MS and Anxiety: The Passing of Time
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).
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.