Do you remember the music at the beginning of "The Twilight Zone"? As soon as I heard it, I would get nervous because I knew bizarre and sometimes horrifying stories were about to unfold. Well, as I navigate my way through my "gray" divorce, I often feel I'm entering a frightening and alien landscape filled with a constant stream of alternatives and data points, a place where I am tripped up by seemingly simple decisions. I call it the frozen zone.
Managing my own finances, understanding the plethora of technology, growing my business using modern tools -- I don't find any of this easy. When I was young, going to a store to get a television was a straightforward process. You chose the cheapest one or the biggest one or the one manufactured by a company you had heard of. Now it almost takes an advanced degree to understand your choices. I need a new computer, but should I switch to an Apple computer which my children and their friends enjoy, or stick with my old Windows model?
The fact that I don't understand all my options is not surprising. The world has changed immeasurably since I last set up a household, and just like learning a language, I suspect things are easier when you're younger. However, it's my reaction to the multitude of options that troubles me. Because I freeze. I nod, I look like I understand, but inside, a sort of paralysis creeps over me and I just stop listening, certain that some of these areas are beyond my abilities. I know that I'm smart and competent in many ways, so why do I freeze? And moreover, what can I do about it?
I've been giving it a lot of thought, and I've come to the conclusion that we all have frozen zones where we nod and smile, but just can't seem to get anything done. Some of them involve relationships, where we fall into patterns we can't break, repeatedly choosing the wrong partner or object of affection. Some of them are about our jobs -- we get stuck in a dead-end or boring job, but it pays the bills and we're scared to risk a sure thing. Some frozen zones revolve around our fears; we're terrified of flying, or heights or going out to dinner by ourselves. Sometimes we over-commit ourselves, agreeing to handle too many projects and ultimately accomplish nothing. At times, we're tripped up by technology. And, for me personally, there are occasions when I get paralyzed because of my age, thinking that it's too late to reinvent myself or make close new friends.
In the past, if a friend told me that she was scared to travel or go out to eat alone, I'd advise her to just do it, certain it wasn't that difficult. But now I realize that my blithe advice was pretty smug and frankly, easier said than done. So I've come up with a few "action items" to manage my own frozen zones.
1. Recognize Your Frozen Zones
It's often hard to realize that you've stopped listening, stopped growing or are panicked. Zero in on the areas that frighten you or where you feel you're stuck. Be mindful of times you feel overwhelmed. And while you're at it, think about topics you avoid. Does your husband handle all the financial decisions? Ask him questions about your finances and really listen. Do you glaze over when someone mentions plumbing or electrical wiring? Maybe you're not bored so much as convinced you won't be able to handle it. Do you avoid all discussions of emotions and feelings? Maybe you've repressed the fact that you're unhappy.
As soon as you find yourself freezing up or feeling that awful paralysis, start over or reboot. Force yourself into the moment. Listen to the directions again, ask for help, insist that the repairman or cable guy repeat himself. And if your frozen zone is being trapped in a bad or stifling relationship, think about whether you want to try to improve the situation or just get out.
3. Figure Out Your Learning Style and Get Help
Do as much homework as you can in advance, and determine whether you're a visual learner or someone who does better hearing or reading about a topic. I find that if I see a video, it helps me enormously, whether it's putting together a piece of furniture or learning how to use Instagram. The great news is that modern technology has made all sorts of videos and advice available to everyone. Take advantage of it. And don't forget to ask friends and family for help. Your technologically-adept children or friends are often glad to share their expertise.
4. Don't Give Up Without a Fight
Even with the best intentions, there will be times you simply can't handle a situation. If that happens, stop. Give yourself a break, a day or even a week. But then circle back to your problem area. If you hate your job or boss, investigate whether there's a lateral transfer that might work or a business you could start on the side. If not a business, can you volunteer in the area you're interested in? If you're unhappy in your marriage or relationship, write down the reasons and see if there's any way you can change your own patterns.
Sometimes I think the most important step in moving forward is just to move. So, I'm trying to follow my own advice. Recently, I signed up for an online Excel course that was harder than anticipated. The first two times I started it, it seemed incredibly complex and I felt myself tuning out. But you know what? I finally finished the course on my third attempt, cracking the ice, at least a little.