Can I Learn Anything from Nostalgia?

I drove through my hometown recently. I had just gotten done running an errand in the neighboring town, one I have rarely visited since leaving the area. I had the Black Crowes’ new album playing. I was still in my work clothes, ready to be done and back home, which was over an hour away. I hadn’t expected my GPS to route me through the small town of 1,500 people that I grew up in. I also didn’t expect the feelings that came up when I did.

I’m not a nostalgic person. I try not to indulge in memories of the past because, if I do, I become “homesick”, per se, of a time I used to live in, a person I used to be, a place I used to live. It hurts to feel that sort of sickening in your stomach that can’t be alleviated. I don’t see much use for this feeling. Memories are nice, but they don’t do much for me in a practical sense, and I have trouble appreciating them at face value.

Despite my aversion to nostalgia, I was hit with a strong wave of it as I drove through Chapel Hill, Tennessee. It was still the same in many ways–advertising the tractor pull, a few mom and pop shops amongst the name-brand franchises, 2000s-era, vinyl-paneled houses sandwiched between clumps of much older, country-style houses. More retail stores had popped up, much to my surprise. How much could this small town be demanding in the way of goods and services? I wondered.

The people of Chapel Hill sure hadn’t changed. Old folks in old clothes with old routines. They probably were born and raised there. They’ll likely die there, too. I don’t know who chooses to move there, but like my family when I was little, it was probably because it was cheap. I don’t know if it’s still cheap, but it doesn’t look like the kind of place I would choose for myself. Too slow, too small. I had the privilege this day of driving straight through. No reason to stay.

My family had moved there because my dad was a pastor. I didn’t know what that meant at age 5, but I grew up in church, essentially, and spent my life with those church folks until 2008. I drove past that church on my way through. It has a new fluorescent sign. Moving on up in the world, I thought to myself. There were more buildings around it though now. I nearly didn’t recognize it as I drove by, aside from the outside looking exactly the same. My memory of it was having a huge yard, including a slope in the back and a big oak tree–or was it maple? There was a lone storage shed and that was it. A little backroad, Blackwell, I think, ran off the side of it. The trailer I lived in for so many years was in the adjacent yard.

I felt so many different emotions and images crashing my brain, nearly short-circuiting my memory. I didn’t know which thought or feeling to chase.

Playing outside for what seemed like hours after service, coming up with crazy schemes (“We should build our OWN bus for traveling! We can use anything in this yard!”), getting scolded for scuffing my shoes or messing up my hairdo, chasing the boys, gossiping with my best friend, teasing my brothers, sitting in my parents’ van listening to the Top 40 with Casey Kasem on Sundays. Rolling down the slope in the backyard. Hearing stories of how it used to be a pond that would outlet at Duck River. I remember someone telling me that if you put a duck in the pond out behind the church when it rained, it would end up at the Duck River. I remember thinking, how could it do that when there was no drainage? The old parsonage that we tore down on the lot is where I stepped on a nail. I didn’t start crying until I saw I was bleeding. I still remembered how that old building smelled inside. Since we were the pastor’s family, we spent a lot of time there at the church (and it helped that we lived next door). We had a lot of potlucks at church, which was good, because I was always hungry.

What do these disjointed memories mean? Effective to my current life and situation, virtually nothing. However, my experiences throughout childhood, including these seemingly inane details shared here, helped shape my personality, my mind, and my views of the world. Everything in our lives, for better or worse, impress upon us different lessons or truths.

I don’t assign special meaning to memories just because I associate them with a feeling. A memory making me feel nice or good in of itself is not valuable to me. I cannot recreate the situation in those exact circumstances, so it is in vain for me to feel attached to it for too long.

What it really comes down to though is that I am almost 30. The little girl who grew up playing by that oak tree would not have imagined the life I had now. She may be sad or confused or upset in some way. Would she think I failed her? Would she forgive me? Would she even care? I remember pitying certain people as I grew older because I didn’t want to settle; I didn’t want to “be like them”. Complacent, unchallenged, lazy.

Now I find myself with a college degree, pursuing a career that has been difficult to sustain. I have no goals that feel reachable due to waning energy, high levels of fatigue and chronic pain, as well as recurring mental health issues. Sometimes I feel like I’m sinking. Sometimes I feel like I’m climbing a mountain and having a grand time doing it. Other times, the mountain looks more like a chore than a fun challenge. Sometimes I think I’ll just one day die and this will be the prevailing mentality–that everything is a chore and I have nothing good to look forward to.

How foolish for me, a 29-year-old, to feel that my life is basically over! Ah, I’ve done everything I’m capable of. Might as well die.

Except I’m obviously not going to do that. I do get tired of this same song and dance. The pattern of highs and lows. Not being able to sustain a normal, or at least balanced, life. Coping with a mental illness isn’t like following some linear path of treatment or recovery. It’s messy and frenetic and disordered. You have great days, then mediocre days, then awful days, then worse days, then a good day, a second good day, a bunch of meh days, and then a great day. Lather, rinse, repeat. Forever.

I get so sick of it, honestly. Like just sick to death of it. I haven’t updated this blog regularly because I don’t have solutions. I don’t have anything blog-worthy to share and to inspire. And what would be the point of wallowing, self-pitying, depressing entries with no solution or inspiration for other sufferers? That’s part of my problem with the blog and myself in general: I’m losing my direction. I keep falling into this same rut and I’m having trouble staying out.

Nostalgia makes me yearn for the days when this stuff wasn’t an issue yet. I don’t like remembering those days because I don’t know how to be like that anymore.

I don’t have an inspiring answer or motivational send-off for those who maybe feel similarly. But I will give this advice: don’t stop trying. There’s always a next step. You may not fix all of your problems or cure your mental illness, but focus on your next step. That’s what I’m doing. It might not seem like it in this post, but I am trying. I haven’t stopped. I won’t stop. I can’t recreate my childhood memories or feel that same glee and freedom, but my life isn’t over. There’s still many years to come. So what’s next?

I encourage you to ask yourself the same thing.

Published by Jessica

Writer, YouTuber, streamer, gamer, yogi, self-improver--still trying to figure it all out

4 thoughts on “Can I Learn Anything from Nostalgia?

  1. Hi, Cousin! I enjoyed this piece. You write with such courageous honesty and lucid prose. You are also a very apt narrative-descriptive writer. That was always something that I had to work on when I began writing pieces like this. As I read, I truly felt like I was exploring your old ‘haunts’ with you. I also identify with your struggles with Depression, Anxiety and Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from surviving systematic emotional childhood abuse,etc.. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am sure you are inspiring and helping others as well as giving yourself a healthy outlet in which you can process things and heal in your own time. That was always my main ‘self-therapy’. God bless. ❤

    1. It’s so great to hear from you! Your comment meant the world to me. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to write this response. I miss seeing your poetry on my Facebook. Truthfully, I don’t get on WordPress to browse blogs, so I’m afraid that if you’ve been posting, I haven’t seen it. I’ll have to give your blog a visit. I always admired how creative you were with your writing so to hear this type of feedback makes me feel amazing 🙂 we are kindred spirits, I think!

      1. Yes, I think we are kindred spirits in a lot of ways. Thanks for your response. All the best!

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