There’s something comforting about looking at a map and seeing the little symbol that says, “you are here.” You may be surprised at where you find yourself on the map, but you’re not likely to argue with it since it just is what it is. When it comes to living life, however, how often do you fight and argue with where you find yourself on the “life circumstances map”? Much of my work as an Orange County psychologist is helping people come to terms with where they are in their life.
It seems a great deal of our angst I see doing depression therapy comes from people trying to be somewhere they are not. We want to avoid the pain, stress or boredom of where we are at, fantasizing that someplace else will be better. We want to be older. We want to be younger. We want to live somewhere else, have a different job, different friends, maybe even a different spouse. The truth is each of those escape routes will likely have their own struggles as well. There is no version of life that is free of difficulties.
The tattoo picture in this article is a real one. If I were to get a tattoo, this would probably be the one that I would pick. When I saw it, I asked about the back story. The heart-wrenching truth of the tattoo was that it was a reminder for this man to stay present and connected to his wife as she slowly died from a terminal illness. It would be more comfortable to run or escape the pain, but that escaping usually causes its own pain. Even more, an escape would have missed the depth of connection on the journey for both of them. It was a limited time offer for an experience that can not be had again. The beautiful memories and experiences could not be had without staying present through the difficult parts: they exist together.
In the movie “Click,” Adam Sandler finds a remote control that has the power to fast forward him through the unpleasant parts of his life, leaving no memory of, or influence on, those events. As he uses the remote control more and more, it begins fast-forwarding him through his life without his input. Now instead of skipping over small things like having a cold, fighting with his wife, tasty family dinners, he is missing large life moments like graduations, time with his kids, the death of his father and other life events he wanted to experience. He loses years at a time and becomes a stranger to his own family as his body goes on auto-pilot with them for years at a time. Much of my work as a psychologist in Orange County involves helping people slow down and process parts of their life they sped through to avoid pain or because they were only focused on future goals. Sadness and struggle that is stuffed back down only ferments into depression and anxiety that then need therapy.
How often do you find yourself just getting through situations focusing on the next thing? You may find the situation painful or boring, but what are you going to miss when you refuse to engage with what the present reality has to offer? I’m reminded of this often when spending time with my children. Honestly, sometimes the games they want to play aren’t that interesting to me and I have other work I could be doing. It’s tempting to ignore or zone out while playing another card game of “Uno,” but the reality is that I really enjoy my kids and know that these are limited time opportunities to connect. So I realize that this is where I am and enjoy the moment for all that it is.
So life is not the future. Living doesn’t start once you get to some goal down the road. Contentment doesn’t begin when your life is free of struggle. Life is now and it’s exactly where you are. This is where you are, like it or not. Embrace life and living for what it has to offer now, because this today with be history tomorrow and there is no do-over. Have hopes, dreams and a vision for your future, but live the day where you are now.