This article was originally written by Eric Shapiro
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Let us first consider the role of time in our lives, then let us consider that role in terms of mental illness. Buddhists and Hindus, among others, propose that time does not actually exist. The Western world, however, with its dependence on clocks and deadlines, scoffs at such a notion, relying upon sayings such as “Time is money” and “Time is of the essence.”
Time is of the essence. What an expression. Its inherent suggestion is that time comes from our essences; time exists within our souls. This is consistent with the Western position that time was discovered rather than created. Then again, the question haunts us: what if we did, in fact, create time? What if all our ticking clocks and watches amount to nothing more than a symbolic quest for orderly and coherent living? It’s a terrifying yet convincing idea.
One considers, then, how time functions from the perspective of a person with a mental disorder. The sufferer of depression, or anxiety, or psychotic ailments, likely travels life’s trajectory in creaky slow-motion. Catchy sayings such as “Life’s too short” make such victims grin wearily, responding in their minds, “No, life’s too long.” Given the incessant presence of pain in the victim’s mind– the ceaseless worrying, excessive self-reflection, and troubling sensory distortion– hours tend to stretch, stretch, stretch until the act of exiting one’s bed in the morning becomes overwhelming.
Another kind of smile, likely even more weary, will cross the sufferer’s face when met with this maxim: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Indeed it does, and indeed the patient’s schedule leaves no room for fun of any kind. Unless, of course, one counts the quiet joy of the moment when the depressed person sees that it’s already six o’clock and thinks, “I can’t believe I’ve made it another hour.”
It is this writer’s suggestion that given the dark relationship between the aching mind and the ticking clock, the mentally ill should ignore time altogether. Take a note from our Eastern thinkers and do not, as my father always told me, “try to live the whole future in one day.” Again, time needn’t be regarded as a finite fact of life. One may choose to doubt it, or, moreover, disapprove of it! Who needs time, anyway? Whose mind needs a sweltering flurry of images from a thousand yesterdays and ten thousand tomorrows?
The path to wellness may take two months or it may take two years. This is of no consequence. The moment is of the essence.