Today, I was going back through old emails to check for any stray receipts as part of the process of preparing my US taxes.

My inbox currently has 5,568 unread emails in it. When I worked in office jobs I was able to maintain inbox zero. But in my personal life, my inbox doubles as a sort of to do list, and so much more, and things just tend to pile up.

Reading these, I moved backwards in time. It felt a bit like excavating a former self. It really hit me just how hard the past couple of years have been.

Normally, it all feels a bit surreal, or as if it were someone else’s life. Things are so different now. But when I see the emails, it almost feels like I am right back there, in the thick of it.

There are emails of flat hunting mixed in with receipts for baby clothes. Notes to self about chemotherapy side effects jumbled in with reminders to buy birthday presents. The amount of life – and challenge – that we faced was unbelievably overwhelming.

My email inbox is essentially a snapshot of my mind at the time, and dipping into the past brings it all back.

Those aren’t necessarily easy feelings to process.

Today, I started a course on Mindful Self-Compassion with Breast Cancer Haven. This is something I hope to share a bit more about later, as I get to grips with it. However, the general premise is that mindfulness, connection to shared humanity, and self-kindness help us operate more compassionately in our lives – both with ourselves and with others.

In the workshop, we did an exercise today where we laid our hands on our own heart, feeling the warmth and comfort. Looking at the emails, I needed to do it again. An inbox feels like a private place – I’ve never been consistent with a journal, so this is the catchall for where I write notes to myself. Looking at what was on my mind, all the pain and struggle it represents. Thankfully, getting in touch with my own heartbeat felt calming and grounding.

I’ve started trying to whittle the emails down bit by bit. It’s the right thing to do to let them go.

But I find it hard.

There is so much grief I still need to process about what has happened over the past couple of years, and seeing the fabric of my daily life takes me right back to those challenging times.

It is painful to look at those moments, but there’s also a perverse kind of pleasure in it. There is something magical about being able to step into the mind of my former self. It may not have been so long ago, but I was in a completely different place a year ago. I couldn’t even walk confidently without my cane. We were still fresh off a chaotic move. I was prepping for a trip to NYC, making little lists of packing reminders. It all comes flooding back.

Part of me worries that by deleting those old emails, I’m also discarding the truth of how my reality felt at that time. Yes, I have memories, but it’s not the same as encountering emails as written artifacts. (This reminds me a bit of my play Broken Pieces, where I was playing with this theme many years ago.)

There’s a part of me that always yearns to hold onto the reality of how an experience felt at the time – what were the emotions? The elation, or the pain? It feels like how it felt in the moment is somehow more real than the memory.

And while that may be true, I don’t think healthy to try to stay in that place where the past feels like the present. Our memories are designed to be burnished by time, to age and grow as experiences take on new meaning as our perspective grows and changes.

If we are so focused on holding onto those experiences from the past as if they were still the present, it creates a kind of emotional clutter that keeps us from living our lives right now.

Tonight, I cleaned out about a hundred emails.

But I still feel torn.

What I want to remember most about my past is generally not the big events, but the small moments and the quality of how the fabric of my life felt at a given time. Seeing things like Amazon receipts and reminder emails makes the past feel present again.

It’s a kind of time machine transportation that no polished journal entry can ever emulate.

Even though I know I need to let go, it’s so hard to actually press delete.

Photo by Stephen Phillips – on Unsplash