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Mental Health

Adjusting To A “New Normal” When You Barely Got Used To The Old One

I, like the ever growing percentage of the US population, am vaccinated. Yay! Now life can get back to normal, right? Right!?


Well, first, define normal. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that ‘normal’ is relative. Life is one twist and turn after the other, and it’s our goal (perhaps even our sacred duty?) to roll with the punches. To convince ourselves we are comfortable in the new normal, whatever that may be.


During the pandemic, normal for me was… not good. I’m not alone in this - I don’t think anyone can really say they have been thriving for the past year and a half. In the interest of keeping our communities and loved ones safe, we’ve had to put a lot of basic selfcare on the back burner. For a time, leaving the house, being with friends, having new and exciting experiences, everything that makes us human, all these activities were NOT normal. 


Personally, I noticed myself sinking into ruts without any hope or plan to escape. I was drinking often, smoking and vaping nearly everyday out of sheer boredom. I lost touch with my friends and close family members, neglecting relationships which used to sustain me. As much as I love these people, I found even the simplest social interactions to be exhausting. Being the socially anxious, introverted, home-body that I am, I found social distancing practices to be an over indulgence. I basked in all my bad habits without being able to make meaningful change because I felt I had no control over my situation. At my worst, I was even questioning the value of my own life. 


When I first got my vaccination, I felt overwhelmingly hopeful. Maybe even foolishly so. I imagined all the places I would go, all the things I would do, all the changes I could make. I could start going to the gym —the gym! Really!— I could stop drinking, at least alone, and start going out with friends. I could go to a concert. Get a tattoo. Visit a theatre. I’d have more energy, more experiences, less depression, less anxiety, the whole shebang. I was ready for a new normal, one where I was in the driver's seat. I was about to fix my whole fucking life.


Safe to say this didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely found peace of mind being vaccinated. I have been seeing my friends more than before and visiting stores more frequently, which is nice. As the weather warms, I’m excited to be outside more, and I’ve made plans to reconnect with some of my old pals. But generally speaking, outside of the pandemic, I have no idea how my life is supposed to look.


It can be hard to return to “life as normal” when you’ve barely got a sense of a normal life. Being a 20-something college student, I am supposed to be taking this time to figure all that out. To explore myself, my relationships, and the world around me. To find my place in that world. I don’t really feel like I’ve had a chance to do that yet. How can I adjust to a new normal when I barely got used to the old one? 


There’s so many things I don’t know about myself that I wish I could've figured out by now. How often, for example, would I actually enjoy a night out with my friends? How often would I enjoy a quiet night in, considering this version of normal where I have the choice? Do I even like big parties, or am I just romanticizing an experience I feel isolated from? How often am I supposed to visit my parents? How am I supposed to be open with the people who care about me regarding my mental health? Would exercising regularly really make me feel better, or am I just fated against any and all physical activity, as I suspect? 


Obviously, attempting to fling myself into a new, vaccinated, mental-illness-free life just wasn’t going to happen. Getting back to any sense of normal will undoubtedly be a slow process. We are human, afterall. We can’t change ourselves overnight. 


So where do we begin?


I suspect that each of us will have to take our own paths back to a sense of normal. Personally, I am investing my time into therapy to help with my antisocial and agoraphobic tendencies. I believe that we could all use a therapist, even just to check in periodically. But especially after the pandemic, I imagine we all have bad habits and low self-images that could be improved with professional help.


I am also taking the time to explore these unanswered questions I have about my social life. Though it is often scary, I am putting myself in uncomfortable situations and focusing on the growth on the other side. Little bit by little bit, I am coming out of my hermit shell and re-entering the world. I am rebuilding friendships and beginning to explore the city I have lived in for the past 3 years. I am creating my own version of normal, and putting it together piece by piece, one experience at a time. 


Obviously, we will never live in a world where the pandemic didn’t happen. So going back to normal as we knew it is impossible. The world and all the people in it is forever changed. Not to mention that many countries less fortunate than ours are still in the grips of the pandemic and will likely not recover for the foreseeable future. 


So, really, there is no “new normal”. We are all going through this at our own pace. Find the normal that works for you in any given moment and stick with it. Try new things and see if they work out. If they don’t, oh well, at least you’ve learned something new about yourself. 

Hannah is studying English Creative Writing at Michigan State University. She is passionate about art, poetry, good food, and working toward a sustainabile future.
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