I no longer recall where I heard the phrase, “The price of consciousness,” but the words pass through my brain at least daily, and more often on Mondays during and after my therapy sessions.
The phrase is on the other side of the coin from “Ignorance is bliss.”
The price of consciousness is the paradox of self-awareness. Digging into the way my brain is wired, how the past is etched in my neurons, what causes me distress and joy—these are all vital for every human to do but there is a cost.
Especially for perfectionists like me, when I learn what causes me distress, the implied meaning is that there is something wrong with me. Something broken. Something that then needs fixing.
(This can become very meta, in that this tendency to fix is also something to understand which then causes more awareness and wanting to fix.)
For me, having a therapist to guide me through this paradox is crucial. He can tell me, gently, that there is nothing to fix. There is understanding and then learning how to navigate the way I’m wired, the way distress occurs.
He gave me an analogy of being in a boat on a rough ocean. The boat is going to rock, and I will try to make corrections in order to keep moving forward. Sometimes the correction will be too strong and I’ll whip to the other side. The point, though, isn’t to avoid the rocking but to course correct.
Otherwise, I’d be berating myself for not figuring out a way to stop the rocking all together, which would mean stopping the storm and the waves themselves.
Although my perfectionism plays a huge role in my tendency to view that which causes me distress as something to fix rather than something to work with, I also wonder what role living in today’s world plays.
Maybe the price of consciousness is a societal construct.
We are surrounded with messages about making our lives easier, being more productive and organized and efficient. There is a fix for everything, so why shouldn’t there be a fix for my own brain seeming to stand in my way?
We are taught that there is a pill, a hack, a shortcut, a magical switch (remember those “easy button” commercials?) to override what is “wrong” with us in order to meet some impossible version of success in our capitalistic, harried world: perfect diet, perfect fitness, perfect schedule, perfect homeschooled children, perfect relationships, perfect creativity and work ethic, and somehow also perfect vulnerability in the face of so much superficial.
If the way my brain is wired makes any of this difficult, I’m taught there is something wrong with me that I should be able to find a fix for.
We are not taught to change the system that creates this impossible task. We are not taught to question the idea that not everything needs fixing. We are not taught how to course correct and roll with the waves. We are not taught patience, delayed gratification, being satisfied with imperfection.
Society is teaching us how to be overworked androids instead of supporting us as flawed humans.
Mental illness is on the rise during the pandemic.1 It’s no wonder: not only are we grappling with a worldwide disaster, we’re doing it in the face of pressure to be extra productive and perfect during this time. This trend is especially prevalent among “individuals who are already at increased risk.”
We—that is, our society—aren’t helping anyone by insisting that we all hack our way to being perfect. This impossible standard creates disparities and misery and rather than a support structure that meets people where they are.
We can start with ourselves. I can start with myself. I do not need to be fixed. You do not need to be fixed.
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