Is This Normal? I'm nervous to go back to real life
You’ve got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We’ve got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles, in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.
Dear Is This Normal?,
I know that quarantine has been really hard for people, particularly those who lost their jobs. And I know that everyone is restless for this thing to end. All of my friends keep talking about how they can’t wait to go to happy hours, on actual dates, or back into the office. And that makes me feel guilty, because I don’t feel that way.
It’s not that I don’t want the economy to get better and for people to be healthy, because of course I want that. It’s just that returning to “normal” feels like a lot right now. I like the social media messages that encourage everyone to be gentle, to go easy on their thoughts, and to take care of themselves. And I guess that I’m afraid that, once all of this is over, I’ll be expected to go out more and do more—and that feels like a lot of pressure. Is it normal to be afraid of going back to normal?
Afraid to Go Back
Hi, Afraid to Go Back,
Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic came in and tornado-ed through everyone’s professional and personal lives, I was going through a bit of an internal struggle. I was at a career crossroads and wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to lean into. But when once the coronavirus reared its head, that decision was temporarily wiped from my plate. Yes, I was scared, but I was also sort of relieved that I could postpone making a difficult choice. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
In fact, once lockdown started, I had a lot fewer decisions to make. Gone were the days when I’d spent 30 minutes debating if the FOMO I’d feel was worth staying in. It’s no longer possible for me to sit in L.A. traffic en route to head an event that I’m not even sure I want to attend. I don’t have to stress about whether or not to go to the gym because that decision is made for me. Though the world is crazy AF right now, our instructions from the government are really quite simple: Stay home.
COVID-19 has simultaneously made our lives a mess while stripping them away from anything that’s deemed “non-essential.” Going back to normal (which, by the way, none of us have any idea what that will look like) might feel scary because we’re getting so used to what’s not normal. Self-care memes have never been more prevalent. Everyone is encouraging others to “be kind to themselves” and “take it easy.” We’re finally having important discussions regarding the toxic fusion of productivity and worth, as COVID-19 is shining a light on how work-obsessed our nation actually is. We’re a “doing society,” and it feels really, really nice to stop doing, even if it’s just for a little bit.
Are you afraid that, if we go back to normal, this way of life is going to end? I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit afraid of that, too. I was wondering if I was procrastinating on decision-making and using this pandemic as an excuse for not taking any tangible action. Once the pandemic ends, I’ll have that weight back on my shoulders, as well as the pressures of adjustment. I think all of us are a little bit nervous that once this ends, the world will be so eager for normalcy that it will force us back into the world pre-COVID-19, almost as if nothing ever happened. Or worse—we’ll be expected to be more social, more productive, and more alert for it, almost as if some metaphorical judge is saying, “You had your break. Now get back to work.”
But we’re not going to be able to go back to normal because there is no normal anymore. There’s before COVID-19 and after COVID-19. And right now is the perfect time to reflect on what wasn’t working before this pandemic happened and what you want to see in the future. What is it specifically that you’re going to miss about this time? The lack of pressure to be social? The simplicity of decision-making? The memes telling you that it’s okay if all you did today was take a shower? I totally get that.
If I were you, I’d look at the specific reasons as to why you’re going to miss this time. Maybe you needed a break or to slow down, and now you’re afraid of what will happen when things speed back up. But you get to choose what you learn from this, and you get to choose what your new normal looks like. We all do.
Also, it might be a good idea to ask yourself: What do you want your weekends to look like in the future when social distancing ends? What sort of messaging do you want to see in your Instagram feed? What do you miss about the “real world”? I know you said you’re enjoying this new space, but I’m sure there’s something you can’t wait to do again. (I, for one, am missing shaken margaritas at my favorite Mexican restaurant.)
You can also think about these questions on a larger scale if that feels right to you. How do you want us as a country to treat essential workers moving forward? How do you want us to preserve these clear skies that are now nearly void of pollution? What do you envision for our medical care system? We have a huge opportunity right now to take steps toward a future we envision. Don’t let this pressure freak you out either; these steps can be small.
Yes, it’s normal that you’re afraid to go back to normal. But take comfort in knowing that we’re not actually going back to normal—rather, we’re taking steps toward something that’s new. And maybe that’s a good thing.