covid-19, mental health, science, Uncategorized

Rex Manning, Rats, & You

First off: HAPPY REX MANNING DAY!

That’s right, it’s time to relive the days of fighting mega-business, supporting our small neighbourhood mom and pop shops, and baking for our friends. Yes, I’m flashing back to that ever so fondly recalled cult-classic Empire Records and it’s glorious life-defining soundtrack… but oddly enough aside from the gathering in groups, we really do seem to have flashed back to many of the things that cemented our “Damn the man” attitudes during those interesting and formative years.

Image with an almost Max Headroom feel with a black and white photograph of Rex Manning surrounded by neon and in big capital letters “it’s Rex Manning day!”

Now, lets go back even further in our remembrances, recollections, and reminiscing… nope…. not far enough… go further… yup…. keep going… a little more… oh crap. Wait! We can’t really remember shit we weren’t around for. Damn it. Okay… so we are going to have to use our imaginations:

Gif featuring Sponge Bob creating a rainbow out of thin water above his head and saying “imagination”.

Way back in the way back machine we go with Mr. Peabody and Sherman to a time when scientists were just beginning to look into addictive substances and their effects on us. Or, well… in this instance on rats, hoping to eventually come to enough of an understanding via their sacrifice to more fully understand human addition and the why’s behind it.

There had been a number of studies done which showed that a rat, when given the choice of two water bottles; one with safe drinking water, and one with water laced with various drugs (depending on the study) the rat would choose the drug laced water and would continue doing so to their own detriment and degradation. However, the fault of these studies was in the lack of recognition that rats are intelligent and highly social animals. Keep them in isolation, in bare cages, and they will go crazy… the drug laced water provided an escape from an inescapable and horrifying existence. Is it any wonder they returned time and time again to the laced water bottle?

In the seventies, a team of scientists led by Bruce Alexander began a different set of behaviour trials to further investigate what was actually going on here. In what has gone down in history and changed many perceptions on addiction, cognition, and behaviour, they created “Rat Park”. A ratty paradise full of ratty friends and family, enriching toys and play areas, interesting games, puzzles, foods… all the things we now understand that these intelligent, fun, and highly communicative kin need to be healthy and happy. Into this environment the ratties went, along with the two choices in water bottles. It was no surprise that when their needs and wants were taken care of, they chose the fresh clean water (except for a little harmless indulgence from time to time) over the option of a drug-fuelled escape via overdose and death.

They investigated many different set-ups and variations, including only allowing playtime in the park on certain days vs living in it full time as well as investigating exposure to this play land at different ages/stages of growth, etc. It was a fascinating delve into the philosophy of mind and how intelligent species grow, change, and how we meet our needs in a variety of conditions.

Why am I bringing up Rat Park? Well… during these unprecedented and unpredictable times of self-quarantine, sheltering in place, and social/physical distancing we are all beginning to feel a little like a rat in a cage: Isolated, unable to meet our physical, social, and emotional needs. It’s a lot.

I know there are a lot of individuals who, from the outside, seem to be doing totally great. They are baking for friends and neighbours. Taking up new hobbies, learning new skills, or tackling projects that may have remained on their bucket list otherwise. We hear stories all the time of people doing really incredible things; writing music, creating art, building social movements, helping boost local economies, really really awesome and amazing things. And it can be hard to keep from comparing yourself to these tales/tails of triumphing human spirit.

But don’t.

Pretty and kinda seventies-ish sign with scrollwork in the corners which states “It’s okay to not be at your most productive during a fucking global pandemic”

Really. Don’t.

You don’t have to use this time to your best advantage.

It is totally okay to sit and cry in the bathroom every day.

It’s okay if you can’t get out of bed until two in the afternoon.

It’s okay if you are struggling.

Honestly.

It’s okay if you aren’t okay.

An illustration of lungs composed of tree branches within which there can be found a myriad of life; birds, a squirrel, butterflies…

It’s okay if all you can do right now is breathe. Breathing is a big and important thing. It is vital work. So it is 100% okay to just take this time to breathe.

There is more life ahead, and we can worry about enrichment later, for now, lets just drink the water, breathe and keep on keeping on. When you are ready, there is so much waiting for us all. When you are ready, you can create your own “Personal Park” in your home, on your balcony, in your yard, in your kitchen, in the cubby under your stairs or in your closet. When you are ready you can carve out a piece of happiness and connectivity however you feel is right for yourself. But for now? If all you can manage is to breathe? That is a-okay.

Hold your little ratty self close, go ahead and cry, just keep breathing. Because sometimes that really is enough.

A pretty little cream coloured ratty on a pink background with the world love in the foreground.

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