There is a lot of talk right now about returning to normal. After over a year of living in some sort of suspended animation, our world around us is beginning to open up. How are you feeling about this? How do we safely emerge from our protective bubble? Do you even want to return to “normal”?
In March last year we were thrust into a world of rules, restrictions, isolation, technology and varying degrees of fear. We had to learn to survive in a world which we were told was dangerous. We had to protect ourselves and our loved ones from an invisible enemy and in order to do so, we had to physically distance from those around us at a time that we probably wanted to hold them closer than ever. For many, our worlds got smaller. We were told to “stay at home, save lives and protect our nhs”.
We now have a whole new vocabulary. We use words on a daily basis that we would not have used when things were “normal” such as “covid”, “lockdown”, “furlough”, “variant of concern”, “face masks”., and “social distancing”. I wonder if these words are here to stay. It is common now in every day conversations to enquire whether someone has yet been vaccinated.
Now the big wide world is opening up again, beckoning us to emerge, to socialise, to eat out, to go to pubs and gyms, to hug “cautiously” (whatever that means), to return to places of work and to travel. On the news and social media we see crowds at airports, football matches and groups of friends laughing together in restaurants and bars. Things are “returning to normal” we are told. The implication is that we should all feel excited about this. Some do. Some don’t.
For some, this is what they have been waiting for. People who have been craving that social connection and felt like prisoners in their homes are excited and making plans to embrace their new found “freedom”. For others, they have enjoyed the freedom of being able to live comfortably and not being forced into social occasions, not having to find excuses to cancel plans. For those people there was comfort in not being “allowed” to meet up when the truth was that they didn’t want to. Some don’t want to return to places of work and have found that they are able to work remotely and have more of a work/life balance. Some people have found peace and contentment in the quieter world of the last 15 months. For many, their priorities have changed.
There has been so much loss this year. Loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of security, safety and stability, loss of routine or ending of relationships. Some have suffered more than others and many are still grieving or trying to find their safe place.
There are people who feel angry at restrictions, people who don’t believe there is any risk and who just want to return to living as they did before the pandemic. Many are desperate to be reunited with family members and possibly new babies in the family who they have not even met. There are others who are afraid at what they see as restrictions being lifted too early and who would prefer to proceed with caution. My work recently has shown that many are really struggling to manage anxiety in their day to day lives. These differing views are often held strongly and can cause division amongst friends and family. Some are desperately trying to make up for lost time by planning lots of meetings, sleepovers and holidays, whilst their friends or family members might be struggling to find ways to say that they simply aren’t ready yet.
I am seeing all of these things and more in my work with clients which is highlighting for me that “normal” is different for everyone. We must all manage our own normal in the way which works for us. I think it’s important for us all to remember that we have been through something together that most of us would never have imagined and whilst it has impacted in different ways, I wonder if we can ever truly return to how things were when they were “normal”.