Question: How Much Time Is My LifeTime?
June 21st, 2018. I have an idea.
An idea for an imaginary world. A world I might write into a story one day.
It's a world á la Narnia, or Punxsutawney, or akin to an Allende novel just bordering on realism.
A world in which time… slows down. It slows down because our hero can’t keep up. She can’t keep up because she lives with an illness.
She lives with an illness like many I know do today: it’s chronic, and mysterious even to her, with a name like Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue or Something Arthritis or Rare Disease X. She got it from the bite of a bug, or an infection that never went away, or from waking up one day and feeling off. Years later, we see her exhausted by the effort needed to sustain – to wake, eat, shower, type, talk, eat, rest, sleep, wake – and falling further behind because she doesn't have time for the work it takes to truly heal.
(Yes, this is me. But it’s also so many others.)
Then one day, our hero goes into a machine and comes out. Or she gets struck by some electric force. Or she takes a pill the wrong color from others in a jar. Or something. The next morning, she wakes to find that time has … slowed down. It has slowed down to the speed she needs to truly wake, eat, shower, type, talk, eat, rest, sleep, wake. She does, indeed, do more with this time. She produces more work. She makes more money. She visits more doctors. She sees more friends. She gets more sleep. She’s not cured -- there is no immortality, here. But she gets more in her lifetime.
More happens, in this imaginary world that I’m creating in my head. There are antiheroes, and action instigators, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that arises she must surmount. But yes. When I write up a world of my choosing, it will be one in which I can slow down time.
And yet, I have slowed down time already. In some small way.
Two years ago – June 21st, 2016 – I took myself off of social media and dating apps for forty days.
Back then, I was woefully unhappy. Actually, at the time I didn’t know I was woefully unhappy. I just knew that I felt lost in a fog of discomfort: At thirty-four, I was long single, chronically sick, and going further in debt despite working away at a freelance writing and radio career that, on the surface of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, I spun as going rather well. I couldn’t seem to move any of these forward. I couldn’t seem to clear the fog. And I never seemed to have the time to stop moving and, instead, simply sit and examine what the hell the fog even was.
My phone had become a fifth appendage, attached to my fingers as I walked my dog, went to the bathroom, and moved from car to subway to couch. It held the majority of my conversations. On it lay the possibility of romance. And, as I laid alone in bed, sick, a world of happy people out and about kept me company… or provided a dark contrast.
Setting off on my quest without that digital world moving with me, reality crashed in, fully technicolor against what had felt muted and hazy. I quickly learned the flimsy rooting of my core had more to do with the dizzying speed of the world around me than the 5G speed of online information flying.
And so, I learned how to stop in the center of it all.
What do I need, right now?
I asked myself this question in the calm silence. Then, it began to echo.
On a porch, panicked in the fear that I would be offline alone for three days and no one knew or cared: What do I need right now? Wine? Food? Sex?
Then, when the forty days were up and I decided to keep going for A Year Without, taking out shopping for ninety days, then sugar for thirty, then not giving holiday gifts, then more, then more...
In line at a coffee shop: What do I need, right now? Do I really need this coffee? Will this coffee fix this wound?
The night of the election, alone and not allowed sugar or alcohol: What do I need right now? To call someone? A cigarette? Will giving in and making a martini fix this panic?
When nervous before a first date and not finding anything to wear in the closet: What do I need right now?
When on the subway and not allowed to use my phone or read a book or distract myself because of whatever without I’d chosen for that day or week or month: What do I need right now?
When feeling physically crushed by pain from my illness and not able to watch television or eat a brownie or whatever without or just because I'd been challenging habits for two hundred days and so knew to ask myself:
What do I need right now?
After months of taking out habits, airing wounds, and letting them heal, I learned to recognize that I can always stop and ask myself – What do I need right now? – What do I want right now? – What will best help me move forward right now? – What should I prioritize right now? – What will make me happiest to choose right now?
In that, I’ve somewhat learned to slow down time. But… not really.
Two years ago, I was single, sick, and broke.
I’m no longer single. For nine months now, I’ve been dating a wonderful human, and am more in love with him than I’ve ever been before. (The shock of this hasn’t begun to let up.) I’m still sick – sicker than I was on June 21st, 2016, scarily. And I’m not as broke: I have more work and better-paying work, and so I’m chipping away at the debt I’d gotten into and am far less anxious about paying daily bills than I regularly was before. The good things – being in love and making more money – require more of my time. Illness requires tending and attention, too.
And so, I craft the idea of this imaginary world.
Because, as I've pondered the most drastic way in which my life has changed since this day, two years ago, I haven't narrowed down a win to only the man I love, the work I do, the reclaimed way I use social media, the weight I lost after going off of sugar, my far healthier relationship with alcohol, the more creative way in which I dress, my increased self-confidence, or the voracity in which I tear through paper books or comb sidewalks so to reclaim furniture – gifts and discoveries from My Year Without that all bring me great joy.
No. I ponder slowing time.
Because, pushing through the fog by challenging and replacing habits, I realized we don’t get much time even in the clearest of circumstances.
We get one short, fleeting life.
“That it never comes again is what makes life so sweet,” as Emily Dickinson penned from within her own solitude.
And so, if I don’t stop and take what I’m doing into account – if I don’t choose what I most want to be present for within each moment – I might as well stay in the fog, letting all float around me, obscured.
And so now, on June 21st, 2018...
I am a human aware as she wakes, eats, showers, types, talks, eats, rests, sleeps, and wakes again.
And I know exactly what I need to get up and do right now.