many pixelated clocks

MS and Anxiety: The Passing of Time

Chronophobia

Around 2 years ago, I started developing an anxiety about the passage of time. A year later, my anxiety about all sorts of other things (as well as my depression) got so severe that I started seeing a therapist. We didn’t talk at all about the odd relationship to time I had developed, as it seemed like it was very low on my list of “complaints” and wasn’t even the reason I had sought help for my anxiety in the first place. However, while I have since learned to manage my other anxieties, the ticking of clocks only became louder (metaphorically, of course). You see, I know there is a phobia of the passage of time called “chronophobia” as well as a phobia of actual clocks called “Chronomentrophobia,” and without knowing any more than that (I have never actually looked into it), I can say I have no ill feelings about physical clocks themselves, just the thing they were built to measure (the passage of time), and even then I don’t even actually label my anxiety as chronophobia.

What does this have to do with MS?

Now, you might be thinking, “this doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with Multiple Sclerosis (MS),” but I would argue that it does (in my case, that is). I have thought quite a bit about this actually, about where this anxiety of mine came from. When I was in middle school, my best friend had a collection of antique clocks (don’t judge, they were awesome), and they were all hung up on every wall in his room. So when I would stay the night and was struggling to fall asleep, all I had to focus on was the unsynchronized sound of the many, loud, ticking clocks that surrounded me, but that didn’t seem to really bother me. I didn’t freak out like Captain Hook or anything. It wasn’t until after my MS diagnosis that I started to notice a growing anxiety over what felt like the finite amount of time I had to work with in life leaking faster and faster through a hole in the “fuel tank” that held it.

MS was burning through my time

And so, that is the best way I can describe my relationship to time; it’s like a set amount of fuel that we all have in a tank, and the passage of time is represented by the burning of this fuel. Just like how some cars can travel much further than others after burning the same amount of fuel, some people can accomplish way more than others in a set amount of time. I was reading about Elon Musk (the CEO and co-founder of Tesla and the CEO and founder of SpaceX) and how he is able to get so much done in a single day, how it’s like he is achieving two lifetime’s worth of work in just one, and that made me think about what I have accomplished in my life so far. I thought about everything I wanted to accomplish and everything that I am still trying to accomplish, and I realized that I just can’t seem to get it all done. I am no longer able to achieve the same amount of work with a given amount of “fuel” that I could achieve even just 5 years ago, and I 100% blame that on MS.

A race against the timer

I blame MS because for one, I obviously just don’t have the energy that I once had. I can only get a tiny fraction of what I used to be able to accomplish in a day done before I feel totally burnt out. This almost immediately causes me a great deal of stress because I’ll map out a to-do list for the day, and not even halfway through it, I will realize that I just don’t have enough time in the day to do it. Because I am moving slower (both physically and mentally), time appears to be moving faster for me, and I just can’t keep up. I feel like my fuel tank full of time has a huge leak, and this is where my anxiety seems to stem from. When I lose control over my feeling of not having enough time, I start to get an overwhelming sense of panic that I can only describe as an exaggerated version of that panicky feeling you may have experienced when playing some sort of timed game and the clock starts running out: the timer displays the remaining ten seconds in red, each passing second is highlighted by a beeping sound, and once the clock runs out, that’s it. Times up. You lose. “Pop goes Perfection!” (YouTube that if you don’t remember that).

Wasted time

I understand that MS requires a lot of rest, and I understand why MS so often requires me to take it easy and do things at a different pace as to not push myself too hard. And so, I fully understand that rest is not actually a waste of time, but I am 28 years old, and while all the people I grew up and went to school with are posting pictures on Facebook of them getting married, having kids, or buying their first home, I am lying in bed trying to work up the energy and motivation to simply make myself a meal. I can’t help but feel behind, and because I feel behind, I can’t help but feel like I am wasting time. This causes me to feel like the small amount of time I have each day where I actually feel somewhat productive is worth so much more, which only exacerbates my anxiety when I feel like that time is quickly leaking away. You might not worry about a bucket of water slowly leaking, but a bucket of liquid gold would probably be a different story. To me? Time is my liquid gold and MS is the hole in my bucket.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (21)
  • ElseN
    5 months ago

    Loved your article. Superbly written. Totally moving. And yes, bluntly put, MS sucks. There is no polite way to say it. I hate it. Yes, everything about it, I hate. I didn’t need a lesson, especially of this life-altering magnitude, to teach me to slow down, or teach anything at all, actually. Such commentary almost provokes me to cry “Uncle!!” Or, “Hey for real! I’ve learned the lesson!! … Can we move on now?”
    But to end on a hopeful, upbeat note, please check out Pam Bartha and her ” Live Disease Free organization. I did. I refuse to give up.

