I Just Can’t Get “Back to Normal”

I feel like we are all just supposed to be “back to normal” now. Like there’s some unspoken edict that says “Move on” and “get back to life.” We are coming up on a year since the first shut-down, and I feel like there’s pressure for life, businesses, schools, relationships….everything to be back to normal with a sprinkling of masks and a bit of physical distancing.

While I am so very thankful to have a flexible job, I still have this sense of guilt that “work” expects us all to be functioning at 110% like we used to. That the only real change is that most of the work is virtual now and therefore, “just get it work done.”  The thing is, there are no breaks at work like there used to be. There are no lunch breaks – I just heat up some food between meetings and eat during the next meeting. There are no commute breaks any more that would allow my brain to rest as I drove to and from home or to a meeting. And sometimes I would be so very lucky and would get to a meeting early and the sun would be shining and I would have a glorious 10 minutes to walk around the block and breathe in the warm spring or summer before settling in. Or I’d get in early to the meeting and chat with the couple other early birds, making small talk or connecting about a new project or idea. These days, I wake up, get kids to school, and sit….and sit….and sit…..alone at my computer (except when I’m yelling at the dogs to stop barking at everyone walking by!). My to-do list is endless and four or five things are added for every one scratched off. My email responses are days late or forgotten all together. Despite all the virtual interaction, I miss people. I miss travel. I miss the energy that comes from brainstorming and working together. And I’m certainly not back to normal.

Resting heart rate as a sign of stress – highest peak was when febrile and sick after the 2nd vaccine; second peak was the stress around boys’ school in February!

I feel like my boys’ school expects us to all be normal again now too. Literally my eighth grader has not gone into the school building all five days of a week for a month. I don’t think he’s mentally ready to do that. He got so out of that schedule that it elicits fear and anxiety in him to actually do it. Last April when I complained that the boys just weren’t able to do “remote learning” on a two-dimensional device given their attention deficit, the teachers reassured me, “Don’t worry, we’ll get them caught up next year.” That was before we knew that a two-week shut-down was a fanciful dream. Now it’s full steam ahead, as if they didn’t miss 25% of last year and had a very slow start for the first half of this year. There’s still an expectation to work at “grade level,” complete assignments, be present and engaged whether at home or at school. There’s an assumption that the kids will be flexible and resilient and go with the flow, even if they do find out at 6:00pm that they are in quarantine and have to remote learn tomorrow morning. We pretend that this constant change, this fear of being around people that’s been instilled, this interacting through a mask, this learning from an iPad, this watching teachers on a screen doesn’t faze them at all. We “speak” of mental health in our kids but we don’t make any changes.  We talk about the achievement lag that is hitting all students across the nation, but what are we doing to actively address this? There’s no way this is a “normal” school year for students or teachers!

I feel like relationships are struggling with the “are we back to normal” yet question. When we greet each other, we now ask, “are you okay with a hug?” instead of just rushing into each other’s arms. We are wary of people that we don’t think are using the same safety protocols that we’ve adapted to for our households. We limit our time together and question every move – were we together too long? Did we site too close? It’s been so long that we’ve welcomed people into our homes that we don’t know how to do it any more. We don’t know if we’re comfortable with people over. And we certainly haven’t kept (I mean, I haven’t kept) the house to the same standards of cleanliness as we’d like in case people do “pop over.” Hearing others’ stories or seeing social media posts, I see that others are hanging out together much more than I have, but I just don’t feel back to normal yet.

All of the usual stresses and challenges of life are happening in the context of greater stress and more worry. And while there’s so much pressure to be “healthy” and “coping” and handling the new situation, I must allow myself to acknowledge that it’s not normal yet and that’s okay. That I’m not managing everything as well as I thought I used to, and that’s okay. That I’m more tired and more irritable sometimes, and that’s okay.

What’s okay is that I am doing my best in the face of the greatest challenge of this lifetime and that I’m leaning on as well as supporting friends and family and relationships in the midst of this, including the three growing boys in this messy house who are also trying to figure out what’s normal now.

A friend reminded me this week of some words I had spoken six years ago…..

She gifted me with a reminder as well. We may not be ready to function as “normal” as much as we’d like things to “just get back to normal,” but we will persist.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-8255) or visit the website for resources. According to an NPR blurb this week, the increased stress from the pandemic will likely soon relate to physical health changes for many.

Let’s continue to uplift and encourage one another.

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