The Answer Is “Time”

“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit”

An acquaintance of mine is going through a depressive episode that she’s elected to go public with on Facebook. It’s a pretty textbook case: loneliness, isolation, alienation, lack of vitality, all of the above. Much of it seems to be centering around a perceived lack of emotional reciprocation from her friends and peers; in other words, she’s putting a a lot of energy out, but not getting a lot in return.

A lot of her friends have offered their support, of course, along with a lot of kind words. They don’t seem to have helped a lot; she’s still pretty inconsolable. So I asked her to elaborate upon her experience, which she did. “No one answers the phone when I call, no one ever wants to hang out when I ask,” she told me. “Only when they want to…I’m the wallflower in my life.”

It strikes me that the reason she hasn’t been getting a good return on her emotional expenditures is not due to the antipathy of her peers, but to not investing that energy wisely. Rather than cultivating an active social calendar, making future plans that will set herself up for social success, she has instead has been trying to pursue the more spontaneous social life she’s always enjoyed, with continuously diminishing returns.

Doing so doesn’t leave much room for compromise, but *does* leave her holding the bag on a fairly regular basis, along with a growing sense of frustration and unease that is only growing worse.

As we get older, time becomes increasingly precious, and spontaneity increasingly becomes a real bitch for people to find. While I can’t speak for her experience, I imagine that there really isn’t anyone in her circle of friends who isn’t routinely booked two or three weeks out through with a combination of jobs, kids, hobbies, or events.

My life and my community are very much the same way, myself included. All the same, I used to take that shit real personally for a long time, like she has been. It took me a while to realize that, in the rare moments of spontaneity we all find ourselves with from time to time, some of them felt exactly the same way I did, and that she does: lonely, un- or under-appreciated, ignored, unloved.

What I now understand is the what I was feeling was not actually those things, but the fear that gives them power; fear over a loss of control or influence over people’s lives, an influence that doesn’t actually exist, at least not in the way that I thought it did or perhaps wanted it to.

Acknowledging that fear didn’t magically erase it for good, but it does make it easier to manage, by granting me a certain degree of clarity that allows me to embrace and move through the fear rather than trying to stare it down or bottle it up. Those only bring about emotional paralysis, and self-loathing. Now instead, I can take action: go for a bike ride, read a book, play my guitar, or make plans with someone for another day.

This post was based off of a comment I left on her thread, to which she has yet to respond as of this writing. I don’t know if she will or not, but I hope that this makes as much sense to her as it did to me, and in a much shorter period of time. It took me years to sort this one out, and the “solution,” as it were, ain’t exactly foolproof. Time will always grind us down and steal our freedom, but with a little perspective and a little planning, we can steal at least some it back from the future.


This was originally posted on Pink Elephants on January 10th, 2017. For more Pink Elephants, click here.

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