26 Jun Time Warp
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 26.6.23
It turns out we are not losing our minds. Well, okay, I can’t speak for everyone – have you seen the nonsense some people are posting on community Facebook pages? Honestly, it’s not us, it’s the others.
But this whole thing of not knowing when things happened? How we find ourselves saying, “Gosh, I haven’t seen you for two years!” and it turns out actually it’s been five years, or possibly six months? This is not your fault. Do not panic!
Peer-reviewed analysis from researchers (and let me tell you, this is the best kind of analysis, and not generally evidenced on community Facebook pages) at the University of Aberdeen has found the Covid-19 pandemic has caused distortions in how all of us perceive time.
The study kicked off because GPs noticed patients couldn’t recall the history of their illnesses. So many people could not answer a simple, “How long has your knee been sore?” they decided to launch an enquiry.
The conclusion? During lockdowns, we lost our landscape – or “timescape” if you will – of the big events that mark out our year. Birthdays, graduations, family gatherings for weddings and funerals, our holidays and travel – the kind of events we use as signposts for locating memories – were missing.
You know how this works. “Young Thomas must be almost twenty-five now because Sue was pregnant with him at Rob and Joan’s wedding and they’ve just had their silver anniversary.” If you’re not going to weddings, you’re not seeing pregnant bellies and therefore can’t do the maths on Thomas.
Those weddings, funerals and other events involving tiny pastries are the anchor points that allow us to place ourselves in time. Without them, we’re a bit lost, trying to find our way with a map of the Sahara – just a flat expanse of sand. You might know that something has happened but you can’t tell when because there are no buildings on the map for you to say, “It was near this” or “It was miles before here.”
Though also, you might not remember it happened at all. It is possible someone in your family had a baby in the last three years and you’ve missed it. I don’t want to worry you, but maybe you should check? Maybe a general mention on the family WhatsApp that you’re thinking about taking up knitting again and would anyone fancy a bootie. You can always say you’ve changed your mind once you clocked the current price of wool.
Researchers compared this Covid-induced time warp to the experience of prison inmates. Prisoners might see other humans daily, but they miss out on the big social interactions – not a lot of parties in Cellblock D. So the days drag, but the years merge blandly together.
This comparison made me think, too, of what we tell each other about raising kids – that the days feel long, but the years will be short. You think they’ll never get the kids to bed so you can have some peace, and then suddenly they’ve gone flatting with Thomas.
So it is true of parenting, and prison, and also pandemics that the days are long but the years are short. But what can we learn from this? To make sure we not only mark, but make, milestones. Throw parties. Celebrate all of it. Take that trip. Never pass up the chance to bring everyone together so you will be able to recall, “2023? That was the year we did everything”.