  • jangeo
    5 months ago

    Hi I’m Jan first thanks for sharing your story but this is crazy I feel this exact same way only I would word it different but I’m 40 yrs old with 2 sons one is 21 and the other 15 I recently lost there dad to a homicide so that’s been finacally hard but they think cause I look young and good that everything is normal and I try explaining to them it’s a fight every day to live that’s how I feel and I try not to let them know how much it’s really working on me now I had ms abt 10 yrs now it changed my whole life drastically but I’m a vibrant ambitious woman so it’s hard on my pride to feel so broken that I still try and take care of myself dress nice color and style my hair get nails and etc done but it dosent take away my pain anxiety and depression and even what I could do 5 yrs ago I can’t anymore I’m late to everything I mean everything lol I was late to my husband funeral my sons get so irk with me and I tell them I can only move as much as my body would allow and they look at me like I’m make excuses like hello u think I wanna be in my bed all day that makes me more depressed but it feels good to share with other people that understand what your going thru thanks again Jan

  • ElizabethS
    5 months ago

    This hits home so much I’m kind of freaked out. I’m going to be 54 next month – MS for 24 years – and turning 50 totally shook my world. I didn’t expect it to, which made it worse. I honestly don’t remember my 40’s. Without a job or kids, there really aren’t milestone to mark time. Sometimes I truly believe that someone could walk up to me and say “Just kidding!” and that I really am younger. Like I’ve been in a coma or something.

    Where’s the wisdom and confidence that comes with age? What happened to Time and how is it that most of it is behind me instead of in front of me. All the things that might have ‘possibly been possible’ a decade ago are now impossible. I hate the expression ”You can do anything you set your mind to.’ And I am clueless as to the popularity of bucket lists. If someone has already expressed an affinity for them, my apologies.

    The last thing I need is another list of things I want to accomplish before I die, but probably won’t. I already know I’m going to face death with a lifetime of regret if I’m not careful. Most of the time, I live like death is just around the corner. Granted, besides MS, I have a bunch of other chronic illnesses, but I am hardly on death’s doorstep.

    So I spend my time being anxious about the time that I’m losing as I live it instead of living it while I have it. To the point where I think, “Why bother? I’m going to die soon, anyway.” Oy! I keep reminding myself that I was going to die when I was making plans at 30, too And I didn’t know when then either. I feel like Chucken Little, except instead of frantically running around (and the anxiety feels frantic) yelling “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”, I’m yelling “Time is passing! Time is passing!” Gets me a lot more time, doesn’t it? I totally know it doesn’t make sense, and I’m working on it, but it’s all so ambiguous. And totally out of my control. It kind of does feel like the sky is falling and I don’t have enough time to put everything right. It feels really scary. I am glad to know, though, that I am not alone with having issues with the passage of time. No one has understood my anxiety over it, and I was feeling pretty out there.

    I meant this to be short! I should know better…

  • 11Little
    5 months ago

    I recently tried to describe this similar feeling of losing time to MS. I find myself getting up earlier to get my day started. I have more energy in the morning and it is quiet. Of course I also need to be quiet as my wife has 3 more hours before she wakes. This in turn keeps me on my reading and writing activities. Many projects for my home, children, and grandchildren seem too much to do and so little time to do them. I find exercise in small amounts has added time on my MS clock. The longer I can stay ambulatory the more I can get done. I was diagnosed in 1986 at the age of 34. By staying as active as I can and doing what I can for as long as possible I have challenged my own clock. I might say to you get some positive people and activities you want to have and your MS clock may slow.down.

