In Spanish there’s three tenses to describe the past – maybe there’s more, but to be honest I had such a terrible lesson today that I’m just going to speak about the three I kind of know – also this article poses absolutely no relevance to the title, it’s a metaphor. Keep reading.
There’s the Past Indefinido – a tense that refers to point blank things that happened in the past.
Then there’s the Imperfect – a past tense used when you did things habitually in the past, or you’re adding to the description of a past event.
There’s the Pretérito Perfecto tense that refers to something in the past relating to something in the present.
Confusing right? For one, what if you couldn’t stop thinking about something that happened in the PAST but was a regular occurrence so therefore it was an event in the IMPERFECT PAST and kinda interrupted the time you were intertwined in that time and then keeps popping up in your PRETERITO PERFECTO.
Exactly – confusing much?
Let me use these tenses as metaphors for Emily’s life.
My therapist was/is a psychoanalyst. I was in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for five years up until I went travelling. I knew it was too early to leave and he would often tell me it was too early to leave; that these thoughts and feelings wouldn’t go away with travelling. I knew that but I couldn’t not travel. I’m fully aware the depression I have about my Dad’s illness won’t go away in another country or the anxiety I’ve got from previous relationships won’t just magically disappear with the next person I’m with, it’s just really hard to not over think being crazy.. it’s hard not to let your mind over think so much that you end up not being able to eat, crying as you’re on a cross trainer working at 80BPM so you nearly end up having a panic attack and then try and force yourself to eat when really all you want to do is block the world out.
I’ve had an imperfect life but for SO many years I’ve tried to pretend it’s perfect. “Your dad’s disabled?” -someone would say – “isn’t that hard?” “Sure! Obviously it’s hard but could be worse eh!” I’d reply robotically. Like so robotically that as I would feel the tiniest bit of pain in my chest I’d push it away, digging my fingernails into my palms and trying to focus on that external feeling rather than the internal feeling. My analyst, when he would ask me about my Dad would regularly tell me I wasn’t taking my sessions seriously, to which I would tell him to lighten up. But actually? He was right. I can’t speak about my Dad to you properly, like really properly, without typing it out. Even now, my eyes are filling up with tears.
This weekend in Malaga, I asked how his medicinal cannabis was helping him (I managed to get him onto this before I came to Spain). Despite it helping to relax his arm which has spasmed up and is immovable, he has told me he’s virtually lost all feeling in it. As he was talking, I could feel that familiar pang of pain and swallowed it down.. it became anger. Why couldn’t he JUST get better. Why is he SO DIFFICULT.
I was with my friend Georgia at the time – Georgia who is fast becoming my Australian partner in crime and a wonderful being of rationale to my anxiety. She’s also a Physio – I know, I pick my friends so well – and she started to advise my Dad on the Physio exercises he could do to try and strengthen the muscles he wasn’t using. Whilst she was describing the exercises to him, and I was watching him on FaceTime, I, for the first time ever since I saw my Dad get ill, was able to accept that it hurt to see him in this way. It’s real pain to see someone you care about stuck in a body that doesn’t do what it should do. And you know what? I can’t change that.. it’s not going to get better, MS is not an illness that improves. It’s okay to say it hurts really bad, and it’s okay to feel pain. Real, real, real pain, lodged deep inside where it’s been locked away for so many years. I guess the trick here is trying to work out how on earth you can find positives within this, how to not let your depression turn into anxiety or anxiety into depression and then ruin your day completely. Not sure on that one tbh, I’m working on it by writing, but it’s pretty hard to change your automatic reactions. Any thoughts? Always appreciated.
They’re all bastards in their own way. They can be great in lots of situations, for example, today I was walking across a road and some idiot nearly ran me over. My automatic reaction was to stop. Thanks very much to the human body for saving my life. Another example, I was busy crying on the cross trainer whilst working out really hard earlier, trying to force my feelings into nothing, so much so that I thought I was going to throw up – so I automatically took myself to a supermarket to buy a rehydration drink and a banana that I can’t really eat right now but hey ho. THANK YOU AUTOMATIC REACTIONS.
Then why are they bastards?
Well for example, they remember everything and they don’t let you forget much easily. Let’s take relationships.
You know when you’ve been with someone for a really long time, and the things that used to upset you, make you worried, make you feel second best/third best/fifth best (but instead of discussing them, you’d obviously be called crazy instead) and therefore you pushed them down into the same place as the feelings of pain from your Dad’s illness?
So there they are, ALL the feelings from your Imperfect past chilling out in the pit of your stomach, having a ball and slowly they rise for different situations reminding you what it feels like to feel like a piece of rubbish, not good enough and not worthy enough. And then in turn, your brain is like yep, I must conspire with these feelings, you’re clearly never going to find someone who puts you above everyone else, let’s make you feel even worse and throw in a little bit of anxiety – enough to make you unable to eat and cry on the cross trainer – but not JUST enough to give you a full on panic attack (thanks guys) and also why don’t we throw in some imagination. Why don’t you think about all the worst situations possibly, all the women the person you’ve been seeing has been with/was with/might be with JUST for good measure because seeing as you feel terrible, you might as well feel worse right? Oh and on top of that, here are some reminders about the four year relationship you were in where you were subjected to the use of Tinder and ex lovers from the past but then told you were crazy if you were upset.
