We have all of us at some time or another thought ‘I didn’t used to be like this. I was more flexible/had less pain/had a better memory/could multi-task/[insert whatever you were here]’. Certainly I do this, and I hear a variation on this theme from just about every patient I see, no matter the age.
First of all, what we remember of how we were is a story. We can call it true, we can believe it is true, but since it’s in the past, we cannot know it is true. I recently had a Facebook chat with an old high school friend, and was absolutely astonished that he saw me (remembers me?) as having ‘character to spare’ and as ‘an awesome non-conformist’, where I remember myself as painfully unable to find any niche at all, awkward, clumsy, an outsider. Over time, he has created a story of me that I now find immensely flattering (thank you, Jim!) and I have created a story wildly different. Whatever, doesn’t matter, they are both just stories.
Second, if every. single. moment in time is full of infinite possibilities and potentials, and each choice we take both opens and closes options, we can’t possibly be the same people we were even a nanosecond ago. We are changing somehow, some amount every moment, and in that sense, of course we didn’t used to be like this. We can’t stay the same unless and until we die.
Third – we can’t go backward in time, we can only go forward. Every sci-fi reader knows that, and even if it were possible, we would change who we are now – and the endless loop of that thought might be understandable to quantum physicists, but I would just get the whole world in trouble if I could go back.
Given that those statements are true, what do we really mean, when we say ‘I didn’t used to be like this’?
We are saying ‘I am experiencing something I really don’t like, and I want to change it for something that I think I once did well. I mean, what if this just keeps deteriorating and I die like this – or worse, or sooner.’ Bless our hearts, of course that’s what we mean, and why not? If we don’t like where we are, we want to get better – or at least different. And I suggest to my patients (and to you, and to myself), that wanting to return to a state that is fictional, while in circumstances completely different (that was then, this is now, you know?) hinders our ability to change where we are. Not just hinders, but closes off those infinite possibilities.
Relax. Everything is fine, it’s all going well. Embracing where we are… ok, maybe we can’t quite get to ’embracing’. How about: Accepting where we are allows the change to keep happening, life to keep flowing, new possibilities to appear. It’s okay. Really.
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