I think, like many of us, I have a tendency to feel overwhelmed by the worries and troubles of the present. These challenges always loom large in my mind and seem easier to notice than the blessings and unexpected good moments of any given day. I’m not so much a “glass half full” person as I am a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” person, and I find that I’m often so preoccupied with anticipating setbacks that I forget to look around at the good things that I have. Lately, I’ve realized that when I look back at old phases in my life, even ones that were difficult, I always feel overwhelmed by nostalgia for the good parts of life that I now miss rather than remembering the challenges or pain.
As someone who’s freelanced most of my adult life, I’ve had more of these transitional phases than you might expect of someone my age. The company I worked full time for my first year out of college often left me feeling drained and stagnant; at the time I was in a deep depression and wasn’t finding anything fulfilling about my new adult life after making the monumental move from North Carolina to Los Angeles. Now when I look back on that era I remember the friends I had at that office, the free catered lunches, and the trendy neighborhood and adorable 200-year-old house I called home for that year.
Since then I often found myself either working long hours in television production roles or scrambling to find writing work. I would find that whichever position I was in, I would yearn for the one that had come before. When I was sending out dozens of copywriting applications a day I would miss the financial security and structure of my TV jobs and when I was working 12 hour days on set I would miss the freedom and autonomy of my gig work. Now that my production days are more distant, I don’t tend to linger on the difficulty of the work, the long hours or the fast-paced demands. I feel genuinely lucky to have worked in entertainment as I’d dreamed for years, even if it wasn’t in the TV writer role I had envisioned for myself. I’m thankful for the days I was able to traipse around real movie studios for my job and I’m grateful for all the friends I have now that I met while working various freelance jobs. Any time I find myself near an old apartment or old workplace all I feel is nostalgia for the good times and remembrance of the things I miss, not resentment over my struggles and difficulties. It’s been so helpful in learning that there are always good things in life you shouldn’t take for granted, no matter what your circumstances look like.
This lesson, that it’s important to appreciate the positive things in life while you have them, only became more urgent as our world changed forever in the wake of COVID-19. How many days did I spend feeling bored or dissatisfied where I would now be thankful just to go to a movie theater or museum or get coffee with a friend? If this time has taught me anything it’s the true breadth of experiences I was taking for granted, and how many tiny things there were, and still are, to be thankful for. If I can look back on even the harder parts of my history and find memories that I want to hold onto, I can be sure that there are still things to be thankful for even in this time that has been so painful and challenging.
What things will I miss from this era when it has passed? There will be so much to rejoice when the quarantine ends and when even our most vulnerable are protected from this virus, but are there things I will grow more appreciation for after we all move on? I might miss the dedication my friends and I have had to stay in touch with consistent video chats. I might become thankful for the reduced pressure to always be productive. My anxiety often tells me that if I ever slow down or stop moving that I won’t be as valuable to the world and having the world itself force me to come to a stop, sit inside and focus on small accomplishments might be a lesson I’m better off for having learned. I’ve been around more silence and loneliness than ever before and even though I’ll enjoy becoming more social again I don’t think I’ll ever shake the love for being alone that I’ve cultivated in the past year.
I know I will feel so much relief when I no longer have to go to bed worrying for the safety of each of my friends and family, when even the most trivial distractions like movie matinees and theme parks are safe and open once again, when I can travel to see loved ones without the fear that I’ll be putting them in danger. I hope in that next stage of life that this one stays with me and reminds me of the time when small parts of life I’d always overlooked were no longer guaranteed. I hope I’m able to take whatever stressors, setbacks or frustrations come and measure them with the thought: “at least I can hug my friends again.” I hope that this consistent feeling of nostalgia for the past can guide me into gratitude for the present and future as well.