Feeling guilty in the ‘New Normal’
To listen to this blog in audio format go to MindMate Podcast #4
Normal is a funny word. Totally subjective, but it’s something I’m hearing all the time right now as we start to dream of “when things go back to normal”. For me, “normal” is heading into cinemas, shopping without one-way systems and laughing with friends in a beer garden in Summer. But I am not blind to the reality that this likely won’t be the case for some time.
For the last three months, we have reinvented what “normal” means: be it wearing professional clothing on top and pyjamas on bottom for that meeting on Zoom, losing for the sixth consecutive time in the Pub Quiz on Zoom, or just trying to figure out how on Earth to work Zoom.
But with all this adjustment, I have found an opportunity to breathe and pause. Pre-lockdown I’ve been desperate for an opportunity to stop, and the devastating impact of this disease has provided some silver linings against the disruption, grief and heart-ache across the globe. It’s made me think should I be feeling guilty that I feel relief of not having to travel on overcrowded public transport at rush hour. Am I heartless that I am grateful that I can control my work/life balance a little better while so, so many have lost their jobs and income.
Throughout the lockdown, I have realised my anxiety has been remarkably low, spiking only the day of the Prime Minister’s updates for fear that we can go back to normal. Obviously, I speak from a perspective of privilege. I still have a steady part-time income, though as a freelance artist – many of my contracts have dried up for the foreseeable future. I live with my family, my cat and I managed to get Animal Crossing the day before the lockdown was introduced. Though, through hushed whispers of my innermost thoughts about feeling surprisingly okay with my situation, and more specifically my mental health, I have realised I am one of many.
Throughout the world, my friends have all talked to me about how this enforced stop is something they’ve been desperate for for so long. It’s allowed us to get through that Netflix show, to realise what we have taken for granted in the old normal, to appreciate our friends who check-in or throw a virtual birthday party. Yet it comes back to the reality for so many who are grieving the loss of a loved one gone before their time, struggling to make ends meet while on furlough, or a total loss of income. Can we really be grateful for a new normal when it is also so cruel? Is it worth cleaner air and clearer seas when mass graves are also being dug? Has these silver linings shown us what matters to us most, and what adjustments we can make to improve our mental health as we emerge into a less-restrictive Summer?
Personally, I believe it’s absolutely right to celebrate feeling better in and amongst the chaos. Guilt is a totally normal and human emotion, but one which shouldn’t lessen your personal growth and joy in how the world has improved in some ways. I believe this is an opportunity for us to explore what we miss, what we shouldn’t be bringing back to our lives, and how we can shift the status quo to work for everyone. It’s up to us how we shape the new normal, and for me it will be unashamedly better for my mental wellbeing.