The New Normal
Soon after the first UK lock-down in March 2020, people started talking about emerging to a “new normal.” For many this was about better communities, closer social relationships, better working arrangements, a greener world more ready to tackle climate change.
However, now, almost a year on and in the midst of a third lock-down, a new normal is emerging that wasn’t quite what we expected. I started to notice what was happening to me in the following way.
Many years ago, after the death of my husband, a friend carried out a fabulous physiotherapy massage on me. She said I was very tense around my jaw and we talked about this and how it impacted on my neck leading to headaches. With her help I put into practice some techniques to overcome this and the number of headaches I suffered along with “arthritic” neck problems disappeared. Until the last four or five weeks. My jaw feels constantly tight; my neck is beginning to ache along with my head.
I’m one of those people who are fairly sure that I am managing the psychological impact of lock-down very well. I’m seeing the signs in my body that this isn’t so.
Having suffered with poor mental well-being in the past and being a mindfulness practitioner, I have trained myself to watch for signals of when low moods may strike and develop mechanisms to ensure that they don’t last too long or turn into something harder to deal with. I know that I’m ignoring some of the signs. Staying up way too late and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. There’s very little motivation to just get up and potter around the house. Getting busy and creative is a way of distracting myself, however this only lasts so long, given that craft markets have all but disappeared (I tell myself I’m preparing for next Christmas, however I’ve never been that far sighted in my planning before).
However, here’s the good news (sort of…). It’s not me. It’s happening everywhere to so many people. In fact, compared to many, I’m in a fairly good place. I recognise and rationalise what is happening for me. Many people don’t. Many people are so much more alone and isolated. Developing routines of going out to buy a daily newspaper just so they can make some contact with another human being. Or not going out at all, shunning friends and relatives in fear of contracting a fatal disease. For others, the reality or threat of no work, staying at home, being expected to educate children at home, lack of reliable internet access – or no internet access, cold weather, heating or eating. The list is endless and constitutes so many small things as well as those that are too overwhelming to deal with. When things go wrong, there’s a lack of people on the end of the telephone or physical places to go for help.
The new normal? Everyone’s mental health has taken a bashing to one extent or another. From simply feeling out of sorts, desperate just to have coffee with friends to those contemplating or carrying through on suicidal thoughts: we all have a new normal of just trying to stay sane through the madness of a pandemic.
So, how do I know this? Simply by talking to other people and reading articles online where other people are opening up and saying how it is for them. There’s nothing worse than feeling alone. Feeling that this awful state of mind is only happening to you. And there’s nothing more liberating from those feelings than the realisation that it’s happening to nearly everyone. We just need to stand up and shout out for everyone else to hear “we’re all struggling. We all have bad nights – too many of them. We all want this to end. We are not alone.”
I’m not here offering any solutions. I can only say how it is with me and what I am doing to deal with my little monsters to stop them growing into big monsters. I meditate (more difficult than it was before this all started), I walk, I create (wet felting can be very physical), I’ve decorated part of the house and I’m looking forward to getting back into the garden. I’ve also held on to those relationships that are important with regular phone calls and the wonder of Zoom.
If there’s one good thing we can take into a new normal, is that we never take anyone’s mental health for granted again. Our own or other people’s.
Stay safe and well.