Now, in the third year of the pandemic, I’ve become somewhat desensitised to the concept of finding “a new normal”. As lockdowns came and went, restrictions tightened and relaxed, it’s been tricky to find a sense of equilibrium in such a changeable environment. But, having said that, there have been certain aspects that have been constant and have left an indelible mark on how I look at things. I’m much more used to being alone now, to being isolated and home, and to keeping my distance from others. Even fully vaccinated and masked, I still tend to veer out of people’s way when walking, maintain a six foot distance, and feel quiet frustration when others don’t do the same. It’s an impulse now, an instinct that I expect I’ll find difficult to drop when “normality” fully returns. And its effects have a backwards lean, too. When watching crowd scenes in films made long before the pandemic, I find myself uneasy watching people so closely grouped together, shaking hands, kissing.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to try to establish a “new normal” in such weird times. In the back of my mind, the cynical part, it feels like a commercial endeavour, a way to continue commanding our attention while we all deal with a collective trauma. Much has been said about how we can’t return to normal, normal wasn’t working (or, even more darkly, “normal was killing us”), and I tend to agree with this. I know it wasn’t working for me, at least.
Since I was a child, I’ve lived with various forms of mental illness, ranging from depression to anxiety, and bipolar disorder, though the latter diagnosis came very late in the game. I’ve wavered from saying that I “suffer” from these conditions to saying that I “live” with them, because although I take medications and practice a number of therapeutic techniques to manage them, they are a part of me and affect how I exist. I had weekly talk therapy sessions for five years, I tried cognitive behavioural therapy, and researched quite deeply into meditation practices to try to help.
One of the worst, most destructive symptoms of my condition has been my tendency towards catastrophic thinking. It’s an expression of anxiety, I suppose, but it can be debilitating. An unanswered phone call can have the same physical anxiety response for me as being accosted in the street (sadly, I have the experience to compare). They feel the same, because for me the unanswered phone call is the start of a story that races through to a similar trauma. The phone isn’t being answered because the person I’m calling has died, and this can happen in seconds. I don’t think this is particularly unique to me, to some extent we all do a spot of catastrophising, and it’s been exacerbated by how reachable we all are now with phones, the internet, etc. But a peculiarity for me is that I’ve had a lot of trouble distinguishing between real threats to myself, and threats further afield, which may not touch me at all.