Letters For My Sons

Month: March 2020

COVID-19 – What the Hell am I Worried About?

I’ve been examining my mental state closely over the past six months.

First we had two months of the worst bushfires my area (and my country) had ever seen.  My semi-adrenalised state during that time never really normalised.  I was ready to stand and fight if need be, or run to the hills if it was all too much.  At one point there were three seperate and massive fires surrounding my village. The steady impact of the unknown, and the rise and fall of the intensity of the situation led to many sleepless nights.

Directly following the fires we had six weeks of torrential rain.  We received half our annual rainfall in two days at one point.  I’ve been building an earth house for several years now, and the rain washed away large swathes of earth render from the external walls.  I again lay awake at night in emergency mode, hoping like hell the water would not seep into the straw bales inside the render and rot them from the inside.  

And now we have the most interesting thing to happen to our culture and our species for eighty years, since the end of the Second World War.  A now-familiar anxiety sits uncomfortably in my stomach, noticeable when I am quiet.

What is most fascinating to me is WHY I feel this way. Why the hell am I anxious? It’s worth asking yourself the question.

For example, I am now sitting at my desk typing away, while the birds sing outside, my children sleep in bed, and my coffee cools in its cup.  The last three or four days have been completely normal for all intents and purposes.  We’ve done some shopping and found some shelves empty, and we haven’t interacted physically with any friends or colleagues, but besides that, it’s been pretty ordinary.

So why the anxiety?

I’m not concerned about catching COVID.  The statistics quite clearly show that I’m fit and healthy enough to not require medical intervention.  I believe my family is strong enough too.

I’m not concerned about giving it to any at-risk people in my community.  My parents-in-law are self-isolating, and so are many older people.  We are taking measures to protect those people by isolating ourselves as well.

I’m not concerned about the apocalypse.  I don’t believe it will get that bad that we are all fighting each other and the covid-zombies.

So where is this internal tummy-ache coming from?

After weeks of self-assessment I’ve realised: it’s the social unknown.  It’s trying to understand and normalise a local and global change to the way we operate. 

The goal of government is to keep things ordinary for it’s citizens so they can buy and sell and breed and sleep at night.  The government is unable to keep this outbreak ordinary.  And so we see social restlessness.  I wouldn’t call it upheaval.  There are no riots in the streets.  But things have changed, and we can’t see an end to it.

And that, in a nutshell, is the source.  No end in sight.  We do not understand the endgame, because we can’t see all the moving pieces.  It’s near impossible to strategise as an ordinary citizen as we have no visibility as to the aims and desires of our fellow nation states, and even our own government.

Humans don’t like wobbliness in our lives.  We strive for control.  We in the West have lived the last couple of decades in a highly controlled environment, and have begun to believe that this is the way life is. 

Sorry.  Wrong.  Life is highly dynamic, and we’re now seeing the cracks in our beautifully controlled snowglobe. 

One thing we can be absolutely sure of though: It will end. There can be no doubt. In some way, somehow, this will end, and the next chapter of our lives, of our species, of our planet, will begin.

Can my belly get used to the unknown?  Let’s give it a go.

Treasuring Discomfort – Transcending Childhood Boundaries: Part 1

Parents know all about limits and boundaries.  We make them because our children need them.  Children need to know where the edge of their behavioural world is.  They need to know what they can and cannot do for their own safety and for the tolerability of their behaviour for those around them.

Some parents define loose boundaries.  The child might be allowed to watch youtube endlessly from a young age,  eat whatever they want, and define their own bedtime.

Other children are watched closely by their carers, disciplined for tiny infringements, and have a small world defined for them by religious belief or plain bloody-mindedness.

Most kids are somewhere in the middle.  Regardless of the type or size of boundary, if the boundary is enforced, the child feels a sense of safety.  

Fast forward to adulthood and we are still living within these childhood limits.  We have deep, hard lines in our minds and souls that tell us where we can and cannot tread.

We know those boundaries easily.  As adults we spend most of our lives in our comfort zone, behaving in ways that make us feel comfortable and safe.  It’s when we do or say something that makes us uneasy, anxious or guilty that we know we are dallying close to the heavily guarded prison wall that is our boundary.

In my mid-twenties I was living with my girlfriend (now my wife) and I was a well-trained pet.  I didn’t leave our bed until she was awake and indicated it was ok.  I didn’t leave the house except to go to work, sometimes the gym.  I rarely saw my friends unless it was sanctioned by her.  She was not particularly overbearing or controlling, but I didn’t want to upset her. She never asked me to do those things, but by doing them I felt I could maintain a life of quiet security.

In the internal world of my childhood memories, an upset family member meant danger, insecurity.  My history told me that if my mum or dad were mad or sad or upset it meant potential physical harm to me, or emotional damage.  It leant a wobbliness to my world.  If anyone was upset around me I felt a deep background hum of guilt and anxiety.  And so, not because of my partner but because of myself, I continued to remain in this comfortable but limited place.

You might know someone like this.  I know many men, even in their middle age who are tied to their wives (and the reverse of course is true).  It’s easy to comment in this example that the wife is a bitch (and maybe they are) or overbearing (could be) or controlling (likely).  But consider the needs of the man.  He has strong boundaries that he still holds to feel safe.  Having someone tell him what to do and when to do it fulfils a deep need for him.  Even though his existence looks like a miserable excuse, he is living the caged life of his choice in a form of relative comfort.

Living a good life, a life of choices, dreams and happiness means crossing those boundaries.  That is a terrifying thought for those trapped in the example above.  It took me years of slow and disciplined progress to move past those invisible walls.  I had to play a long game, one that stretched my own sense of comfort around the uncomfortable, while ensuring that my new and unusual behaviours were expanding my wife’s boundaries.

My wife wasn’t the issue.  It was my own internal dialogue, which had the high-pitched voice of my upset parents.  Imagine having your parents screaming at you into your twenties and thirties to “do the right thing”!  So many of us have this without realising it.  Some of us have it all our lives, into our fifties, seventies, nineties!

Maybe you are living this life.  As we get older, we can fall into patterns of long term safety that are so habitual they are very difficult to remove.  Imagine the old (and not-so-old) couple who have the same routine each day.  The same greeting, the same breakfast, the same cup of tea, read the paper, lunch at the same time etc etc.  It looks boring.  It IS boring.  But it makes them feel safe.

Some people refuse to try new foods, try new clothes, go to new places on holiday.  Instead of judging them, ask yourself, why?  They may sound stubborn or obstinate, but what is the underlying reason for their fear?  Could it be that their boundaries are so terrifying they decided on a safe and pleasant psychological picnic table to sit at for life? 

In the next part, we’ll look at ways to gradually break down the limits of your life.

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