How Do You Measure Time?
by Dr. Amanda Mullen,
Clinical Psychologist and PAC Mentor
How do you measure, measure a year?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes?
How do you measure, a year in the life?
(Seasons of Love by Jonathan Larson - Rent the Musical)
How do you measure time? How do you place value on the moments that pass each day? The answers to these questions seem to depend so much on where we are in our lives.
Young children often experience time in the context of what is happening right now. What am I noticing? How am I feeling? What do I want and need to feel comfortable, content, happy, and interested? Young children are insatiably curious, and not because they are planning for the future, but rather because of how they can use what they discover right away. The space between events doesn’t feel terribly relevant, others do not expect them to manage their time well, and it feels like there is endless space for imagination, creativity, and moments of joy. It is a beautiful time of life.
Well children, do not get too comfortable, because it is time to grow up. Time management is so very important, and it is time to get on board. As we grow, we are taught to be careful and responsible with how we spend our time, and punctuality and preparedness are traits to be admired. In the interest of being successful, we are taught to use tools… calendars, watches, phones, alarms… to make sure that we won’t waste time, forget what’s coming next, or be late. We try so hard to prioritize, because there is seldom enough time for all that we want and need to fit in. Sometimes, we lose connections with others because, “I have been meaning to call her, but I haven’t had the time.” Many of us put our own comfort/pleasure needs aside so that we can use our time in the service of meeting obligations and bettering the future. We start to become focused on later and need reminders to stay in the moment. Now becomes a time that we planned for and might reflect upon later (if we can fit it in).
Somewhere in the middle of our lives, many of us realize that we have forgotten what we once knew to be true. That now is so very important. We rush to study Eastern medicine to try and undo what has happened. We read books on mindfulness, learn to meditate, and practice getting back in touch with the present moment. We look to the children in our lives to help us remember to pay attention to our sensory experiences, to notice details that previously blended into our environment, to stay present with whatever is happening now. Well, guess what? The people in our lives that are living with dementia also have something beautiful to share, if we stop to pay attention. When we are spending time with a person living with dementia, each moment presents an opportunity to do what we have been trying to do this whole time and a willingness to allow the other person to do the same.
If I am living with dementia, let me stay in the moment, and simply join me. Take away the calendars, and please stop telling me about what is coming next. My sense of responsibility remains, but I can no longer plan and manage my time like I once could. Your focus on the future makes me anxious, as I am sure it often does for you as well. If you can slow down, you will find that there are opportunities to connect with me right now. Sit with me, sing with me, and enjoy a cup of coffee. Use your imagination and join me in my memories of the distant past. Let’s notice what is around us and how things are feeling. Laugh with me. Hold my hand, and don’t let go, at least for a while.
Dr. Mullen is a Clinical Psychologist who has focused her career on supporting, teaching, and counseling people living with dementia as well as their families and care partners. She was awarded a Doctor of Psychology degree from Nova Southeastern University in Florida in 2001 and has since returned to live in Massachusetts where she was born and raised. In her private practice, Changing Minds, Dr. Mullen focuses on helping elders and their families navigate brain change. Through this work, she has had the opportunity to learn and fully embrace the PAC philosophy. Along with her business partner, a friendly Labradoodle named Eva, she plans to continue to develop dementia resources in her area that are based on the principals of PAC.