How to keep nostalgia at arm’s length

Wow. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I came back from travelling. And four years since I graduated. And nine years since I left high school.

If similar statements often cross your mind, leaving you reeling at the fact that so much time has slipped through your fingers, then (like me) you might be suffering from a bit of nostalgia. And if your memories are bittersweet, tinged with a little sting of pain, you’re not alone.

I drove past my sixth-form the other day and found myself actually cracking a smile about all the happy memories I have from there. I probably looked like a maniac. But along with the memories, there was an unwelcome undertone of achiness in the pit of my stomach just thinking about the friends I’ve drifted from, the subjects I wished I’d tried a bit harder in, or even the tedious teenage mistakes I made.

It’s the same when you look at your tagged photos on Facebook from 2010 and remember the people who made that part of your life so special (once you manage to get over the tragic outfit choices, including the coral-coloured jeans and a coral-coloured checked shirt combo… oops). You scroll through the pictures looking at that huge smile you had, or think for a moment that you looked nice, but know for a fact that you didn’t think much of yourself at the time!

And what about your school yearbook, or the white (now yellowish) shirt that everyone signed in Sharpies, with messages – in amongst the crude drawings – from people telling you how much they’ll miss you? Somewhere along the line, your ‘BFFL’s became your ‘OBFNAS’s: Old Best Friends that you Now Avoid in the Street’.

The thing is, nothing happened. Nothing went wrong. When we said forever, we meant it. We loved each other, and we helped each other navigate those odd, awkward, hilarious years. We stuck together through it all, day-in, day-out because it was convenient and easy, and there was no choice. We didn’t have to arrange plans, because our social schedule was created for us in the form of break and lunch times. Losing touch happens and is totally normal. You can still cherish the memories and the people that made those years so great.

Nostalgia is personal for everyone, but for me there are two areas that cause me the most angst: losing loved ones, and a recent breakup. Grieving is normal for someone you loved who has died, and people (of course) make allowances for it. But what about grieving for someone you loved that is still here? Even when the end is amicable and you still have a lot of love and respect for each other, it doesn’t make it any easier to think about everything you did and had together, and imagining the life you might’ve had if X or Y worked out differently.

Ultimately though, we all know there is no point living in the past. It does much more harm than good, especially as we often look at it through rose-tinted glasses, unable to separate the reality and the fantasy.

There really is no point in putting ourselves through the trauma of dwelling on what was, and blaming ourselves for every little thing that we’ll never be able to change. I recently spoke to a friend who is mastering living as presently as possible, and is so much happier and able to cope with life’s challenges because of it. It has made me more determined to put my energy into focusing on right now.

Because right now is all we have.

Realising that without everything that I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be the person I am today has been helpful to me in feeling positively towards the past. But we all know that living only in the present moment is easier said than done, so what to do with nostalgia when it inevitably comes knocking?

I think the only thing you can really do is accept it – and even enjoy it. Be thankful that you had all those times with all those people, and learned things about yourself, and made that mistake you’ll never make again, and took that risk, and ate that food, and spent time with that person.

How lucky we are to have had experiences that we wish we could replicate, or to have come out of the other side of a challenging past.

We can’t always practice what we preach, no matter how hard we try. But we can try our best not to let our past hold us back from squeezing the best out of the very moment we’re in.

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