I have reached a somewhat odd phenomenon in my life.
It’s May. I have traveled back from school to the house where I grew up and notice my dog’s face is much whiter, and my next-door neighbors in elementary school have grown three inches since July. The last time I was here snow blanketed my lawn, and I thought I would be 19 forever because my birthday and summer felt like light years away. Now the sun sets at eight instead of four and summer is upon us. But I know if I blink for a second too long it will soon be winter again.
What I am experiencing is somewhat of an annual occurrence. But this time around it feels more daunting than normal. Usually during the month of May, school comes to a close, summer begins and I celebrate my birthday. Growing up, it felt like turning the page to a new chapter of my life, specifically in terms of my grade year and age. However, in 2021, I experienced several unusual events on top of the standard May ones. A romantic relationship I started around this time last year ended; I just turned 20 and exited the realm of teenage years; and simultaneously, I began to re-enter a somewhat normal world after a year and a few months of a global pandemic.
This series of events forces me to become conscious of time again. And by conscious, I mean panicked.
Time is like flying in an airplane. We are going 500 mph, but out the window the world seems to move slowly with us. Moments feel long, but years speed by. I dread the last two hours of my shift at work because I know it will feel like an eternity, but I panic about how half of my time at college has flown by at the speed of light.
Where do the days and weeks go? I look in the mirror everyday and think I see the same person I saw the day before the last. But the Snapchat memory from a year ago today shows me that my face has slimmed and the way I do my hair has changed. So what else is different? Am I smarter? More successful? More confident or more anxious?
Or am I just the same?
Thinking about this logically, I realized that time is a constant. There is absolutely no human error or greater force that could affect it. So why is it that our perception of how it passes is so warped and twisted?
To try and answer these questions, I’ve decided to make a lab report. (To clarify, I am a film student barely finishing my natural science requirement with one credit about aliens, so there is no true science here).
During the month of May, I panic and spend most of my time thinking about time. I fear that my life is passing by too quickly and that I have lost all control. I sit in the same place that I sat around a year ago and notice I still haven’t read that book on my nightstand and I never reached out to that old friend like I said I would. I fear that I am not living up to the expectations that my past self had for who I am today. A year ago I dreamed of all the things I’d do when I got back to Ann Arbor for school, but now I sit at home wondering if all these past months just went to waste.
Moments feel long, but years seem to speed by. Therefore, it is important to reflect properly in order to avoid panic and acknowledge growth.
Dramatic internal monologue
These are the steps that I took in order to reflect on the past twelve months of my life. It happened somewhat naturally as I sat in my room late at night wondering how I would be entering my junior year in the fall, but I realized it’s an effective way to take a step back and clear my thoughts.
First, accept the dramatic internal monologue and acknowledge it. Write it down on paper so that it doesn’t have to stay trapped in the mind. This can be in the form of word vomit, poetry or drawings.
Next, shuffle an indie, underground band’s album on Spotify. Maintain a low volume to not distract from the thought process. Ideally music will have minimal lyrics. Light that candle in the corner of the room that has been collecting dust since the year before and if LED lights are accessible, set the mood with purple.
Then look through photos from the past year. Jot down milestones, details about friends, vacations or personal appearances.
After, open up the journal to a fresh page.
Reflect in writing on the ways that I have grown and changed over the past year, and the ways that I have not.
Consider physical and/or materialistic achievements and growth.
Listen to music that I enjoyed during past months of the year. Note what memories are evoked. In reflection, compare and contrast mental states or emotional phases from months past to today.
Draw conclusions from data and pat self on the back.
Observations and data
Upon reflection, I noticed that it’s much easier to track more tangible achievements and count them as growth. For example, this past year I completed my first computer science course. During the first week, I could not fathom how I would understand the difficult material by the end of the semester, but day by day, lecture by lecture, I learned the language. I wrote my first full screenplay, which I am quite proud of. Each week we wrote 10 pages and each week I thought, “How am I going to do this?” I remember staring at the first empty page and fearing the next 80. But my professor told us we must write just as sharks swim; they never stop. I wrote and wrote until the end of the semester and poof, there was my movie. I joined a marketing club and landed my first internship. I learned how to make crispy tofu and I made many new friends despite my life revolving around Zoom.
Like I said, I can look through the documents on my desktop and the photos on my phone to remind myself of all of these past achievements. But how do I capture internal growth and change?
Compare and contrast. A year ago I was scared of the gym and the weight room and to have anyone look at me while I worked out. Today I walk in without fear. A year ago I thought that saying no to people close to me made me a bad friend. Today I am learning that saying yes is not always equated with kindness and likeability. A year ago I was terrified of sitting in the dining hall alone; today I value, and even prioritize, my solitude. A few years ago, I thought I was ugly and unworthy. Today I find beauty in things other than just my looks and feel like the world would be missing out if I did not add my contributions.
There are also many things in my life that have not changed. I just ordered my fourth pair of Reebok sneakers, and the song “Only Child” by Tierra Whack manages to make its way onto my On Repeat playlist each and every week. My dog still likes to be chased around the living room by my parents every night, despite her turning twelve in a few weeks. My ability to play the song “River Flows in You” on piano because of muscle memory still remains. And here I am, one year later, writing for The Michigan Daily’s Statement section again. This all reminds me that growth does not necessarily revolve around change.
I have come to two conclusions with my lab report. The first is that time flies when you’re growing. I know this sounds cliché, so allow me to elaborate. Growing can be painful, like when our legs have spurts at the age of twelve or when a relationship with someone we love ends even though it’s what’s best in the long run. We are lucky that the moments in which we are growing feel like they flew by because the agony and long days filled with tears are now a fleeting moment lost in time. It is only when we stop to reflect that we can see who we used to be and compare them to who we are now.
My second conclusion is that even when it feels like our greatest enemy, time is on our side. It gives us these reminders (sometimes in the form of panic) to try our best to live in the present, but appreciate how far we’ve come from the past. Years can be daunting milestones, but they are also filled with endless memories, accomplishments and setbacks that shape who we are becoming. So, I believe that the panic I feel each and every May is rather just a reminder to myself to reflect on my growth and mentally prepare for the next twelve-month chapter of my life to begin.
Statement Columnist Nicole Winthrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.