“So I’ve been thinking.” Now, that’s a dangerous statement, I know. But what else does one do while on lockdown? It seems, as we live through this little Covidian apocalypse, that the catch-cry “We are all in this together” is being thrown around. And its a nice sentiment, don’t get me wrong! But really, we need to view this collective difficulty with a bit more of a nuanced lens than that. We might be all in this together if we look at the external factors, but the lived experiences that we carry into this cultural moment are all different. We are all in this together, but reality is a combination of external events and internal dynamics which are made up of past experiences, traumas, values, voids, and much, much more. Hence, even if you find yourself thriving under lockdown, its a time to treat your neighbour with kindness.
The thought popped into my head while I was reading a book on epigenetics – that is a series of options, sort of like on and off switches built into human DNA. A person can have the genetic potential for a whole lot of health catastrophes, but whether or not those genes are triggered and expressed depends a lot on a persons environment. (Read stuff by Dr. Bruce Lipton PhD for more on that, coz this is hardly a science blog!). We used to think that our genes were our locked-in destiny. Now we know the power of environment and stressors on gene expression.
It threw my mind to my marriage. Baby Daddy and I shared a marriage. During this time, we shared experiences. We witnessed things, went through things, processed things, gained things and lost things. We did it all together. But to say that we had the same marriage is far from the truth. We were married to each-other, yes. We shared a beautiful life (and still do, in our own way post-separation), yes. But we did not have the same experience of marriage:
- In my experience of marriage, I was finally able to relax and be myself. I was able to feel and act out of the more feminine ways of being that I had not leant into in the previous decade of living in survival mode. I had literally been diagnosed with PTSD ten months after we got together and the jury is out as to whether I had suffered with the condition for the previous 8 or 15 years before that. He was my safe place. My leaning post. Marriage was uncomplicated for me.
- In his experience of marriage, it was complicated. We shared a beautiful and effortless friendship. We made two beautiful babies. But there was an underlying anxiety, a feeling that he had to play a particular part that was not authentic to him in order for our marriage to be happy. He was dealing with the scars of gay conversion therapy and a lifetime of repressed sexuality and internalised homophobia.
- Our marriage, for both of us was beautiful. Our friendship remains so. We shared an experience, yes. But the internal dynamics we both carried in meant we did not have the same experience of marriage, because we did not have the same internal world.
It is one example of divergent perception, and its an important point to consider as Covid19 wears on for another eternity, er I mean month or something. Dr Jessica Koehler wrote this in an article on Psychology Today, “We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. This perceptual awareness has spread through human civilization for hundreds of years, but its exact origin is unknown. Remarkably, current evidencefrom the field of neuroscience suggests this conception of human reality is an accurate description of our perceptual processing. Everything we perceive is built upon the knowledge we already have.”
What is this knowledge we already have? It is made up of our values and experiences, the meaning we made from those expriences, the stressors, traumas, happy moments, dreams and hopes that we carry along the way. And everyone is different. Two people, who were raised in the same house, who came from the same gene pool, can have very different perceptual realities – and that doesn’t make either of them wrong.
I say this to raise a point: our perception has a powerful impact on our lived experience. It is comprised of all the things that build up to a point. Our thoughts, dreams, values, traumas, stressors, genetics, epigenetics, environmental forces, and personality preferences all factor in to our experience of a moment. It is why two siblings can stand in a lounge room and hear the doorbell ring. For one sibling it can be a matter of “Oh, how nice of that person to drop in!” For the other, it can be a matter of “How threatening for them to ignore my requests to text first, to violate my privacy and my boundaries…to disrespect me like they always have.”
For one person it can be nice. For the other, even a relative who grew up in the same house, it can be downright threatening.
I use the example of siblings because its important to see that even those who experienced life alongside us experience it differently. So here we are, at a moment in history where we appear to be sharing an expereince (ie. a global pandemic), and yet people are not all experiencing it the same way.
Don’t Bother Keeping Up With The Jones’s.
Why is it a thing to raise at this point in time? I see a lot of people using this time of lockdown to get shit done. And hey, maybe I am one of those. I started a podcast, moved house, I’m starting a new arm of my business. I am actually enjoying life. I see other people who are unable to get shit done. These people whose businesses have slowed down (hey, mine is one of them, and thats why I can spend time building up another arm of it). This forseeably causes anxiety. I see people who are doing a lot of TV bingeing. Or who are sleeping a lot, or exercising a lot, or crafting a lot. We can easily benchmark ourselves against other people and think “Oh thats what I should be doing!”
No no. You are the only person who you need to check in with. Are you well? Are you healthy? Are you getting the support you need? Are you being visited by trauma? Is the isolation too much for you? These are the questions you need to be asking.
Your perception of this historical moment is unique. Because it is made up of all the things that you experienced up until this moment.
What did I experience up until this moment? I think what it was, was surrender. I realised I couldn’t control anything. My kids were going to be my kids. My marriage was going to take the course that it was going to take, because I could control my sexuality but no one elses. I realised that I couldn’t make other people start acting in a way that made them helpful or healthy for me, or stop them from acting in a way that wasn’t. All I could do was create healthy boundaries around me and my space. I had time to stop, take stock of life, surrender to the course that things were going to take and realise my role in them. I had therapy. I learned to breathe in and out and then press on doing the best I can, knowing that I can’t always control the outcome.
That was January to March. Then came Covid. I’ll admit there have been frustrations and dark moments during this, especially during the few months in which we felt like life had completely ground to a halt and was. not. moving. forward. Who could not feel the frustation of it all? That would be…weird. But perhaps the reason I am coping okay with this is because of all the things I had to wrestle with before. It had all finally come to a point of peace and acceptance. Then came the big cosmic cherry on top – a global pandemic. I rolled my eyes, muttered a swear word and got on with it.
We are all in this together, but we are all in this completely uniquely.
I find the study of human perception and consciousness fascinating. How can two people view the same thing and take completely different perceptions away from that moment? I remember reading Anne of Green Gables as a child. When I read it, I was Anne! I was that fanciful, imaginative heroine who was so misunderstood by the adults in her life. I read it again as an adult and, oh my goodness, Marilla made so much sense to me. I was aghast to find that Anne drove me bonkers.
I took my kids to Bunnings during the week. We had to get some supplies in order to repair something thath was a bit of a hazard around home so it was totally essentials, guys! We even wore masks. Well! Wasn’t that an exercise in perception. I was stressed out and snappy because my kids would not stand still and do what they were told. Henry ran off and I lost sight of him. Allegra was walking so slowly that I couldn’t get eyes on Henry while keeping eyes on her. I was so stressed by the time we got to the register that I was ready to cry.
Then there was Henry’s perception of that same experience: “Oh my gosh! Everything’s so BIG! I got to run and when I shout my voice bounces off the walls! Its so cool! I went to the next aisle without my mummy because I’m such a big boy.” He had a great time.
Finally, there were the perceptions of the other shoppers, particularly two tradies who stood at either end of the aisle I was shopping on and had to listen to a very loud, very not-appropriate-to-recount-on-a-blog conversation. Because kids will say anything, anywhere. And they will ask repeatedly until you answer them.
I spotted the muffled laughter from metres away.
One experience: a trip to the hardware store. Three different perceptions: frustration/stress, adventure, hilarity.
We can share an experience and have completely different feelings about it. As long as that falls within the boundaries of normal (i.e. there are no issues of delusion or illusion that need to be tended to by a mental health professional), then those perceptions of reality are completely acceptible expressions of the lived experience.
We are all in this together, but we are all in this uniquely. And hence, let us treat ourselves and eachother with kindness. AND MASKS
Just todays thoughts.