The Fickle Art of Time Travel

Anxiety. It often sits in front of me. Shaking, vibrating, and pulsating in the chair; ruminating, thinking (narrowly) hyper-focused on the negative, catastrophic, fringe excesses of potential endings to the event they have in their mind. It’s the hook into the past, dragging along those unmentionable memories. It’s a snag point in your cognitive fabric that is easily hooked by any pattern that reminds you of it in the present. You begrudgingly leave it to germinate, without recourse. Like a good friend; that you hate. It’s a warm and knowing response. Hell, it’s a protective strategy that has likely bailed you out of a situation or two. And, it’s a bit of a bitch to deal with.

It’s also a chain, carefully placed and wrapped delicately around the future. Grinding to halt the plans of the now, and placing over your eyes a lens of indescribable lies, but that seem truthful enough. The mind, you see, has shielding its clear view a mental filter. And, it is through this mental filter, tinted for negative evidence, which the mind plays gatekeeper. And, it is relentless and ruthless, in its objective: prevent, at all costs, any evidence that what you think may happen in the future--this catastrophic, infinitesimally improbable outcome--may not happen.  

Sounds like a treat.

But, that’s the fickle art of time travel. With the need to balance constant barrages of evidence that you are, in fact, fine in this moment with the immediate and equally as heavy pseudo-evidence that the world is collapsing underneath a feather’s weight. I can see it. I can sense it.

I can feel it. And, I’m 2 feet in actual distance away from you.

We approach this wrong, though. Time travel has always been about going back and exploring, with the ultimate goal of returning enlightened. We want the feeling as if we made a difference. We dream, in unison, of stopping horrific and tragic world events. We dream, individually, of stopping horrific and tragic personal events. But, as far as I can tell, no one wishes to pitch the tent and squat a while there. Time travel is, ironically, a time sensitive project.

Take the issue of spending too much time “back there”. If we have learned anything from the fiasco of those astute researchers Doc Brown and Marty McFly, it’s that consequences abound when you mess with the past. Therapy, certainly, is not messing with the past. But, instead, it’s changing our relationship to it. Less McFly becomes “jock-slayer cum cool kid” more “McFly learns to place his story in a way that makes sense and he grows from it”. And, if it weren’t for that meddling kid and his genius sidekick – he might have had a chance to experience that cognitive growth.

When time travelling – pick a destination and a reason. Lacking this, you are apt to check in to the dystopic and destructive resort of “You” for a stay indefinitely. No need for armbands here. But, you are less ready to recall your most recent stay, how miserable that was, and how ruminating on that uncomfortable past is much more unhelpful than taking some deserved nugget of knowledge as a souvenir. Making sense of our pain neither means reliving it both from regret of what we did, or didn’t do, nor does it mean that I should melt from the fear of what consequence may result in the future. Making sense of our pain means we must move through that experience, placing it on the proper, realistic, non-judgmental, and honest bookshelf of “your life”. Think like a millennial in this sense – collect experiences, not negative, overwhelming things. But, maybe leave all the other millennial traits right where you found them.

But, that’s the fickle art of time travel, the feeling that we are simultaneously doing everything that we possibly can and not doing enough. Anxiety probes us incessantly with “why” questions. In our newly adulted minds, this seems like such a mature meditation. Why does the Earth spin, it must have an answer. Why do plants reach for the sun, it must have an answer. Why me… it, too, must have an answer?

This is the trick of anxiety. Why me? There will never be an answer that you can conjure that satisfies and quenches the thirst for this quest. It’s such a noble attempt and yet, misguided and uninformed. This is exactly what anxiety wants. And, it never wants to you to understand and believe that asking a different question is not only more helpful, it’s your stainless steel, Delorean going at 88mph. It’s your path back to the present.

Instead of that inner child curiously positing why’s to the occurrences in your life, ask yourself “how do I move from here?” or “what next step is right?”, or “where do I want to go?” Recovery, you see, isn’t a return back to the “good old days” free from anxiety, though you might wish that. It’s a new normal altogether. It’s a cognitive revision based on the typos you find when you thumb the journal of your lives. The new edit, the final draft, are based on the soul of you still (after all, you are still you), and yet the words or font can be wholly different that those in the first draft.

And the best part is you’re the writer.

Anxiety. It’s the fickle art of time travel. One, with the proper mindset and a few tools, you can master and navigate toward growth, towards progress and towards the present, truly and fully. Because anxiety works to keep you stuck – but, growth works to get you moving. What are you going to do, when you next travel time?