  • ASAPcindy
    5 months ago

    This is a new concept for me. I guess I got lulled into thinking ‘well there’s always tomorrow. Time passed by in chunks like school semesters, summers, ect. Now my kids are established and on their own I think a lot about how much of life has already passed and what’s left. Now I have to wait two years for my husband to retire for me to start my life, and that kind of rankles me. I hate when I get like this, I know myself and have to be careful that I don’t spend a huge amount on eBay or Amazon due to boredom. I really just want to get on a train and go from here to California, have dinner, and take the train home. But everybody gets involved and they all get discuss me and what my limitations are and ruin everything before I even get started. My soul is not finished yet. Day lights burning and I’m stuck here.

  • Azjackie
    5 months ago

    Thank you to all for your sharing and understanding. It is impossible to share with those who don’t have a physical problem. They simply don’t understand.

  • Azjackie
    5 months ago

    You always write a great read.

    I feel the opposite. My bucket is overflowing and I can’t keep up. This too causes anxiety and depression. MS is like the sand in the bucket slowly being poured on me and when that bucket is empty there’s another to slowly be poured over me.

    Since my mobility sucks I figure the sand pile is at the extremely intense pain mid back area. When this all started I was trippy and dizzy so it was at my ankles. My legs then felt heavy so it was at my knees and thighs. Now I drag my body with the use of a rollater. My depression fear is I’ll be alive suffering motionless in a great big pile of sand.

    The worst part is I had a favorite cousin die in a construction accident. He operated a scraper scooping boulders. One got stuck emptying the belly over a pit. He climbed down into the pit to dislodge the rock with a shovel. Darned if he wasn’t successful. The boulders buried him.

    We were always told we were alike. His was fast and darn mine slow.

  • archtrip33
    5 months ago

    Powerful and relatable. I was diagnosed in 2015, and I feel as if I’m sometimes slow dancing in burning room. I wake up at 100% and I quickly deplete to 50% by mid morning. Ocrevus seems to be helping, but I do feel that clock!! Stay Strong and keep Positive!!

  • agapepilgrim
    5 months ago

    There was a time I would have written a long comment but now I don’t have time. Let me say you are using your time wisely to give others (MS others) the gift of your writing talent to put into words what so many of us endure every day.. Your writing brings me laughter, peace, knowledge, community, hope, courage, most of all the feeling that I am no alone, I am not going crazy, my pain and emotions and turmoil and myriads of other symptoms are real even though the medical field and the family field and the social field do not believe me. You believe me because you write of the same treacherous daily life. Even though you are not doing what your circle of known friends are doing (neither am I) you are doing an immeasurable service, an extraordinary gift to hundreds of people you will never see on Facebook (because that takes energy for us) but who look forward to your next post. May God richly reward you with inner peace and lasting joy

  • Karenhorses
    5 months ago

    I totally agree with every word you wrote and I don’t think I could express my thankfulness any better!!

  • NYCher
    5 months ago

    Hi Matt,
    I understand your anxiety and feel your pain. I was diagnosed with MS at 28. I’m now 53. Throughout the years, it has helped me to remember a few truths about life. Maybe they will help you too…
    Everyone’s life is special and unique. Looking at the media and social media particularly, it can sometimes look like there is one life to fit all, but that is not the case. You have your own unique path, which happens to include MS, but it can and will include many blessings too. Others will have their own challenges to face over time.

    MS will definitely take some things from you, and it can certainly change your plans, but it might also teach you to use your time most wisely. It can be liberating to remove those things from life that are not serving you well, and to focus on your heart’s truest desires.

    Just as there is not one “right way” to live life, there are also many ways to accomplish the same thing. Over the years MS has forced me to be creative in my thinking. Before MS, I had a plan. After MS my plan had to be drastically changed. Now in hindsight, I can tell you I accomplished some of those things in my original plan, but my methods and my timeframes were definitely altered.
    MS can be scary and it’s no fun. It really sucks to have limitations that we did not ask to have. Reaching out for support and sharing as you have, can really help. We may not all be your peers here, but we get it. And you’re not alone.

