The Dory Fish and Stressful Times: By Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe
Have you noticed that you forget things more now than you remember doing before? Or perhaps you have communicated events and decisions in your congregations or communities, and folks insist they have never heard it before? I am sure you can think of other examples in your life, family, or the communities you serve where folks just don’t seem to remember very well. I call this The Dory Fish, and it is a normal response to stressful times.
In the movie Finding Nemo, there is a fish named Dory. It turns out that Dory had something bad happen to her long ago, and she just cannot seem to remember things that happened mere seconds ago. For me, the Dory Fish means that I forget names and even occasionally forget what day it is. It is different for each of us but pretty normal for people who are still living in a time of pandemic and a world that can feel out of control.
We can plan for The Dory Fish experience in our lives by doing a few simple things. The first, and perhaps the hardest, is to be patient. Let it be ok that you or those around you just can’t seem to remember things. There is a reason that so many religious, philosophical, and/or spiritual communities stress this point. It can allow us to slow down. In times of stress, this literally calms our brains down and gives the brain the space it needs to respond and remember.
Next is to let go of judgment. Not an easy thing to do. Some of us enjoy the critical analysis of ourselves and others. Yet, when the brain is under heightened stress, judgment becomes yet another stressor to contend with. We cannot know what is going on with people. Letting go of judgment places care of those around us over being right or knowledgeable. This does not mean we accept behaviors willy-nilly. Boundaries matter. It means that we respond to behaviors with clear boundaries and people with compassion.
Third, we engage in repetition. We repeat things again and again. We announce things over and over. In Finding Nemo, Dory remembers an address, and she repeats it over and over again. It helps her remember. In our brains, repetition allows for pathways in the brain to form and take hold. In times of stress, it takes more repetition to learn and remember than at any other time.
Finally, we need to make what we want to remember memorable. We do this in a few ways. First, we keep it simple! We Unitarian Universalists love our words. However, if we want people to remember what we communicate in times of stress, it needs to be simple and fun. For example, what if you are hosting a potluck. Potluck can get lost in the memories of potlucks of long ago. Try “Delectable Download” where everyone brings some delectable food and downloads their lives with one another. It is simple and memorable and even sounds fun.
Whatever you do decide to do, remember that it is normal and even healthy to be forgetful right now. Your body is giving you information that the world is a lot. Your congregation and/or community may be doing the same. Give some space and remember- if all else fails, listen to Dory, “just keep swimming!