When the security of Maslow’s rainbow-triangled base was whipped out from under us a couple of weeks ago, lots of us discovered that the structure’s shape was in fact a mistake. The hierarchy of needs should really have been constructed as a flat platform of "physiological needs" with a toothless-looking, already wobbly stack of Jenga bricks on top.
While chatting with pals about the global crisis we’re all living through, lots of them have spoken of fear. Everyday, internal head-battling constitutes my version of "normal". I assumed people who I perceive as rock hard warrior-folk would be immune to the constant micro-panics that I bat about my brain. But they have spoken of lingering doubts they hadn’t even acknowledged pre-C, now spiralling out of them in eddies of anxiety. On poking further into the root of it, one word crops up again and again: control. It’s all about control – fear of losing it, or more accurately, the fear of admitting they never had it to begin with.
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Is control an illusion?
I think a lot of us are realising that the control we thought we had over so many areas of our lives was in fact an illusion.
I’ve considered issues of control in my own life before. Many years ago, after I had my son, I went from being a bit nervy on the take off and landing portions of air travel, to having a palpable fear of flying. I still did it, as the holiday destination had a more powerful pull than neurosis about the journey. But I remember sitting on the plane thinking, "I have booked this holiday so if we all die in a crash it’s my fault". Or more specifically, "What if me and my husband die in the plane crash and leave our baby without parents? I am irresponsible and selfish to insist on us having a holiday." I know. Crackers, innit?
By the time my son was about 8, my fear of flying had diminished. It wasn’t just because he had grown from a vulnerable infant who could not have survived without care and protection, into a robust child. It was because I had deconstructed that fear, which wasn’t really about flying. It was about control.
When I got on the plane I had no say whatsoever about the safety of the flight. I was not in the cockpit, and even if I was I’d be of no use – I can barely work a toaster. Once I realised it was about the removal of the power I usually had to be in charge of my son’s safety, I sort of relaxed. To keep him safe I had no option but to trust, or at least hope, that the person in charge knew what they are doing; that they were in control. And if the journey did get dicey, I had no option but to follow the rules they set. That was the only thing within my power to control.
An appropriate response
The previous structure of society, which until a few weeks ago most of us have taken for granted, has recently folded in. Just as swiftly the control we have as individuals as part of that society has diminished. So perhaps anxiety is the appropriate response.
Like lots of people, in our house we are nesting. Doing whatever DIY we can with limited materials and even more limited skills. Like lots of people we have suddenly considered growing our own fruit and veggies. While both of these activities go towards re-imagining this time as a period of enforced sanctuary, rather than imprisonment, it’s also an act of taking control of elements of our life over which we still retain power; while I am unable to pilot the plane, I can make sure my son is wearing a seatbelt.
While home life is plodding along, teaching life has withered. Of the many different types of cohorts I teach, there is only one group where the frameworks to continue teaching are even possible. However, as a sessional worker as part of an in-house teaching agency, I have limited access to the infrastructure I need in order to carry on with that one session per week. It’s in the process of being sorted, but fixing it is not a priority – most in that group have already passed the qualification anyway and, to be honest, the quest to pin most of ‘em down, would not be worth the small bounty. For the majority of my students there is literally nothing I can do. Their education, and more importantly in the context of my teaching, their holistic support, is out of my control.
I would like to share the life-changing lesson I’ve had from all of this, but I don’t know what it is yet, beyond the realisation that’s already slapped us all in the mouth – just how little control we actually have.