Schachter: Finding a new normal

Leah Schachter, Staff Columnist

What is normal, and why do we all want it so bad?

Of course, what’s normal for you isn’t necessarily what’s normal for me. For you, normal might mean long conversations with your cat or a new dancing passion on TikTok. For me, normal right now means spending an inordinate amount of time with my laptop and consuming way more coffee than is healthy for anyone.

But that’s not the normal we’re grumbling about. We want to go back to the ‘golden age’ when masks were for construction workers and viruses weren’t a threat to world stability. We want to go back to that time when we could hang out with friends without feeling any existential guilt.

But is that really what normal is? If you think about it, normal is completely arbitrary. It’s that microcosmic world we’ve built around us—a structure we’ve imposed on the universe. That’s what makes normal so fluid, so adaptable. 

We keep wishing and dreaming that we could just insert ourselves back into the pre-pandemic world, and we would just be happy again. If only we could go to those parties and meet in the same groups, all our problems would go away. We’re taking the vaccine and imagining ourselves in a few weeks giving someone a hug. Or maybe shaking someone’s hand––anyone’s hand really, it doesn’t matter anymore. And once masks are no longer required, it’ll be like the pandemic never happened.

Of course, this is wishful thinking. Crises don’t just happen to us, they become a part of us. We work with and through them, and in turn, they teach us new things about ourselves and reality. They teach us about our resilience, our strengths and our weaknesses. About what we actually need, what makes us feel happy and safe. We discovered the limits of our introversion and bounds of our extroversion. In the last few months we’ve seen the best and worst of each other. I, for one, discovered that Friday night with a book in bed is way better than anything else you could offer me. 

So when we think about all that’s happened over the last year, it’s okay to be scared––scared, confused and exhausted. It’s okay to decide to continue spending your Friday nights in bed with a pint of ice cream.

Just because the pandemic is “ending” doesn’t mean you have to leave right away. There may be parts of this current normal we’re not ready to leave behind. And we don’t have to be. We can still be sad and anxious and stressed. And no, we don’t have to drop our coloring books en masse.

Think about how you adapted to the pandemic. Where you failed and where you felt a little good. We’ve all learned new things about ourselves, about how we manage conflict and stress. Journal, and if you don’t journal, do it this once. Don’t let this year end without taking stock of how it changed you.

Think about the habits you formed. Are they habits that would enrich your life going forward? Self-care is something that many of us didn’t realize the importance of until the pandemic hit. We had to struggle to find ways to destress and feel good about ourselves. Let’s take that with us.

Normal is what we make it. As we move out of the pandemic, make your normal fulfilling and happy, in whatever that means for you.