I’ve been wondering lately what it must feel like to be inside a chrysalis.
We’ll ignore entirely that we’re talking about insects. It’s the state of development that piques my curiosity.
Because it’s not just the physical changes that are vast and terrifying. It’s everything that goes on in what passes for the brain, too. The evolution from crawling to flying in the span of a single lifetime is incomprehensible. Human babies do this in a way, but the transition from rolling to sitting to crawling backward (maybe that’s just my kids) to walking and then running is predictable in the physical sense. It’s incremental and progressive change; the building blocks for a lifetime of movement, all right there.
But crawling does not lend itself to flight. Navigating uneven ground terrain does nothing to prepare one for air currents. First day, new wings, sure…but it’s more than that. Everything learned has to be relearned, from an entirely new perspective. All that was once known and useful has changed; some of this information still is valuable, but it has to be parsed and recategorized for meaning in this new existence.
I wonder if there’s any understanding of the change that’s coming, both before and as it occurs. Do the caterpillars chafe with impatience, rushing as fast as they can towards their bountiful new world? Do they fear its inevitability, and mourn the transience of being connected to the earth?
Physically, the process begins when the larva molts, and then it basically eats itself. The old body dissolves, making way for the elements of the new. There in the caterpillar stew, something amazing is being created. The building blocks were always there, a latent impression within the larval body. But still, it’s a puddle of goo.
And what does this transformation entail? Not mechanically, but metaphysically? As the chrysalis is constructed, where does the self go? The old self, the one that has no place when the new self emerges…where does it go? Because it doesn’t just cease to exist. That self is still there, hidden at the innermost core, the seed that was planted to become this new self.
And what about the self in transition? The self held in waiting, the one that occupies the space between the old self and new self? That state exists too.
How terrifying it must be, to have to surrender not just one identity, but two. Without fully understanding what the new one will entail, all whilst remaking oneself from a puddle of goo. It’s a kind of death, really.
It’s also awe-inspiring. Not because of what it becomes, but as a testament to its own existence. The state of inbetween is brimming with anticipation, the promise of fulfillment. Life.
And yet, we idolize the butterfly.
Transformational literature abounds focused on the flight of the butterfly. Rebirth, renewal, rejuvenation. Re-something-or-other. Always, the chrysalis gets short shrift.
I know why.
Because this stage kind of sucks.
This stage is not pleasant to talk about. It’s pretty much impossible to articulate it without actually having lived in the goo, at least in some way.
It’s the state I find myself presently occupying.
There’s the me that existed before my son died. I’d be lying if I said everything was always fine for that me. It wasn’t. That me had experienced real, devastating trauma. A rape, the death of my mother, postpartum psychosis. Chronic invisible illness, ongoing mental health crises, and a frequent lack of a stable support system.
However, I’m pretty good at making lemonade from manky old boots and mismatched socks, so that me was generally content. If not happy, then definitely content.
There are few days that will ever be sharper for me than that first week in October 2014. That me had a business that was slowly humming to life. Plans for community outreach work that I was super excited to be involved in. And a baby that I had not yet grown impatient waiting for. I had a few more weeks, but really, I had all the time in the world.
And now there’s the me for whom everything has changed. This me is still waiting to unfurl my wings. I can feel that the new me is coming; there’s a sense of anticipation, a readiness. I do believe that that me will fly.
But this me is still hovering in the inbetween.
And THIS? It’s fucking terrifying.
This is more than grief. I have obviously ridden this ride before, so I know the dance, even if I don’t precisely know how long it will take. And it’s more than the reinvention of self, because I’ve done that a few times too. It’s not exactly like I’m new to the nuances of personal growth.
No, this is more like a sudden and increased awareness about the process of transition. Which sounds pragmatically neutral, unless you’ve ever given or witnessed birth. Transition in childbirth is horrifyingly awful. All of my transitory periods included some variation of the phrase, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m pretty sure I’m dying.”
Which is more or less what this feels like.
And maybe that’s what it is.
The old me is dying. That version of me will cease to exist. I mark its passage in strange, seemingly disparate ways.
I used to hate the “previously on…” TV recaps. They mostly leave out the important bits, and they take up a lot of time that could be used for actual plot development. Now I really, really like them, because I can’t hold the plot of multiple TV shows in my head any longer. The processing space for that kind of thing is just…gone now.
Likewise, I no longer seem to have enough room for the details of juicy internet drama or random trivia factoids. I still enjoy these things, but I don’t win at Trivial Pursuit.
My writing style has most definitely changed, and it seems to be permanent. I use fewer ten dollar vocabulary words and strive for clarity. But now I also have rhythm and meter, which the old me did not possess. For awhile, every word I wrote was stilted and choppy. Now, there’s flow. Creative flow yes, but also a stream of words, building and itching and TALKING in a way they’ve never done before.
Even my personality type has changed. Some of my favorite Myers-Briggs consultants tell me that I should wait until I’m done becoming, and that I will probably go back, but I don’t think so. That me isn’t coming back.
No, the new me is the sum of these changes, and more. These things probably seem small, but they aren’t. They are, or were, the very foundation of my identity.
It’s reinvention of the self that I don’t have control over. My values have shifted; my priorities have changed. I assume it’s for the better, because it’s not like I have any choice in the matter.
At the moment, all I can do is hope that the new me will be the best, most idealized version of me. The me that was always just out of reach.
I’ll admit, I hope that the new me is good at flying. To see the world with different eyes is both a blessing and a curse, but the new world is vast, and impossibly beautiful.
But really, my hopes for the new me are pretty practical. And firmly rooted within the realm of possibility.
I hope the new me is a little less anxious. And ventures outside more often.
I hope the new me has a little more patience with my children.
I hope the new me has vision. Me and the old me are somewhat lacking in this department. We see what’s in front of us just fine, but it’d be nice if the new me could see the next step with a touch more clarity.
I hope the new me has more balance. Not physical balance, because that actually would be impossible, but mental balance. The ability to take the good with the bad, instead of constantly wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. That’s a legacy of this me that I would like to leave behind.
Mostly, I hope. And I wait.
It’s all I have left, really, in this place of inbetween. In this time of almost becoming. Because almost nothing is certain.
Except for one thing. One thing, I DO know for certain.
The me I’m becoming? She is definitely worth the wait.