Oh and just a reminder? Your dad’s disabled.
Oh, one more thing, you can’t speak to your Grandad because he’s not here anymore. He can’t calm you down, it’s ALL ON YOU.
Yeah, these thoughts? They’re kinda gross.
Well BELIEVE me I’ve thought about being fully alone, fully, completely, never going back to the places and the people that ever caused me any kind of pain, because I can’t be bothered to feel like this anymore… but then again, maybe this will always happen with someone I’m with? Just like how I can pretend everything is fine with my Dad but actually it’s never going to feel okay until you’re changing your mindset to feel calmer. Maybe it’s just what happens and it’s more how you deal with it rather than avoidance eg. talking about your dad honestly or in this case, not avoiding romantic situations entirely but learning to communicate about your fears openly to work on resolving them. It has taken me THIS long to realise jealousy is an emotion you can’t help. Nor should you be told off for it and called crazy – it makes it worse. But the thing is, it can take over, can’t it?
When I was younger, all I ever wanted was to be nice to people and for them to be nice back. To love someone and to be loved the same amount I could give. My heart is full for those who can return it, which means it can get easily broken. I know people have a past, and maybe because I was with someone for so long who wouldn’t bother trying to understand where my anxiety was coming from, coming across untruthful and secretive, that the thought of ANYONE’s past is terrible for me to think of. But like a sick addiction, it gets worse and worse in your head to the point where they’ve got 7 wives, 5 children and regularly engage in gang bangs. *Cue Emily breaking down after Spanish class and having her awesome Spanish teacher give her life and love advice in Spanish. Aka DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY*
These thoughts can be the worst thing possible, like literally today? Eating is not a thing.. it’s just not. I need time out, I need to remember I am in control of what I want and don’t want – and nobody has control over that for me. Or maybe these thoughts aren’t bastards. Maybe they serve as a purpose of what you don’t want, the people you DON’T want to be with – the ones who couldn’t help you calm down or begin to understand your problems – and help to open up a door for someone with a past to come in and say yes I know it’s hard, but it’s okay. Or maybe to open up a door for someone with no past who will never hurt you – but I somehow doubt that’s a thing. Or maybe I should be all alone and not deal with anyone.
Or MAYBE it’s the way that I deal with things that need to change. That’s the hard thing, I think to myself I just cannot be with anyone until I’ve lost my feelings of jealousy and panic, but if EVERYONE has a past – unless I want to date a frog – the same feelings are going to come up over and over again .. so it’s kinda my call. Only I can trust my gut and knows what’s right.
Well, life isn’t perfect is it.
No relationship is perfect and no one within those relationships are perfect.
Being in a completely different country, living next to an entirely different life is far from perfect. You can be happy for moments on end, laugh, smile, have great conversations with Spanish teachers and lose yourself in music, food, colour and cultural experiences.
But there’s also the dark side of travel. It’s the feeling lonely, the depressive thoughts about your sick dad, the missing your grandad, the anxiety over relationships you had in the past that are creeping into your present, and you can’t decide whether or not you’re going to end up all alone with 8 cats because you just cannot deal with jealousy, and you can’t see it easily go it away. But hey, who even THINKS about jealousy and sadness this seriously eh? Who just automatically feels jealous and takes it out on someone else – so winner winner chicken dinner this is a positive that I’m writing about it and appreciating it rather than using it to its full, evil potential.
Travelling is bringing out ALL these feelings. Whilst I know so many people travel and have the best time, this has been a whole new experience for me emotionally. It’s proving incredible and insightful, thought invoking, beautiful and fun. It’s showing me clearly and also not so clearly what I want and what I don’t want for my life. I’m recognising the things that make me happy and the things that aren’t going to make happy and how to help myself – just about – when I don’t feel happy. (Alone time rules!)
Ultimately, the past happens for a reason doesn’t it. In whatever context, in whatever tense, it’s the past that is creating every point of your present right? The past hurts, hell today? It’s hurting more than most days. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to lose these feelings of want, sadness, jealousy and anxiety and I also don’t know if I should – maybe they’re there to protect me, to keep my barriers up from falling too hard before I go away for such a long time. Maybe they’re there to help me accept my Dad’s illness to eventually allow me to heal from it. Maybe they’re there to tell me that my Grandad’s passing wasn’t my fault.
Maybe, when I’m sitting in a cafe, trying to force an açai bowl down me, they’re there to tell me you need sleep, self love and care and the reminder that no one BUT you can burst your bubble. That you have the power to choose happiness and what you do with it and you have the gut feels to know what doesn’t make you happy and what you should do to change it.
I don’t know if this article made much sense? All I know is that in order to focus on the present, right this second, I must accept the past – with all its nastiness, its pain and its hurt – and use it to inspire me to be better, to feel better and to not let it pull me down into the pits. It’s going to be hard, but I’ve got this.