I'm sure we've all heard that phrase used before to describe the phenomenon of seeing the past as better than the present. It's an interesting paradox, and I remember being fascinated with it when I studied it in class. The term was coined when studies found that people looked back with fondness on the "good old days of past," often describing it as simpler happier times. However, the past the participants looked back on fondly included wars, famines & other awful things which their brain simply omitted. Even now, we can get nostalgic for our childhoods or for older times when life just seemed better. The 'Rose Colored Glasses' paint the past as a place we long to go back to, because of its' superiority to the present. But when one removes those glasses they often face the cold hard truth that the past is rarely better. There are many theories for why this phenomenon exists: Perhaps it's a coping mechanism the brain uses to get through present hardships. Perhaps it's denial. We may never know for sure.
Having a Psychology degree made me very self aware of the ways our mind can play tricks on us. However, I still fell for the trap of 'Rose Colored Glasses.' For a very long time after I got sick (and began treatment 24/7), I longed to get my old life back. My life "pre diagnoses" looked perfect to me. I wanted to turn back time and go right back to my old city, be with my old friends, do all my old things. To me it looked like the ideal time, and truthfully that is absolutely absurd because my life pre-diagnosis was hell. I was barely managing symptoms, skipping days of work due to pain, had very high stress, and absolutely no activity was enjoyable. Why on earth would I want that back??
Well my friends, that's how strong the pull of those 'Rose Colored Glasses' were. My life changed quickly and drastically after I learned I had Lyme Disease. Suddenly, instead of going to work and grabbing dinner with friends it consisted of me lying in bed day after day, watching the months pass by as I suffered through endless treatments…and it felt like a nightmare. In that moment I would have done anything to trade it for the years before, because at least then I had a social life and a semblance of independence. So I clung to that, and I wished so badly that I could go back to it. Every single day in my mind I was mentally living in the past, and you absolutely could not have convinced me that my old life was anything but perfect.
At some point as the years went by, things changed. The glasses came off and I finally saw my past for what it was. Truthfully, it was not a particularly fun pill to swallow. My denial kept me safe, and removing the 'Rose Colored Glasses' made me face many hard truths. But facing those hard truths allowed me to realize that I want WAY better for myself than my past. It allowed me to get unstuck & see that I would rather fight through these hard battles in the present for the promise of a BETTER future.
I do not want to be merely surviving, I want to be thriving. I do not want a life full of stress and chaos, I want a life of peace and certainty. I do not want fickle friendships, I want to fortify my relationships with those who really support and love me. I do not want to be constantly reminded of pain, I want to create new memories with joy.
I used to want to go back to my old city and plop back into my old life. Now, I honestly would be content if never set foot back in that place. All I would see everywhere I looked are bad memories, pain & sadness. I had a very rough time pre-diagnosis and I can't think of one location or event that doesn't have a painful memory tied to it in some way. "Oh look, there's the restaurant where I got into an argument with a friend for leaving early and being flaky when a migraine hit." "Oh look, there's the stadium where I had to hide in the port a potty for 30 minutes while my anxiety attack passed." "Oh look, there's the Kroger I doubled over in pain in." It's remarkable what you can see when you don't pretend the past is a safe haven. In a way it's sad, because all my wonderful memories over the 5+ years I lived there are overshadowed. Even the happiest memories have fine print attached to them, pointing out another instance when something not so great happened. It might sound so strange to some of you reading this, but if you've ever been through something traumatic you will likely understand. The brain will shield you from that trauma, often near erasing it from your memory if you let it. But as soon as you unmask what's behind the curtain and take a good hard look, the pain can feel crushing.
All I do know is that I want and need my future to be devoid of that. I want a fresh start & a happier more balanced life. And I want that for myself in the NOW. I refuse to wait for some future date to be happy or wait around to create my joy. This is why I relish any good day or any achievement I have now. Because I want to tie all my happy memories together and let them be stand alone moments which stick in my brain. I don't want to look around my childhood home and only see pain. I want to see milestones, accomplishments & wins. I want to see friends who've came to visit & stuck by my side reminding me that I'm loved. I want to see the goodness from my God who continues to give me hope. So that even when I look back on this past without Rose Colored Glasses, I will see it's truth, but I will also see it's joy.
Christina is the founder of Lady of Lyme, a blog chronicling her journey to find health with Lyme Disease.