Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Einstein theorized time is relative. Speed slows down time. Frame of reference changes time.
“Scientists synchronized two highly accurate atomic clocks and then flew one around the Earth aboard an airplane. When the airborne clock returned to Earth, it was a tiny fraction of a second behind the one that remained on the ground.”1
I have another theory. Time is relative to age and health. Everyone has experienced time speeding up as they age. A day during childhood languorously ticks along with conscious seconds of experience. A day during adolescence hustles at parties and crawls in the last minute of the last class of the day. Each tick of the classroom’s clock’s second hand is like watching a drop of water extend and lengthen and stretch until finally it lets go of the metal tap and drops. A day in adulthood flees faster with each passing year.
And then brain injury — or the pandemic — hits, and suddenly time brakes hard, all its adult kinetic energy screeching into your mind as your vision watches forward motion lurch, stretch, stop. The kinetic energy ticks its quicktime invisibly in your mind while physical reality beats to a clock whose second hand ticks as slowly as in the last minute of a high school class.
“Tick. Tick. Tick.
I dragged myself to acupuncture two days later, whining to my acupuncturist that I had a cold. She examined my tongue and my pulses. She didn’t think I had a cold. I had a slight fever. I always seemed to have a slight fever, I thought. She treated me minimally with needles in case I had allergies then with a lighter heated up the inside of glass suction balls and popped them down my back on both sides of my spine in case I had a cold. They pulled painfully on my flesh. My lungs opened in relief. She told me to sit in the waiting room while she prevailed on one of her other patients to drive me to the subway. I sagged in my seat. I felt mothered, like I could get home.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
. . .
I kept writing, practicing, practicing, for I had to get back to Lifeliner. I had made a commitment to so many people. How could I let them down? Besides, I couldn’t let go of my dream!
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Angst grew within me.” Excerpt from Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me.
Stuck at home, watching bank accounts drain and bills accumulate in adult time, while pandemic-health time drags, people today feel the same disconnect I tried to convey in my book. As I began to heal, time began to start accelerating back towards adult time. In this month, in 2021, for the most part I exist in adult time again. And that brings me to thinking about why time changes after a health crisis like brain injury or an isolating pandemic.
Age changes our perception of time probably because childhood is learning from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. Learning slows down the perception of time. The time it takes to travel to a new address from home not only takes longer than the time to return, but also when it doesn’t, it still feels like it. Time slows when automaticity in movement or thinking doesn’t exist, when conscious thinking rules every moment. Time speeds up again as learning leads to automaticity.
Another aspect of age and time is the number of new things. To children, the world is filled with new sights, new experiences, new smells, new sounds, new things, new people. Newness grabs their attention. They experience and learn newness in a conscious way. Newness slows time down. As you grow up and as you age through one decade after another, newness gives way to familiarity. One doesn’t attend consciously to the familiar. Tooth brushing consumed so much conscious time in childhood to ensure you were doing it right; as an adult, with muscle memory engaging, it vanishes as if it had never been done two seconds after finishing.
Like with brain injury, the pandemic flooded adult life with newness. New ways of infection control that only those with brain injury, chronic illnesses, immune suppressed had had to master and consciously employ prior to COVID-19 invading our lives. New ways of socializing from a distance or through computer screens that only those with brain injury and chronic fatigue or illnesses were long familiar with. New ways of shopping, of having to see the doctor and go for medical tests, of exercising, of amusing selves, of learning and teaching, of so many things. Like for those of us with brain injury when injury returned us to childhood newness and forced us into these situations, time braked hard as conscious learning returned.
So how does a person pining for the end of the pandemic, for the vaccines to bring a cure to the pandemic, return to adult time in the meantime? I’ve learnt from brain injury that what you may think is a cure often is not, that radical changes to one’s life remain whether you like it or not, that incorporating learning makes it familiar and time less slow. More pandemics are coming. We know this. We’ve had four in the last seventeen years; climate change, an interconnected globe, and a growing human population entering areas where these kinds of viruses lurk, springing them loose, tells us this. The only way time will speed back up to adult time is to incorporate lessons from the pandemic: marrying virtual with in-person, moving about in the world in consideration of keeping high risk safe from infection, solving climate change and being mindful about expanding into new spaces, making continual learning part of life. Stop listening to the ticking; experience the moment in each tick of time.
Copyright ©2021 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.