Do you ever just feel like you’re floating through life?
Your feet hit the pavement, your weight transfers from the heels of your feet to the tips of your toes, yet you’re not really touching the ground. You feel everything, understand it cognitively, perceive it viscerally — register nothing.
The pandemic made this feeling a mainstay. Just the other day, I read a joke about this phenomenon: an exchange between acquaintances where one asks for the other’s age while the other replies, “23, but adjusted for COVID-19, I’m actually 20.” I chuckled in the same way people do when the joke is about them — when the punchline hits a little too close to home.
The reality is some days I still feel like I’m 15 years old. After the onset of my eating disorder at 14, the passage of time seemed to escape. Hours melted into weeks, into months, into years. I woke only with boxes to tick, rituals to fulfill, convinced that if I didn’t end the day feeling the ache in my bones, I was falling behind.
I imagine myself on the subway: propelled forward, watching the world coalesce, reduced into glimpses of color, fragments of one continuous reality. There are moments of hyper awareness of right now, moments I’m walking down Dwight Way or Piedmont Avenue, jarred into realization that I am here. Although my feet move to the same rhythm, they beat against a new pavement, an ocean away from the stomping grounds I call home.
These moments of realization are brief, yet potent — moments that I stand in the shower, stunned at the revelation that self-care is no longer such a draining feat. That now, doing tasks that previously zapped my energy — brushing my teeth, eating breakfast, doing laundry — are now just tasks I tick off my to-do list. It feels silly to say, but some days I still marvel at my ability to perform such menial tasks because even just a few years ago, the mere thought of doing so was unfathomable.
Still, nothing throws me for a loop quite like questions about the pandemic. Questions that leave me grasping for things I never really had — no prom woes, no senior prank day, no propelling my graduation cap into the air. I laugh about my silly little 8-bit prom and Zoom graduation, but even that sounds hollow.
The panic over time passing begins with the pandemic and concludes with the realization my timeline first fractured well before lockdown, when my illness began. The clock kept ticking while I ticked the same compulsive boxes and traveled down my self-constructed maze. Each day was only a variation of the last.
Today, I scroll through my camera roll and realize I have only a handful of photos of myself from the last five years. For the entire duration of my illness, I had endured every day with the intention of one day getting better. I did everything in service of my future self: avoided buying new clothes unless they could one day fit my healthy self, avoided the camera so I wouldn’t be pained with a remembrance of a shriveled existence.
Compounded with a faulty memory from an underfueled brain, some days I don’t know how to explain to people that I can only recall the last few years in a barcode-like manner. That I willfully rendered myself invisible and erased the edges of my identity. In an effort to preserve the sanity of my future self, I never comprehended how my inaction in the present only prolonged the pain. I relentlessly planned and waited, when what I really needed to do was just start.
I’ve known grief before, but never over something I didn’t have. When time warped in on itself and I stepped into another dimension, I didn’t anticipate the whiplash that demanded to be felt. The startling realization of missed opportunities, of relationships that diverged, of people growing parallel to each other. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with grieving bygone potential, but somehow I’m grateful it only hits me in bursts. I’m fortunate that it doesn’t plague the forefront of my mind. At some point, constantly revisiting the past means lingering in some sort of purgatory — a subconscious sacrifice of the future.
And perhaps therein lies the real grief. To continuously celebrate a previous version of yourself is to simultaneously acknowledge that you have already peaked. To believe this, even unconsciously, may hinder us from pursuing further growth — a self-imposed limit that perpetually loops us back into the past. Perhaps it is best to reminisce glimpses of our glory days rather than relive them. Only then are we able to fully comprehend how we’ve arrived at our present.
The truth is we hold the most power from what we pursue in our present. Each day is a chance to reevalute whether our current actions align with the futures we envision — to pivot in the right direction and muster up enough courage to take the first step.