  • LuvMyDog
    5 months ago

    Sometimes, when we are going through something or other, we feel as if we are the only person going through it. Reading your post just now, it’s the first time I’ve ever read or heard of anyone feeling the way I do about time.
    I was diagnosed with MS before you were born, 36 years ago.
    I had a career, made a good paycheck, my house was always spotless, neat and clean, a place for everything and everything in it’s place.
    As MS became more of an enemy, more pain, more fatigue, far less energy, I just couldn’t do what I used to do. My house is no longer neat and clean, it’s kind of cluttered and I do care but I’ve finally accepted that no matter how upset I get over it, it’s not going to change anything.
    I do what I can, sometimes I do just about nothing in a 24 hour period.
    At my age, I feel that time flies by, one day it’s the beginning of Spring, a very short time later, we’re back to heading into Fall.
    I don’t have any phobias regarding clocks but the speed of time, especially as you get older, can be a little weird I think.
    The clock doesn’t physically run any faster than it did last year or 10 years ago but seems to because I’m not getting much of anything done anymore and it can be pretty depressing.
    Accepting MS and realizing your life has changed and will never be the same again is a start.
    Not saying that it isn’t miserable but I had to get to the point where I could say, “I don’t really care, I can only do what I can do and I can try to do better tomorrow.
    You can’t drive yourself crazy over something you have no control over.
    I’ve tried that….and it really doesn’t work. lol

  • Airtripper.NZ
    5 months ago

    I feel the same. I’m 50, so not starting at life, however, I look back with regret at the lack of accomplishments, or experiences, and I can’t help compare myself to peers my age, or old school friends, and grieve for the ‘time’ or opportunities MS has stripped from me.
    Plus its the quality of achievements that is frustrating. My idea of achievement is to try to get the dishes done and the kitchen clean. Seems a waste of that precious time, but its about all I can tackle these days.

  • WendyMinshall
    5 months ago

    I COMPLETELY get this!!! It takes me SO much longer to do things than it used to! (and not just physical things- but even paperwork & computer work) I used to accomplish so much and now I feel like I’m moving in slow motion. Yet- time is moving as fast as it ever has. 🙁

  • LizD
    5 months ago

    Terrific article—wonderfully expresses the thief that MS is of our energy…therefore ability…therefore actions…therefore time…anyone with severe neurological fatigue…not ‘tiredness’ …due to MS…will understand and feel a kinship with the
    writer…the good news is when we prioritise and accept, time is still there for the important , even seemingly insignificant moments, things.. and for our people…congrats to the writer on a fabulous article and read and best wishes…as Louis Armstrong sang… We Have All The Time In The World…even with and especially with MS

  • FatherAl
    5 months ago

    I am so sorry that you are having this problem. I do believe that our long term memory plays an important role for some of us. Your clock problem is a good example of how long term memories (especially those which were unpleasant or traumatic) can cause us to be anxious in our present condition. I do think that if anyone in your situation try to enter into contemplation emptying your mind of all thoughts and sitting quietly and comfortably for 15 to 20 minutes you might find some relief of that anxiety. You are receiving positive energy from me to help you through this very unpleasant situation.

  • Kath
    5 months ago

    your story is so touching! I too struggle with this. My time with energy, (if that’s what we call it) is very limited. I do feel sad for you because you are so young. We still have hope that they will find a cure! Stay strong

  • Scott52
    5 months ago

    Age 26 was my initial diagnosis. For years when my tank ran empty I would refuel with caffeine and sugar! You’re doing yourself a huge favor by taking care of resting needs first.
    My MS generated anxiety seems to come on in gradual waves. Living with the disease for 26 years now I’ve come to know the symptoms before they get too overwhelming and have learned ways to cope until they go away.
    The practice of meditation, or mindfulness, has helped me a great deal. Although the concept is something I’ve been aware of my entire life I’ve not really put it into practice until a few years ago. It is now a crucial disease management tool for me (along with strict adherence to The Swank Diet). It’s the only way I’ve found to “slow down time” so far..

  • angelag
    5 months ago

    I have never read anything that resonated with me so much. Anxiety, MS, time. Spot on

  • Kym
    5 months ago

    You are doing your very best and that is good enough.

  • Kim Dolce moderator
    5 months ago

    Matt, I can so relate to this. Weirdly so, in a way, because I’m 60 and literally facing the autumn of my years on top of those precious few productive hours each day that can pass with a feeling of emptiness, frustration, or regret. I can’t imagine being 28 and feeling in a frenzy about time, so I feel a bit sad for you in that stage of life when people are laying down roots and making memories. But also know that it is no small accomplishment to chronicle what it feels like to be you in these times, and to do it as well as you do.

  • Poll