Uncertain times but just what is normal?

You don’t need me to point out that we are living in unusual times.  Many people are having good days and bad.  Often it is useful to know this and realise that you are not alone in these feelings.  There are many contrasting views from embracing doing things differently and living in your pjs to attempting to keep to routine and staying out of your pjs! 

From my perspective I would urge you to spend some time thinking about what feels right for you.  In this I mean really for you, not what fits with other members of the family or what friends say works for them.  Comparison with others coping mechanisms is never helpful but certainly not at a time of added stress.  Your response is just that, unique to you so work out what truly feels a good fit for your own well-being.  If it means that some days are slobbier than others, then that’s fine.

Over the past few weeks, I have read many psychological articles that attempt to explain the way many of us are feeling.  For those who are parents, one comment I read an individual likened it to the moment you come home with your new-born and the feeling is a mixture of a sense of responsibility and utter helplessness (that one made sense to me!).  Many others, including one from the Harvard Business Review by Scott Berinato likened it to bereavement and grief. 

Having worked a lot in this area I could see the similarities before I read this article and others like it.  In addition, having personally experienced close family bereavement, I was aware how much it tapped into my own grief.  The feeling of this situation being out of my direct control, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness were initially quite a shock.  If you think about the situation, we all find ourselves in we have “lost” quite a lot.  Many of us have lost control of parts of our life, some people have lost jobs, even the loss of routine can evoke strong feelings.  Basically, we have lost what we interpreted as normal.

Now this takes me onto something else that is certainly mentioned on social media platforms almost daily.  The idea that normal has gone or when we will be “back to normal”.  Interestingly before Coronavirus even arrived, I spent quite a lot of my time talking about normal.  In therapy it often comes up, clients ask if they are normal, if their feelings are normal, if their life is normal or they long to be more normal.

Normal appears to be an elusive state that many of us are striving to find but, normal is different for each of us.  There may be similarities between people, but even within family units normal is rarely identical.  It’s something else where comparison can cause stress, the “Am I normal?” question that I usually answer with “Well what is normal for you?”  This preoccupation with “normal” also has similarities with bereavement as the process of grief often includes a struggle with how an individual’s experience of normal has been changed by the loss of someone or something.  The process of grief is often about adjustment to a new normal, the idea that things will never be the same again they will be different and a new normal will eventually form shaped by the experience of the loss we have suffered.  There can sometimes even be a resistance of the this new normal, almost a refusal to believe that change has occurred.  Now think of that in terms of people continuing to go to parks on a nice day.  What appears to be ignorance may in fact be a struggle to accept that things are changing and out of control.  Even panic buying may be an attempt to hold onto the normal you know.  Yes, it appears selfish but none of us knows what is going through the mind of another.

If we compare this to our current situation where we are now is a new normal.  It may be temporary; we are aware that this current normal is not likely to be long term (at least we pray it isn’t) and that further adjustment will probably be required.  As humans we like certainty so living with a temporary normal feels strange.  Unease is to be expected as we are unable to plan within the current state as we know that further change is to come.  We are in a temporary state between our old normal but know there will be a new one, but we are not quite sure how it will look.  Fear of the unknown, unease about the unknown is common and probably one of the biggest fears or anxieties I see from clients.  So not really surprising that many of us feel anxious and in need to clarity and certainty.

In addition to all of this it is also possible that to some what we are living through now is relatively close to their usual normal.  I have had clients who were agoraphobic, who rarely left the house.  There are people who suffer with chronic conditions which mean their immune systems are low and they are at risk from all viruses not just this new one, to them they may spend much of their time avoiding others.  There are people who work from home most of the time and although they may socialise outside of the home their work life is relatively unchanged.  There are people who are separated from family for a variety of reasons and therefore not communicating with them is nothing new.  All of these are examples of how all our “normals” are very different.  Therefore, this explains why each of us is experiencing this situation differently and reinforces again why comparison to others in not helpful.

So, now you are probably saying well that’s all very well but how to I cope with where we are now.  In this time of what I will call temporary normal the best way is probably to live in the moment, looking back at how things were or forwards to how things might be could well make things a bit harder.  Firstly, we cannot undo where we are now and some of what has happened will have changed some of us or the world in general for good.  Secondly none of us really knows what lies ahead and trying to predict it can be quite unsettling.  Therefore, as I said at the beginning, try and live in this moment, go with what needs doing in the here and now and acknowledge how you are feeling today.  If you feel like quiet time have some and if you feel like being productive and getting stuff done, then do that.  But just as I say to clients all the time, don’t beat yourself up if its not quite how you planned it or doesn’t appear to fit with how someone else is dealing with things.  Remember we are all unique and different and each of us has a different normal and different needs.  I’ll say again forget comparison!

This time does however give you a unique opportunity to reflect and take stock.  There are many parallels to therapy.  There is often a particular event which brings a person to therapy but in the process, they often look at their life in general.  They often reflect on past events and evaluate the things that work and serve them well that they might like to keep moving forward.  They also face the things that don’t work.  Often these are things that we can overlook when life is busy but when faced with therapy or just time to focus on oneself, they become obvious. 

As I have said before in these blogs therapy is the ultimate in self-care.  A time to reflect on what works in life and what does not.  Many of us now have additional time available to us.  How often can we say we have time to look at ourselves, our life and our goals.  One thing is for sure we will emerge but for now we live in uncertain times as we construct how we would like our new normal to look.