What do you do when you feel like life’s peak has already passed?
The passage of time has always felt like one long, constant loss for me. I tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses, seeing past events and time periods in my life as having been perfect and dream-like, even if I know this contradicts the reality. It sort of feels like a death that I am continually mourning.
Specifically, I tend to constantly idealize the summer after high school graduation. I was surrounded by an amazing group of friends, I was constantly traveling, I’d started to date the guy I’d gone to prom with for the past two years. And in a matter of weeks, I was headed off to college in the city of my dreams. At that time, life truly felt like a teen rom-com: We were all so content and incredibly naive in the best possible way, unsure of what the future held for us but reveling in beach trips, backseat makeouts, basement parties, and ice cream dates.
As damaging as it can be to our mental health, it is incredibly comforting and satisfying to scroll through our Snapchat memories, look at old pictures and watch old videos while reminiscing on “simpler” times. In my case, I experienced a painful level of nostalgia in moments of boredom and loneliness that would creep up on me occasionally during the first few semesters of college and the summers when I would return to my now-quiet hometown.
I got into the habit of stumbling upon snaps of me and my cross-country team on our way to our meets, my family and I at our favorite Mexican restaurant, funny videos of my old friends and I blasting music in the car, windows down. This became such a regular, emotionally-draining practice that it was bordering on masochistic.
A few things indicated that my unrelenting feelings of nostalgia had become damaging to my present self. I began to romanticize past friendships and relationships that were objectively toxic, forgetting all the bad parts and only remembering the good times I wanted to dwell on. I started picking apart my current appearance, simply because I had gained weight since starting college and didn’t have the same body I did at age 16.
Worst of all to my psyche, I convinced myself I wasn’t as intelligent anymore — in high school I’d religiously documented my studying in my camera roll, and looking back at this as a college student who’d achieved a healthy work-social life balance, I took it to mean I’d let myself go academically. I let these past versions of myself, a girl with a different schedule, different priorities, and a different outlook on life, haunt my current self to the point where I’d feel a physical ache, a yearning in my chest. To put it in simpler terms, I had convinced myself that I’d already peaked.
Funny enough, it was the pandemic that helped me reframe my point of view when it came to nostalgia. While in quarantine, when there was quite literally nothing to do, I found myself looking at memories and wishing more than anything that I could go back to life before COVID-19. I made a mental promise to myself that when life started back up again and I got to move back to campus and see my friends again, I would try my best to be present and grateful for every moment we had together, instead of focusing on a past version of me, one that didn’t exist anymore. And that’s exactly what I did.
All of this is not to say that I still do not struggle with intense waves of nostalgia. In fact, my current issue is dealing with an anticipatory form of it. As a senior, I’m attending some of the big events on campus for the last time, and I can’t help but constantly think to myself, “You’re going to miss this one day.” But whenever these thoughts start to pop up, I try to ground myself and remind myself that I am only detracting from the reality that is right in front of me. So I take a long, deep breath, look around, take it all in, and let myself feel the pure joy of the present moment.