I’m lying in bed and I glance over at my dog who is sleeping next to me, curled up like a little cinnamon roll with the sweetest look of on contentment her face. I want to take this moment and capture it to have forever, so I pick up my phone to take a photo. But as I look through my view finder I realize that no matter how I change the angle, and no matter how I shift the brightness, what I see on the screen doesn’t look anything like what I see in real life with my eyes. I keep playing around with different angles, but it never looks as life-like and real as what I am seeing. The essence isn’t there, no matter how hard I try. 30 photos later I eventually give up, and set my phone down.
Thats when I glance out the window and I happen to see a beautiful sunset. This time I grab my fancy DSLR camera and I head over to the window. I begin to play with all of my settings, shifting the f/stop, the contrast, the ISO; but again, I can’t seem to capture what I’m seeing in real life. Sure, the photo looks beautiful, but not nearly as breathtaking as the view I have in front of me. If I were to show someone this photo they wouldn’t feel what I feel in this moment. It’s impossible to replicate the big open sky with the pinks, reds, and oranges dancing together in swirls as far as the eye can see.
Maybe that’s just a parallel to the reality of life. When you try to re-tell a story to someone it never packs the same punch as the first time you lived it. No matter how much detail you try to put it in, and no matter how many words you use to try and paint a full picture, it will never be exactly the same as the original experience. And that’s because the current moment you are living in, you can never get it back. You might take a picture to remind you, and your memory might be there to try and re-play some aspects; but you can’t hold onto it, you can’t grasp onto it, and you can’t feel it the way you felt it when you’re physically there.
There is much to be said about living in the moment. It sounds cliche and it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. You only get one chance to live a moment, and after that it’s gone. So often in this world we are distracted; we’re distracted by the news, we’re distracted by our phones, we’re distracted by a worry that a week from now will mean nothing. And later we will think to ourselves, “what a silly thing to have been so consumed with that I wasn’t savoring the time with the people around me.”
I think back even to my high-school/teenage years. And I think back to what my biggest worries were, or things that I had arguments with my parents over. I think about the things that I was upset about, the fights I had with my friends, or the worries I would stew over. And I laugh about them now; I laugh about them because they are so insignificant in hindsight. Yet I also look at how much of my precious time they took up, and how much anxiety, stress and unneeded worry they created. And most importantly I look at how many missed moments they took because I wasn’t able to be present.
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All of these things; all of these worries, all of the depressing news stories, and all of these non-issues.. they feel so big in the moment. They feels so consuming that nothing else can co-exist with it. Joy doesn’t feel like it’s welcome in the room when all of these worries are there. But at the same time, in this fast paced world, when does it ever stop? If you don’t sit down and carve out time to detach from it you will just be pulled into the next cycle and the next cycle until you find yourself full of anxiety and low on real joyful memories. Because there will always be a worry that feels bigger then you, there will always be heartbreaking news, famine, wars, people fighting. It will always exist. In this world when you turn on the tv or pick up your phone the worry is everywhere. It’s in your face, on your feeds, and consuming your mind.
I think back to family vacations when I was a little girl, before cell phones existed and before TV’s were in every room. Back in those days if you wanted the news you had to buy a newspaper, so when you were on vacation you got essentially no news and didn’t talk to any friends. Those might have been the last pure occasions when I was truly present in a moment. I remember buying disposable cameras to take photos on, and buying souvenirs to remind me of all the memories I made. I wasn’t taking photos with the thought of “I wonder how this will look on social media,” and I wasn’t buying souveniers to fit any kind of image. My life was carefree, my joy was genuine, and I was 100% present in each moment. I remember those times vividly, and I miss it often.
And just like I can’t capture that perfect sunset in a photo, I will never be able to fully feel how I did in those moments long ago. The memories help, but it’s not the same. So this is a reminder that you have to live now, while you can.
If you take what I just said about worry and you swap that word out for anything – symptoms, struggles, heartbreak – then you’ll see that it can be all consuming. And it’s often so consuming that it takes away from your current moment. Trust me I know, because there are times when I have no choice but to research and read about my ailments for hours on end to help myself. There are times when I am in a flare and struggling so much that all I can do is read about remedies or things I can try to ease the pain. Other times I have pill alarms and reminders barking at me, or I am stressed that I forgot to take a med on time. But, the tricky part of this is that yes there are moments where I must focus on these worries, and then there are other moments when I don’t need to but I still do. Because I get stuck in default worry mode, and if I don’t manually turn it off it will run on a loop for eternity. I will worry about things long after they are out of my hands, or I will fret about something I can’t change. Sometimes even after I’ve read everything I can read on a health topic I will still re-read some articles for fear that I missed a piece of useful info.
And so what I’ve been trying to do is carve out time for when I really do need to focus on the so called worries around me. I devote time to researching what I need and allowing myself to feel what I need to feel; be it sadness, anger or grief. And then when I don’t have to, during times when it isn’t absolutely necessary to be stuck in that mode, I forcefully put myself in a state where I am present. It’s a time where I put my phone down and just enjoy the world around me. And if that means sitting in my bed and doing a puzzle while I listen to a podcast then I want to be fully present in every aspect of it. If that means baking and chatting with my mom, then I want to savor every sight, sound, smell & feeling. Because these are all moments I will never get back, and I don’t want to only be halfway present while my mind is miles away worrying about something I can’t change or fix. My whole life could go by like that and I would look back and wonder where it went. That thought scares me. I want to treasure my life and the people around me more, even if this world is moving more towards getting us to spend endless time on our phones. I won’t buy into that, because it only brings anxiety in its’ wake.
You cannot get moments back. Just like you can’t recreate a sunset in a photo, you can’t ever go back in time and live it again. This is your one chance, your one shot to savor the people and beauty around you. Even if you are ill (especially if you are ill), each day can feel so consuming and difficult to get through. So if you don’t stop to be present for the good, no matter how small, then so much of your life will pass in sorrow. And one day I promise you will look back and think, “wow, I could have enjoyed this person in my life more had I not been so distracted and consumed, where did the time go?” It will break your heart all the more in retrospect.
Christina is the founder of Lady of Lyme, a blog chronicling her journey to find health with Lyme Disease.