For some years now I’ve been interested in mapping the things that we don’t normally make maps of. I ran into the idea first in Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess where she talks about mapping the journey to help others find their way.
Sometimes, all we have is our own story about an experience. How big, important, unusual it seems may be entirely due to having no map. Further, without a map of some sort, where do we go in the new territory we’ve entered? Much of our standard mapping comes from the cultures we inhabit – consider the romance map, the maps we have for success which are all about owning big shiny things. There was a period when politicians liked to talk about their moral compass, but a compass without a map is of limited use and a direction that makes good sense in one context won’t always work the same way in another.
At the moment most of my personal mapping has to do with the body. I’m looking at the diversity of how bodies work, and the narrow path we give as the map for what we are supposed to do. What helps with this is when people share their stories with me. I’ve found putting things on facebook and on here is really effective for generating stories. Of course there are always people who respond to questions by feeling the need to tell me what to do, which is less helpful. That kind of response comes, I think when we assume the map to be small, and one person’s experience likely equates to what everyone else gets.
When we share stories about life experience, what rapidly emerges is the diversity. I’ve been talking about what we eat, and body size and stress, and exercise, and the breadth of what people want, what they need, what worked for them – we are so incredibly different. We can learn a lot from each other without having to succumb to the idea of total similarity.
When you offer the map of your own terrain (here’s what happened to me, here’s what I did, here’s what happened next) the person gifted with your map is free to take up any bits that connect to their map, and not explore territory that isn’t theirs. There’s no judgement implicit in saying ‘this is what happened to me’. There’s none of the power-over that comes with saying ‘this is what you should do’. We’re entitled to our own choices, even the bad ones. I’ve been round this with the issue of heavy periods, told I should get myself medicated into not having a problem – it is useful to know the medication exists, it is essential to have the right not to have to normalise my body on those terms.
A year ago, when deep in depression I asked how you tell when to seek antidepressants. A great many generous people shared their stories with me about what they had done and why, and as I worked through that, it became apparent to me that medication wasn’t the answer I needed. There have always been people keen to tell me that medication was the answer for me, but I’ve found the answer is to deal with the underlying causes, and that’s working well, finally. What the majority of people on or who had used antidepressants told me was that it gave them the time and space to sort out the issues. Not a magic cure, just a holding place. It only works as a cure for the people whose issues are fundamentally chemical in nature. That’s some of us, not all of us.
When we share our stories, we help each other put experience into context, and that can make it far easier to make sense of what’s going on. So, a big thank you to everyone here on the blog and out there on other social media, coming back with stories and insights, and to everyone blogging your own maps of the territories you have encountered.