I have a really hard time with the phrase “new normal.” Can I just say that? It implies that somehow after a horrible trauma, crisis, or global event like a pandemic we can somehow get to a “normal“ state again. But sometimes the life we live after such events is anything but normal-and frankly, I have a hard time trying to convince myself or others that it should be considered so.
Ask any parent who’s lost a child, anyone who has suffered a critical illness with lasting effects, or- like my 20 year daughter- someone who suffers daily from chronic illness. There is nothing “normal” about life after or while suffering from these conditions.
The definition of “normal” is “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.”
In today’s world, almost nothing about our day-to-day life is usual, typical, or expected. Perhaps you’ll say, “But, it’s normal for us NOW.” Well, hear me out.
Consider our social lives today with the pandemic. The CDC recommends that we wear a face covering when we leave our homes, stay at least six feet apart from others, and avoid large crowds of people for our safety & for the safety of our loved ones. Despite following these cautions, people can still get sick. Too many of them have died before their time- unexpectedly. This is not “normal.”
We are now facing the prospect of returning to school. Teachers across the country are worried beyond words because they don’t know how they can remain safe and teach our children. Every teacher knows that it’s the relationship they have with the students that creates the learning environment. It’s the “Hello!” hugs, the pat on the back or the high five when a new skill is learned. It’s the shoulder to shoulder conversations in hallways when a student is needing a pep talk or a firm but loving redirection. How will school be “normal” without this?
How will students’ lives be normal without being able to sit in that tight circle on the hallway floor, eating lunch together and gossiping? Or playing basketball at lunchtime?
Or for the little ones without singing in class or small group work? College students learning online instead of meeting their new dorm roommates? Clearly, it will not be “normal.”
My point is not to be negative-just the opposite, actually. I ask you to acknowledge that this time period is anything but normal. To identify it as such by adding the adjective “new” before it does each of us a disservice. It denies the absurdity of what we’re experiencing and the heartbreaking truth of it.
So how, then, do we choose to navigate this time without living in sadness? The answer, I believe, lies in finding the beauty in our current suffering. What beautiful thing does it say about us if we’re struggling with what they call “the new normal?”
For me, the struggle tells me how precious human connection is to me. It reminds me to cherish every single moment spent with my family, friends, and even strangers when we interact. It reminds me to be grateful for every student I’ve taught over the 11 years that I’ve been a Special Education teacher. Each one was a gift- even if I didn’t feel that in the moment. Even those “tough“ kids were part of the patchwork of the experience.
For others, the struggle with this ‘new normal’ might say how much they value their independence. Perhaps they can find ways to express that independence while still remaining safe. Perhaps they can find new ways to be independent and community-minded at the same time.
And finally, perhaps for some of us, the struggle with “new normal” could say that we still have hope; that this is NOT how we want life to be forever. That’s why I like to refer to our current time as “life today” rather than the new normal. It’s how life is for today- not necessarily for always. It accepts that this is "how it is" for now-- with radical acceptance and finding beauty in the now-- while still remaining hopeful for better days ahead.
So, we hold on to hope by connecting with others in new and meaningful ways. We find ways to be close despite distance. We find beauty amidst the suffering, because that’s where hope lives.
What beautiful thing does your struggle with “the new normal” say about you? Find that, cherish It, and create your “life today” around it.
❤️Be well. ❤️
"How do I help my clients who suffer from anxiety about the pandemic when I'm so anxious about it myself?" That question posed to me by a friend and fellow therapist (in one of those, "new normal" conversations by FaceTime) really hit home. As the sole caregiver to two family members who are considered "high risk," I agree that these times can definitely cause anxiety.
Anxiety can be described as worry or stress- usually about some future event. We all know what anxiety feels like. We usually feel it in our bodies somewhere, often before we're aware of the anxious thoughts. It's that pit in your stomach, the clenching of your teeth. I know my anxiety finds a home in my neck and shoulder area- and I can find myself hunching up my shoulders or holding my breath without thinking about it. That's how anxiety works: it finds a home in your body and lives there while you're going about your daily life.
So yes, we all know anxiety, right? Even the 'coolest" among us has had at least a few moments of anxiety in 2020, with the pandemic, fears about their own or their family's safety, financial worries due to lost wages, and the spike in the virus numbers now that we've tried to reopen. Add to all of that the social issues we're facing in our country with the strife communities of color are experiencing and the division caused by political differences and we have a perfect storm for anxiety to live in our collective body as a country.
How do we evict anxiety from its home in our heads and our bodies? Here are some thoughts: