Investigating the Nostalgia Flood by Valerie Parente
The nostalgia flood.
This is the term I am coining for a recent struggle I have been facing for the past few days. Recently I have been thinking vehemently about the past lately, to a deeply emotive point that my thoughts are beginning to hurt from the very core of my being. I am struggling to come to an emotional understanding as to whether this intense flood of seemingly random and eclectic waves of nostalgia are resurfacing for a specific reason, one which might correlate with my physical circumstances, or if the bittersweet reminiscing is simply a mental product of neurons going haywire in my brain.
What Is Going On?
I can’t help but question two key aspects of the nostalgia flood; first, is there an obsessive compulsive component to the reminiscing? If so are these memories purely the OCD playing head games with me, or do these memories hold some sort of objective meaning in the light of a mind that was not plagued with obsessive compulsive disorder? Second, is there something that each of these (seemingly) random memories have in common? If so why now am I revisiting the underlying psychological thesis behind these flashbacks?
How Does It Feel?
Before I try to make sense of what has been happening to me alongside the guide of the latter questions I would like to note the emotional quality of the mental memorabilia that has been pressing at the forefront of my conscience for a few days now. Every one of these memories are good memories. They are times that I hold near and dear in my heart and consider some of the best moments of my childhood or adolescence. Every time I remember the heartwarming moment my breath is taken away and, as dramatic as it sounds, feel as if I need to cry, initially out of happiness and then the more I think about the memory I feel compelled to cry out of sadness. Never do I get to the point of actually tearing up though. There is just this strange sensation of resounding love that fills up my chest and then a horrible wave of sadness that follows. If I had to categorize it as any psychological state I’d call it grief. Grief not for a life lost, but a time lost. The heavy sadness that festers in my mind, after the joyous flashbacks begin to blur, always feels comparable to mourning. And this odd but powerful experience makes me wonder: why am I mourning? Why do I not stay in that initial happy state when the intrusive OCD mechanism calls up the memory? These are memories of old friends, love interests, family! One particular memory is of a time when I felt very socially accepted, specifically regarding a person I would wind up catching feelings for. Another example of a memory revolves around sleepovers and parties with some long-lost best friends when we would laugh until we cried! … Oh. Interesting. I am catching something significant as I sort this out in a Word document. “Laugh until we cried”. This phrase unnervingly reflects the exact recent state of mind I have been in as I reminisce. It seems that the very content of these memories, incidents like laughing until I am crying with a best friend (or feeling the ecstasy of social acceptance which would soon melt into fragile infatuation) projects happiness that deteriorates into vulnerability. Of course this could be dismissed as a coincidence, but I personally do not believe the universe works in coincidences. And for that reason I think it is safe to say the metaphorical nature of my nostalgia, much like psychoanalytical dream theory (theories of dreams that accredit dream motifs to the subconscious), actually proves a commonality among my memories. The commonality subsequently causes me to believe that the flood of nostalgia is not random or even eclectic, but that each of these fond moments from the past and people associated with these fond moments are purposely being called up by my brain, an OCD brain that is operating with rhyme and reason.
Who Is Involved?
The memories that I have been dwelling on were very prosocial in nature. These were times when I was thriving in my social circle. Now, I think it is fair to acknowledge that in some respect most of us can get sad when thinking back to positive moments because we recognize that they are over. Time moves laterally and irreversibly. This fact is just a discomfort we all have with our temporal confines as we undergo the human experience. Good times will always come to an end. And yes, that is sad if you choose to be sad about it, but I do not feel as though I am making a choice, and for that reason I do not allocate much responsibility to this factual perspective when talking about the nostalgia flood. If anything I am saddened because of the context in which these memories ended. For example, and I hinted at this a little before, but every person that I am reminiscing about is a person that I no longer have a relationship with. In fact if any of these people knew that I was thinking about them recently, let alone getting genuinely upset about the relationship which, to my everlasting dismay, fizzled out, they would probably think I was a complete lunatic (honestly I can’t say I’d disagree). I never quite felt satisfied with how things ended with any of these several people. Each and every relationship, for one reason or another, stands in my mind as a relationship that should have endured. Relationships that are incomplete. Some people I lost communication with a decade ago, some people 5 years ago, some people a few months ago, and each person was somebody that I never truly wanted to lose a friendship with. I always wanted more, more laughs, more memories, more attention, etc. Nevertheless, these are all people that I got close to at one point and wound up losing touch with. I do not think that the selection of people associated with my nostalgia is random. Between the emotional timeline within these individual memories, converting from high-as-a-kite happiness to profound grief, and the correlated social position each person has in my mind, demoting from close companion to complete stranger, I have come to the conclusion that there absolutely is a theme taking place in my psyche.
When a theme is taking place in the psyche of somebody with obsessive compulsive disorder, there is always a question of whether or not that theme is relevant to the current circumstances of that person. When it comes to the nostalgia flood and its eerie resemblance to OCD intrusive thinking, what is the theme?
The theme overarching my nostalgia revolve around losing something before I was ready to lose it. There was a sense of incompletion. The memories embody lost relationships and elicit a mourning-esque response. Why now would I be reaching back into my long-term memory and pulling out these snippets of emotional density? Why is my brain reminding me of heavy emotions? Why does my brain want me to feel the high of happiness and the low of loss that follows?
Honestly answering this question after dissecting the qualities of the nostalgia flood is not difficult. The only feat left is to describe how my life has been going in the current day. Without going into too much personal detail, I can modestly say that I am at a paradox in my life. I have never felt more rich with life experience or more proud to be me, but at the same time I have never felt more lost with where I am going or more longing to engage with a (certain) person who shares a similar mindset as me. I do not know how to satiate my mind socially in the way that it wants to be satiated because the person that I would like to spend time with is a person I am having a hard time communicating with due to the trials and tribulations that adulthood presents. This social predicament has been key in my confusion with which direction I should take next. After investigating the nostalgia flood in the past few paragraphs it should come as no surprise that my memories of wonderful yet lost relationships can accurately represent this inner mentality of feeling positive about myself but lost in the social department.
– Valerie Parente (4-25-2018)