June 9, 2014

The thief who steals precious time

As I watched foamy white fingers dance across the dark green waves at the beach recently, all I could think about was time.

It’s the one thing we all share. It’s the one thing we can’t control. And it’s the one thing we can never get back. As orderly and predictable as time is, none of us can predict how much we have.

Toes pressed into the sand, I watched my children, so big and grown, play in the surf. Memories that made me smile and made me cry flashed through my racing mind.

I could see myself sitting in the sand with my daughter—a toddler at the time—building sand castles in that perfect spot on the beach, the smooth place where the waves slowly run out and then retreat to the water. She’s 15 now.

I could see my middle child, who didn’t like the sand much, sitting in a chair for hours with his finger in his mouth, soaking it all in while never complaining. He’s too big to sit in my lap now, and probably wouldn’t want to anyway.

I could see our baby the first time we took him to the beach, when he fearlessly crawled so far into the water waves were crashing into his face before I scooped him into my arms. He starts his last year of elementary school in two months.

Time. My relationship with time is stormy and complicated. I resent time because I’ve lost so much of it to my disease. There are things I can’t remember. There are life experiences that run together, tormenting me because I can’t remember each precious day I’ve had with my family.

Even our most recent trip to the beach is a blur in some ways, maybe because I was distracted with unexpected work and spent too much time staring at this laptop.

Time is hard for those with serious mental illness. Our days of suffering feel interminable, our good days fleeting and few. Maybe that’s normal, but I suspect it isn’t. My disease has caused me to miss much of life. What I would do to have every one of those really bad days back to do over again when I’m feeling healthy.

They say you should live with no regrets, never looking back. I don’t know why that’s so hard for me to do, but it is.

Mental illness distorts one’s thinking, so I guess it only makes sense it would distort our sense of time. We worry about the time in front of us, regret the time behind us and fail to appreciate the time passing by at every moment.

I hope those who read this don’t take it as whiny discontent or juvenile bitterness. I write about mental illness to help me cope, to give others hope and to help the “normal” among us understand what life is like inside a troubled mind.

I haven’t written in a while, partly because I’ve had longer periods of good mental health—but also because I’ve secretly been hoping the dragon has been slayed, never to return. I fear speaking his name might rouse him from his slumber.

The truth is I know the dragon is out there somewhere, still waiting for me.  He might even be just beyond those green waves.