How Do I Feel About Returning to Normal After the Pandemic?

With the world opening up, I've felt uncertain about returning to "normal" life. I recently participated in an in-person webinar which caused me to re-think.

How Do I Feel About Returning to Normal After the Pandemic?
Photo by Ross Findon / Unsplash

The world is opening up and starting to return to some sense of normality. Most restrictions have been lifted in the UK, with no social distancing or requirements to wear face masks. We can now go to restaurants, pubs, theatres, and offices are gradually re-opening. I’ve reflected on how I feel about this and what “normal” even means to me.

I’ve enjoyed home working

I hardly ever used to work from home, but I’ve been doing so since March 2020 with the first UK coronavirus lockdown. Leaving aside the backdrop of the pandemic itself, I initially felt disoriented and disconnected, but as things settled, I’ve enjoyed working from home.

I’ve not missed my 3-hours daily commute into the City of London, and I’ve valued the extra time back for myself. I’m happier spending more of my time in my local area, with family and friends.

One interesting discovery for me is that I have come out of my shell more and more; I've discovered more about myself, joined groups and developed supportive relationships from around the world — something made easier in this transition to a more online world.

I feel uncertain about returning to how things were

With fewer restrictions in place, I’m confronting how I feel about this and what it means for me. In truth, I've felt anxious about this. I’ve become comfortable in my new normal. At times, I’ve felt like an odd-one-out by not feeling excited about returning to an office or going back to how things were.

I feel some resistance to doing more of what I used to do. Some reasons for this include:

  • Coronavirus concerns: despite being double-vaccinated, I’m still concerned about the pandemic. Right now, I know far more people who have or have just had Covid-19 than at any other stage in the pandemic. This isn’t helped with less social distancing and limited mask-wearing, which does make me uncomfortable;
  • Conditioning: I’m aware my uncertainty or resistance about going back to normal may also be because I have become conditioned over the last 18 months to spend more time at home and not mix with larger groups of people. It’s become an established routine and habit, and I know  changing habits can be difficult;
  • Fear of loss: I want to keep hold of all the things I’ve come to value about a different way of working and living.

I’ve come to realise each of us will be grappling with our own challenges, fears and wants. Some want to get back to how things were before as quickly as possible, whereas others may be more cautious or anxious.

I’m reminded about a poem derived from a Tweet by Damian Barr, which begins with:

I heard that we are in the same boat
But it’s not that.
We are in the same storm, but not the same boat.

We have each been through the same pandemic, but we have each had very different experiences of it, experiencing losses or extreme hardship, facing challenges, feeling imprisoned during the lockdown, but may also have found positive things emerging.

The poem continues:

“We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different. And each one will emerge, in his own way, from that storm.”

It is important to note, as we move towards a return to normal, we are each feeling differently about what happens next.

A return to London

Canary Wharf, London, during a winter storm (Jan., 2015).
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge / Unsplash

I’ve been into London only a handful of times since the start of the UK lockdown in March 2020 and, in each case, only meeting people individually.

I was faced with a more significant change last week, as I was invited to participate in a panel for a webinar. So far, so good. But then I discovered this would be done with the panel in person in an auditorium in Canary Wharf.

My initial reaction was to want to change my mind. While webinars and presentations always create some degree of anxiety for me, this felt different. I couldn’t quite visualise the idea of travelling from home into Canary Wharf, checking in at an office reception and meeting a larger group of people, including some I would be meeting for the first time.

Then came the realisation - I've put on so much weight in the last year that I no longer fit into any of my smart clothes!

An event like this was normal and routine for me 18 months ago, yet suddenly it felt alien and difficult.

On the morning of the event, sitting on the train into London Kings Cross, I began to feel even more uncomfortable. It may sound strange, but I had the strongest urge to turn back for home. But, I arrived early and settled into a nearby coffee shop, gathering my thoughts and ideas over a welcome flat white.

I arrived at the office ahead of the event, checked in, and was introduced to the panel and organisers. Some I already knew but hadn’t seen in person for such a long time, and others were new introductions.

I immediately felt at ease. I was reminded of the simple pleasure of being in a group conversation, with the natural flow of conversation from one-to-one chat blending into a wider conversation within the group. I’ve found online interaction to be good for me, but the technology isn’t there to facilitate this type of conversation.

Picture of the 5 people on the panel session

Onto the panel itself and, despite it feeling strange to be talking to an empty auditorium, it was lovely to be speaking with the moderator and my fellow panellists in the same room. Again, online panel discussions have been similar, but there was an extra something about being in a room together, which had faded from memory over the last year and a half.

On the journey home, I was exhausted, but I felt a sense of achievement. I enjoyed the panel discussion, meeting everyone and sharing a lunch afterwards.

What happens next?

building with a sign saying "the future"
Photo by Haley Truong / Unsplash

I still feel uncertain about the future, grappling with what normal is for me and what I want. I still want to spend more of my time working remotely and being at home and in my local area. But I’ve learned it’s not all black and white, all or nothing.

Breaking out of my comfort zone has reminded me that I like being in a different place and meeting people in person, and I will do more of this. I’ll continue experimenting and seeing what’s working for me.

Each of us is emerging from this pandemic changed somehow, perhaps with different views on what is important in life or how we want to live and work going forward.

We must look to our needs as we chart our course back to normal. Not to feel pressured to do things because other people are doing it or think we should.

The poem sums this up aptly:

“Let everyone navigate their route with respect, empathy and responsibility”

We need to be mindful of how others may be feeling, experiencing and what they may want and to be not judgemental about this.

The world has changed; we have changed, and we now need to work out what this means together.

How do you feel about this?

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