What was ‘normal’ for you, before all this happened?
I was trying to build a new ‘normal’ for myself. It took 5 years to finally feel like it was all coming together…
My ‘normal’ was going to the city twice a week for graduate classes. It was reading a new book every week and spending two hours talking about the writing craft with a group of people who understood my writerly feels. It was also attempting to read several PDFs and webpages for another class and spending another two hours sitting in a physical classroom, listening to other people talk and trying to follow the discussion with minimal input.
My ‘normal’ involved falling back into drinking coffee 2-3 times a day, visiting different coffee shops and cafes, comparing different blends and brews, and finding the right pairings with pastries and other sweet delicacies.
My ‘normal’ invited a few more people into regular correspondence. It helped me to practice better social skills. It was beginning to restructure my self-confidence and raise up my self-esteem. It meant slowly feeling like I was “participating” in society again.
So what was ‘normal’ for you?
I have had different ‘normals’ before finding the one that almost became ‘consistent’ and ‘stable’.
One ‘normal’ involved taking care of a sick parent for more than a year. It involved playing the role of emotional anchor for a family that struggled to get back to ‘normal’ before the illness happened. It was ‘normal’ for me to shrink into social obscurity because I could not bear the sympathy and pity from others whenever they asked about my family’s well-being. No one really wants to hear the sad news that hides underneath “we’re doing fine.”
Another ‘normal’ was grieving at the loss of a brother who was the only other person to understand me. It meant forcing myself to reach out to people I knew, but only one or two actually making the effort because they had a certain capacity of compassion that is not often expressed by those who you would think were your friends. It also brought me to join a few social circles that intended to be healing spaces–which, at some level, it did. But the fear of closeness returned in waves, causing me to retreat for periods of time because the stronger the attachments, the higher the stakes of losing another person and grieving that loss again and again.
That brought on another ‘normal’ where I could not make up my own mind about anything. What was I going to do with my life, and who was it really for? Did I really want to work? For what purpose (money, fame, title, job security, social status, altruism, social justice)? Is it for community, for family, for myself? Will any of this matter until the end of my time? Will anyone bother to remember what I had contributed to the world? This led to much stalling before any ‘proper’ action took place because I wanted to make the ‘right’ decisions that would not invite others to question my motives. But the guilt of ‘doing nothing’ made me stall even more, as I tried to plan an ‘effective’ course of action for my ‘future’.
But there was one ‘normal’ that had been consistent through the years, and that was seeing everyone else have better ‘normals’.
Their ‘normals’ involved major life events (engagements, marriages, births, job promotions, first house ownerships), travels, parties, happy memories. The occasional nostalgia train would remind me of my past ‘normals’ that nearly aligned with others’ ‘normals’ because we all looked forward to adulthood and be freed from the ‘normal’ that felt so mundane. It seemed like some were able to achieve the ‘normal’ they were looking for, that could be seen as ‘acceptable’ to those who have a ‘good idea’ of what ‘normal’ should look like…
So what does ‘normal’ mean for you?
This current ‘normal’ that I am experiencing is almost like the ‘normal’ I had back in 2016-2017. I was more socially withdrawn and getting deep in my feels… The only differences are: I am somehow able to process where the pain is coming from (through reflections in a journal), there is a global pandemic that ‘encouraged’ us to practice ‘social distancing’ (it was like I was prepared for this), and my computer has Sims 4 installed (where I can simulate a ‘normal’ in a game without leaving my home).
There is no doubt that I do not feel all too happy about this ‘normal’.
No one is okay with this ‘normal’. And it is valid to feel this way…
But I hate the idea of ‘normal’ which implies that there was a certain standard that everyone had to live that could be considered a ‘universal’ ‘normal’.
Because what is ‘normal’?
Nothing will return to ‘normal’. There won’t be a consistent ‘normal’ because, as life goes on, our sense of ‘normal’ will continuously change. And yet the public discourse on ‘normal’ assumes that things were better before all this. It is relative to those who benefitted from a ‘normal’ that privileged their livelihood.
We are striving to have a ‘normal’ in our lives. But we forget how different our ‘normals’ are compared to others. So it is wrong to say that something isn’t ‘normal’ enough. We don’t know ‘normal’.