My college graduation was supposed to be a time of great joy. That joy lasted about two hot minutes before the panic set in. Two major realizations hit me like a baseball bat to the face. For one, the routine I’d had for the last five years was broken. Not that college allowed me to maintain the same schedule, but just the act of being on campus engaged in learning and meaningful conversation four days a week was going to be gone. I’m sort of an introvert, but I loved that time. It was over, and like I was going through a bad breakup, depression set in. Second was the fact shit was for real, now. I had to look for a serious job paying a serious wage because in six short months, I’d need to start repaying my student loans. That’s the point when the anxiety hit. I didn’t know whether to cry in my graduation cake or throw it.
Have you ever seen the cartoons where the characters are trying to play the piano, but they end up pounding on all the keys at once? That’s exactly what my brain felt like it was doing. I wanted to hit all the keys with both fists. My depression told me to sleep, but my anxiety wanted me to stay busy. I wanted to talk to everyone, but I didn’t want to be bothered with people, either. It was a cycle of chaos inside my brain where my emotions were entwined and working overtime. Meanwhile, I had to smile, remaining calm in the face of all around me because this was not something I wanted to have a conversation about. I just wanted to breathe and forget everything that was bothering me. Of course, that didn’t happen.
I think when we’re on edge, we absorb the energy of those around us more than any other time. Having conversations with another edgy person about issues that worried me amplified my own anxiety to the point I had to shut down the entire conversation. I didn’t walk away out of rudeness, mind you, but more because if I’d stayed a second longer, I would’ve hyperventilated. It was then I realized I was in trouble. I was enveloped in this cyclone, and I had to get out of it before it swept me off to a world I’d rather not visit.
For two days, I stayed completely to myself, or at least as much to myself as I could. I stayed in bed and binge watched a newly found television series. I read a new book. I listened to new music. Basically, I sought out new things because they don’t have memories attached. They couldn’t make my depression worse or heighten my anxiety by reminding me of sad times. I also allowed my body and mind time to recharge.
Being a student is no joke. I’d spent the last five years pushing my mind to new limits, depriving myself of rest and relaxation, and cramming more work into a day than is healthy. Exhaustion was no stranger, and I’m sure my mind and body had taken the toll. So, for two days, I gave back to myself what I had been bankrupting myself of: Sleep and relaxation. It felt amazing, but I realized two days wasn’t nearly enough. So, I vowed to myself to make regular deposits back into my sleep bank each day, even when I felt better. I promised myself some other things, too.
I realized when I looked too far into the future, I felt overwhelmed, and when I looked too far into the past I felt sad. I made myself the promise of “Only Today”. One day is much easier to digest than years’ worth, and so I resolved to look no further than right now if glancing far out made me anxious. Today is manageable. Today is a bite-sized morsel I can chew. It’s a place where I can make small changes instead of gargantuan life changes. It’s changing the channel of the tv instead of changing an entire satellite. Today is a gift of the here and now wherein exists finite concepts rather than futuristic abstractions. In the moment, I don’t have to project myself into the persona of Future Me. I can just be who I am without worry.
With the concept of Only Now, there is little room for the past, baring good memories. There is no need to dwell on sad events or nostalgia. Those times are unchangeable, and it’s counterproductive to Current Me to think about who I was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. I fought. I won, and I’m here. That’s all that matters. Current Me is a better person than Past Me, so I must’ve done something right.
Worrying about what will be or what was is so damaging to the soul. It’s like somehow those negative thoughts tell our psyche we aren’t good enough—that somehow we have no value, and that’s what really hurts. We have to break that cycle of self-abuse in order to survive in this world. We have to be our own biggest supporter, biggest fan, in order to live a happy life. To do this we have to shut off that nagging voice in our minds that wants to constantly look to places in which we don’t exist. Living in the moment seems like a concept of free-spirited people who have no cares, but it really is a concept highly motivated people need to adopt, too, if only for their own self-preservation. “Only Today” isn’t about being careless or reckless. It’s about caring about too many things all at the same time—hitting all the keys on the keyboard whilst trying to compose a symphony. It’s about preserving the mental stability of oneself in order to be successful. More importantly, it’s about staying alive and well in a world that would rob us of all happiness if it could. “Only Today” is the only time we really live. Everything else is a lie.