Life Is An Exercise In “Both/And Thinking”


Tomorrow will mark exactly two months since March 15th, the day in which two Christchurch mosques were attacked in an intentional act of racial violence.

A lot has happened in the eight weeks since New Zealand’s darkest day: Our Prime Minister announced a national ban on all military-style semiautomatic weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kinds of guns used in the attack. Hundreds of vigils and memorials took place across the country including a vigil in Christchurch attended by over 40,000 people and a march in Auckland where people carried “Migrant lives matter” and “Refugees are welcome here” placards. Not to mention the thousands of heartfelt essays, opinion pieces, declarations of solidarity and praise from all corners of the globe.

If you’ve ever been in therapy (shout out to my queens!!), and in particular Cognitive Behavioural therapy, then you may have heard of something called “Both/And Thinking”. It’s basically the idea that two things can be true at once. That even the shittiest of situations are often tinged with optimism. That you can feel happy and sad. Scared and hopeful. Both. At the same time. And in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack, in all the ways I’ve just mentioned, we were unceremoniously forced into an exercise of Both/And Thinking. We found ourselves mourning the loss of our people, the loss of our collective innocence that had wrongfully convinced us we were immune to such acts of extremism, but at the same time feeling overwhelmed by the outpouring of love (!!) within our local communities and the powerful displays of solidarity, unity and kindness. We felt helpless and hopeful. We were grieving and yet full of gratitude. Both. And.

This is an uncomfortable space to exist in. In the aftermath of grief, it can be really hard to access the “And” part, instead forcing ourselves to think we should be one or the other: happy or sad. Grateful or grieving. It’s like when you’re a child and you operate in an “Either/Or” mindset, so when you hear your parents arguing in the kitchen late at night while you’re trying to fall asleep (*counting the number of glow stars on your bedroom ceiling*), you immediately decide they don’t love each other anymore and are now heading for Divorce Town. Capital D. Capital T. You couldn’t even fathom the possibility that your parents still love each other even when they don’t particularly like each other. And now as adults, we find ourselves slipping back into that Either/Or mindset once again, except now we’re casting judgement on ourselves for being the ones not sitting in one emotion in its entirety.

For what it’s worth, I still haven’t mastered Both/And Thinking. I still feel guilty the first time I tell a funny (debatable) joke after someone I love passes away, the first time I smile genuinely having been at a funeral only a few weeks prior. I also know women who can’t understand why they feel so isolated in their experience of infertility, despite knowing it’s a path walked by many, or friends who feel jealousy at the thought of their ex-boyfriend with someone new, despite it being their decision to end the relationship. They think: How is everyone suddenly pregnant now that I can’t conceive? Why do I feel like I’m the only one going through this when I know countless women who have stood where I am now? And: Am I happy that we’ve broken up or am I jealous that they’ve found someone knew? Why do I care if he’s at dinner with a PYT (pretty young thing) when I don’t want to be with him anymore? Do I care or do I not care? Which is it?

And the answer is: it’s both. It’s isolation and community. It’s sad but lucky. It’s moving forward with fear and hope. It’s learning that sometimes life gives to us by taking something away. That even when things are just f*cking terrible, there are still moments of levity. That it’s still a good life even on life’s worst day.

Both. And.

Header image via Tumblr