Nostalgia’s Role in Chronic Illness

After the initial hurt of breaking up with a romantic partner, we have an almost instinctual tendency to remember all of the bad times about the relationship rather than the good ones. Oddly, on the other hand, when illness forces us to break up with the familiarity of our old lives,  we have an almost instinctual tendency to remember all of the good time rather than the bad ones. I am not speaking of a healthy optimism regarding our memories, where we productively try to focus on the positive side of things; but of a more manic, delusional relationship with our past in which we subconsciously create a gateway to escape the flaws of our present lives by subconsciously transforming the mind into a kaleidascope to wistfully reshape our memories from when we were healthy into  false pictures of ecstasy and flawless bliss. This inherited collective human dysfunction we all suffer from at one point or another serves as one of the many archangels of delusion -it’s name is nostalgia.

Basking in the glow of remission, followed by a harsh and unexpected relapse, forced me into a peculiar state of nostalgia. Before I reached remission the first time, I would spend many days lying in bed, staring at the wall, daydreaming about my past. I would pine over the things I used to do, the things I used to see, the people I used to know, and mostly, the person I used to be.

However, after my first relapse, I found myself nostalgic about the memories of the person I was when I first got sick. You know, the one who would stare at the wall wishing to go back to the days before she was sick? Yes, that one. After my relapse, I wanted to return to a version of myself when I was sick, not before I was sick, because that girl was strong enough to persevere through countless hours, days, and years of darkness and torture. She was strong and I desperately needed her so I could heal again. Then it occurred to me that I am already who I want to be. I am the same person, albeit a little tamer, that I have always been. I am me, at a soul level, and it could never be otherwise.

The other elephant in the room with this realization made it blatantly obvious that if I was now yearning for a past in which I spent my time yearning for a different past, then the past really was not my problem at all. My problem was, and still often times is, an unwillingness to accept the present. The girl I was before my relapse had just as many ups and downs as the girl I am now does. If there is one lesson nostalgia has taught me, it is that I would be wise to pay attention to the present moment. To be here, now. To be me, now. To meet myself, NOW. Otherwise, I may not meet the person I am today until years down the road when another inevitable misfortune comes my way and nostalgia settles in. Even then, those memories are bound to be painted with illusion.
If I am always thinking of the past or the future, rather than giving my undivided attention to the beauty of now, then what am I fighting to live for? Why would I want to live if I do not want to feel alive? And, why did I ever think my body has to be cured for me to feel alive? I can close my eyes, and feel the aliveness in my hand as I type this. Feeling alive can be experienced anywhere, even in isolation, because it brews within and flows outwards It turns out, nostalgia is not too bad after all. It served as a wake-up call for me to stop waiting to live, to stop believing I cannot feel the intense joy of being alive until my body is cured. I am finding ways to be comfortable with the fact that I am uncomfortable. I am learning to break down the walls of nostalgia, step over the bricks and rubbage, and step in the serenity of the now.