Managing the Pain of Time

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So let’s talk about time. How it passes, how it stops, how it hurts, how it heals, how it just exists.

Or how about time feels as it ticks along? If you’ve ever felt pain I’m sure a friend or two offered the sentiments, “In time, you’ll feel better.” If time’s relative, it’s not that time literally slows down or speeds up for certain people – I’m sure science has a better explanation – but that we all feel it differently.

I’d like to argue that how you experience time is directly related to how satisfied you are with our current predicament. The happier you are the less you concentrate on the moments, because they’re so great you just let them fly by. The more pain or frustration you feel the more you analyze the moments, and suddenly a minute feels like a day.

So could it all be about consciousness? Perhaps the more we fixate on our feelings, on our situation, the slower time passes for us.

People will tell you not to live in the past, but isn’t everything but our current breath the past? The struggle to live in the present will always be that – a struggle – because present constantly becomes past. Words don’t bounce back, shattered love doesn’t reassemble, and – as I’m sure you already know – you can’t be who you were yesterday.

Then there’s the factor of age. The more you live the more you remember, the more you have to remember. Within the past five years, I’ve experienced more sadness, confusion, pain, loneliness than I’d wish on anyone.

That’s another thing, the more alone we feel the slower time passes for us. Fixations abound and you fill your mind space with analyses of past events, of how you used to feel, and how you related to others. The latter is the worst. The questions concerning how relationships flourish and crumble are infinite. When the present doesn’t feel right or doesn’t make sense I believe you always return to the past, because when the present feels wrong sometimes the future ceases to exist. More often than not, you’ve got the past figured out; it’s your foundation, the only rock you have left.

So in times of personal crisis we round up the past – our memories of how happy we once felt – and begin the process of a mind numbing analysis. Although our conclusions might provide some logic, our efforts are always futile. While the past may be the only time tense you understand fully, it’s the one that just doesn’t matter once what’s done is done. Everyone says you can’t change the past, but I’d like to add on to that. The longer you analyze the past, the more memories are dumped in the past. The process never ends but becomes increasingly burdensome and overwhelming. After all, you can turn back the page, but the story remains the same.

It’s a futile attempt to reach closure.

Or you try to cope by filling your time with new people, new activities. It’s the busy pill. You book your schedule with work, errands, socializing (that you probably don’t have the energy for anyways) all with the hope that with more to do you’ll have less time to think. But then the time required to take care of yourself – to rest your mind and body – diminishes and you start to deteriorate. Now your emotional stress is compounded with the anxiety of doing everything well enough. But you so quickly that the one thing you should do “well enough” is take care of yourself.

Why is it that the more alone you feel the less time you feel you have to simply take care of yourself? To eat healthy, to exercise, to sleep, to socialize with people who care about you, and to just remind yourself of your gifts and talents. You shouldn’t have to make time for yourself. That time should always be a given.

I’ve come to believe that my first priority should be to be kind to myself, because at the end of the day I’m the only person I cannot avoid. This is an idea that took me over twenty-one years to value. If someone hurt me in any way – a friend, a family member, an acquaintance – I’d spend a disproportionate amount of time reflecting on the issue than he or she spent causing it. And they didn’t have to deal with the pain, I did.

So if it’s my pain to feel, shouldn’t I have some control over it? Shouldn’t I have some input on how it concludes? In light of these thoughts, I’m thankful for a quote from John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars that “pain demands to be felt.” Yes, pain demands to be felt, but feel it, process it, and let it go.

Pain’s a parasite. It latches onto you and tries to leech joy, optimism, and energy from you. So when you feel that bite, when pain sinks its teeth into you, remain aware of your situation. Let it leech only the causes of pain and fight its efforts to steal your concentration and appreciation on the joys of the present time. The less energy and nourishment you give pain, the more quickly it will die, and you’ll thrive. Of course there’s pain that will always last a lifetime, like the grief from losing a loved one to death, but that’s the kind of pain you should choose to manage. Remember the good, not the end.

But how can you detach yourself from pain? It all lies in trust. Trust in yourself, in the validity of your feelings, in those who show you love and support, and trust in the future. Trust that the future has joy and opportunity to offer you in exchange for your belief in its possibilities. Doesn’t it make waking up easier in the morning to imagine greatness rather than doom? I try to remind myself that as often as I have the strength to, and it’s my wish that you do the same.

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