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Packing for a Pandemic: Self-Differentiation

If we each had a metaphorical suitcase that we could pack with things that would help us during our time of Pandemic Lockdown, one of the first things I would recommend packing would be self-differentiation.

As I've mentioned before, we are now swimming in both chronic and acute anxiety. It doesn't take much for us to react out of that anxiety. When you're in a state of near-constant anxiety, any little tap on the shoulder can make you jump out of your skin. And the "taps on the shoulder" now look like news shows, social media posts, and people walking in front of your house.

We interpret many of these taps on the shoulder as threats against us. Now, some are justified. When a government leader suggests that the area you live in should ignore the recommendations of epidemiologists and get back to gathering together, that is a real threat to your safety, and the safety of everyone. If someone comes to my door and coughs in my face, that's a real threat. If someone spreads a rumor that forsythia will cure this pandemic, that is a real threat.

But outside of the real threats, because we are in this state of hyper-anxiety, our amygdalas can also begin firing simply because people are feeling or behaving in ways different than we are.

Here are some things to remind ourselves:

We are different.
We think differently,
We feel differently.

What makes one person feel more anxious may make another person feel relief. What is soothing to one person may get someone else frustrated.

Take coloring books. I know so many people for whom coloring pictures puts them into a calm, meditative state.

For me, coloring books are a torturous activity, filling me with perfectionism and frustration.

And that's okay. It would be ridiculous for me to say that coloring books should not be allowed in the world, and ridiculous for someone to claim that everyone should be using them.

For some people, reading as much about the science of what is going on gives them a feeling of control, and lowers their anxiety. For others, it spikes their fears.

Some people get value from debating. Others of us hate to debate.

Some people need more connection, they will show up to every Zoom gathering you have. Others can tolerate one gathering, at most.

Some people hate "battle" metaphors being used about this virus. For others, that's the metaphor that helps them make sense of this.

Some people want this time to closely match what was "normal" time. They have a structured routine to go through their day. Others find trying to fit into a strict schedule makes them feel claustrophobic.

We are each responsible for figuring out what works for us, within the guidelines of being safe.

We are each responsible for dealing with our own anxiety about people being different from us.

We are responsible for figuring out where our dance space ends, and another's begins. And then respecting the boundaries of others, while holding our own. Trying to convince me that I should like coloring books means stepping into my dance space. Pretending to like coloring books so that you won't be mad at me means not holding my boundaries.

Ultimately, the better we become at self-differentiation, the freer we will feel. It is not my job to convince you that your love of coloring books is wrong. You get to decide on that yourself. Phew ... something else I can remove from my to-do list!


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