Zebras and Octopi

In my life, I’ve struggled with having a very black and white attitude towards many things. Things have always been either good or bad or extremely good or extremely bad, and definitely never neither or both.

Constantly attempting to categorise things like this is my way of dealing with uncertainty.

Of course most things – opinions, feelings, events, people – don’t like being categorised. Most things are grey areas – or yellow, or purple, or polka dot. They’re the Nope Octopus, a whole bunch of leggy squirmy feelings hooning away from my efforts to stuff them in a box.


So I’m learning how to be in that grey area. I’m learning that it’s ok to think that some things are right for other people, and not for me. I don’t have to agree with everyone on everything – not even myself. I don’t even have to have an opinion. I’m learning to just let the octopus go.

I’ve always considered that any sort of stress is inherently negative – it goes straight in the black box. I Nope Octopus it. But of course, there’s such a thing as “positive stressors.” Moving house is a positive stressor. It causes uncertainty and therefore distress – but it can have a positive outcome. For me, being social is a positive stressor. I find it difficult because of my anxiety – but once I do it, I enjoy it. So stress avoidance, while not surprising, is not always the best strategy. It means I miss out.

The Holmes and Rahe Scale is a good indication of why stress avoidance isn’t surprising. It’s used as one method to determine the likelihood of stress in causing illness. A score of 300+ indicates a high level of risk. (I’m at 307… oops. Probably not a good thing! I was round about the same, for the same reasons, before I went to hospital.)

I’m real glad I didn’t Nope Octopus my move – because I’m so totally stoked with my new house. Here’s some pics – not great, because we’re still moving in and they’re just on my phone and there’s been hardly any sun so far (our mattresses are still wet from moving day boooo). But look at it!!

A while ago I was researching The Uncertainty Principle, for a poem. It’s a quantum mechanics theory which kind of helps explain why we avoid uncertainty. It can make us weaker, more grey, less defined.

“In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known simultaneously.”

I wanted to write a poem about how someone’s personality and morals and actions can be eclipsed by the presence or influence of relationships – be they intimate or interpersonal or the relationship between you and, say, an illness or a life event. As well as being ok with uncertainty, I’m also learning to stand strong in the things that matter most to me. This poem is about both those things.

The uncertainty principle

My position is imprecise
greater momentum
makes for a consistently inaccurate
to even the close observer
I am obscured,
distorted by the

magnetic proximity

They may try to
establish a
simultaneous balance,
but the particular inequality of
our pairing
is too peculiar

They’ll find you, eventually
but I
will remain
the uncertainty
the question mark in the equation.

I guess this post is really about being that question mark. Clearly, when I wrote the poem (in 2011), I thought it was a bad thing. In fact, the original draft had the words “blank space” instead of “question mark.” “Blank space” reflects my negativity, it feels totally at sea. “Question mark” suggests I’m still finding my way – but I’m ok with it. I’m ok with asking, with learning. And I’m not a blank space. I have a place.

And it’s a pretty awesome place.

One Reply to “Zebras and Octopi”

  1. Good Gravey

    I was given a presentation at work a while back on “the challenge of change” (http://www.challengeofchange.co.nz).

    It was primarily about dealing with the level of change my organisation faces. The presenter asserted that there is never good stress. It can be pressure, excitement, challenges, but stress is always bad. So he said. I don’t entirely agree, but we did look at some interesting things.

    Our ability to cope with change covers 4 main areas.

    Rumination: how often we keep going over issues
    Emotional Inhibition: hiding our feelings
    Detached Empathy: being able to connect with people without taking on their problems
    (Dammit I can’t remember the fourth – something about social connection)

    During the presentation it really shocked me how much I had taken on all the principles expressed. In a good way. It was one of the drivers behind my “Letting go” post.

    Accepting yourself, loving yourself, and allowing ourselves to let go…just wow. I am so glad you are on this path, Sarah.


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