

Then I remembered that I’ve been here before. Not “pandemic” here, but “stuck” here. I’d hated it. I’m a decisive shit-or-get-of-the-pot kind of gal. I watch action movies, not dramas. If something goes wrong, no problem - I have a back-up plan. Hell, my back-up plans have back-up plans. I know how to keep moving forward. Even if I’m mulling over a decision, I’m still moving forward on something else. Much of this results from life experiences, but I also think it’s who I am on a genetic level. I was walking and talking well ahead of schedule and once I got moving, I never stopped.

Hmm… that’s not entirely true. I have stopped moving. When I was 13, a leg injury and resulting nerve damage left me unable to walk, and the next 4 ½ years were spent in rehabilitation. It was terrifying and painful with a very real possibility I would never walk again. I was on crutches for much of that time and became really good at maneuvering on them. It would have been easy enough to stay in the quicksand. I could have accepted my paralysis and given up on the extremely painful and exhausting therapy, and there were probably times I wanted to. However, I rejected the dismal prognosis, kept my focus, worked hard in physical therapy, and slowly made my way out of the immobility. I found a way to move forward even when I couldn’t walk and eventually, I regained use of my leg.

Then 20 years later, mis-/undiagnosed conditions were running out of control, depleting my body of strength and the ability to eat or speak. I knew there was a serious problem, but could not get the proper treatment. I kept trying to overcome this as I’d overcome previous challenges. I kept trying to move forward, but this time, I was doing more harm than good. What I needed most of all was rest, but I wasn’t allowing my body that time to heal. I was in a chrysalis and needed that protective shell, but couldn’t realize it. Eventually I did, allowing myself the time to heal and process an inordinate amount of unresolved trauma. I made a number of extreme changes during that time, from my career path, to my friend circle, to my own internal monologue. While in this chrysalis, I found the Zen of canning and began to nurture this little butterfly idea that would become PinUp Preserves.

Are any of these concepts ringing true to you right now? The anxiety, uncertainty, and frustration at every turn? Are you feeling stuck in some way? You are NOT alone.

Folks, this has been a banana-balls year and expectations have shifted dramatically. What we can reasonably expect from friends and family, coworkers, fellow humans, from ourselves… it’s a wildly sliding scale. I’m used to uncertainty. I mean, really used to it. Small business owner, freelancer in theater, woman with invisible disabilities - adapting to change is a day that ends in “y”, so when the pandemic hit the fan in March, I was worried, but okay. In fact, I was probably more suited to this sort of upheaval than many others. I could be flexible and pivot, at least for a time. Need face masks sewn? Done! Taking extra safety precautions? Already there! Have to stay home for months and not socialize? Lol, I’m Generation X. We were born to isolate. I had this.

Like many folks, I took this time to attack a sorely neglected to-do list:

  • Finished a course on specialized food processing, which I’d need to expand my PinUp Preserves offerings

  • Earned a Responsive Web Design certificate, building on an interest in computers I’d had for years

  • Brushed up on slightly-rusty Spanish and got back to learning French; ASL and Gaelic were on deck

Oh, we’re still quarantining? Cool. How about some tasks around the house:

  • That drywall repair under the bathroom sink I’d been ignoring for 2 months (don’t judge)

  • The kitchen pantry begging for reorganization

  • The living room walls in need of repainting

We’re *still* in Phase 2/3? *sigh* Keep moving:

  • Guess I’ll repoint that brick stoop outside

  • The dryer vent could use replacing, too

  • Two words: EPIC! GARDEN!

I also FINALLY got to test batch the pickle and fruit butter recipes I’d been mentally developing for 5 years. So many delicious goodies that I can’t wait to share!

At this point, it was August, and I could still happily lie to myself that while it might be at least a good 6-9 months before I would move back into a kitchen, there was a decent chance theater could start up (in some form) for the holidays. As you may know, I come from a nearly 25-year career in freelance Technical Theater, so this work would be a welcome relief in a year of no jamming. That didn’t happen, though. Holiday shows were cancelled - the responsible decision - and focus shifted to theaters resuming in January 2021.

SPOILER ALERT: LOL, no. Theatrical productions will not resume in January 2021. We’ll be lucky if theater comes back *at all* in 2021. Thanks, maskholes.

Every few weeks, the goalposts of “normal” have moved further and further downfield. Like everyone else, I adapted best I could and kept sight of the positives. Health, home, family - these are always blessings, but more so now. In order to support those blessings, though, we need to keep moving forward, and how does ones do that with an elusive end zone? As a friendor recently said, “My plan for expansion disappeared. This year has been about throwing everything at the wall and hoping something stuck.”

A pink neon sign that spells "breathe" on a background of ivy and other dark green foliage. The sign is angled with the "b" in the bottom left corner and the "e" in the top right corner.

Same, but so far, the only thing that has stuck is… me. My efforts to pivot the product line for PinUp Preserves haven’t been as successful as hoped. In fact, sales this holiday season have been miserable. I networked and marketed like crazy, but to no avail. Should I move on, but am afraid to let go of what I’ve built? Am I doing the right thing, but it needs time to metamorphosize? Quicksand or chrysalis? Only time will tell.

So if you're feeling stuck, look a bit deeper at why. Are you afraid to move in a new direction or are you undergoing a process of extreme change? Quicksand or chrysalis? Either way, breathe... and trust that you’ll eventually find your way out.

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