Easing back into the old normal

Saibh Downes outlines the contrasting hopes and expectations that come with the return to the way things were before

Overnight, our society plummeted into total isolation. Our country came to a standstill in March 2020 and has yet to recover. Everything we once knew to be normal no longer is. Normality has been redefined. We are united in our separation. Staying apart has become the ultimate act of coming together, solidarity by means of solitude. We are all going through the same thing, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier. Our lives are ruled by restriction. Most of us relive a minutely altered version of the same 24 hours, day after day. We no longer have the freedom to see the people we love or do the things we love to do. This freedom has been forsaken in order to suppress the virus. And yet, in spite of all the difficulties, for some people, there has come to be a kind of comfort in the ways in which our lives have been changed, and the adaptations we have made and become accustomed to.

The four walls of our home shelters us from the realities of a life once lived. We are no longer forced to face life head-on, going out every day and confronting the world as an active participant in society. We can’t, so instead, we stay inside. Hidden away in isolation, we are confronted with our thoughts and feelings like never before. Some people may find the silence of lockdown deafening, deprived of access to the outside world, they are trapped and tormented by their own thoughts. For others, however, this may be a therapeutic experience of self-discovery, an opportunity to reflect, to get to know yourself better without all the noise of normal life.

There is no right or wrong reaction to what we are going through.”

Over time, isolation can foster disinterest as a coping mechanism. One may choose to be blissfully ignorant, avoiding the continuous cycles of Covid-19 updates incessantly broadcast by newscast platforms. We are constantly reminded of the sickness and death which has become a cruel reality for so many people. It’s overwhelming. You can understand why someone may feel the need to drown it all out. On the contrary, one may become obsessed with the pandemic’s ever-changing developments which are reported, analysed and dissected in the greatest detail every single day without fail – on television, radio and social media. It has been the topic of the hour for a whole year. Everyone has an opinion, and rightly so, how could you not have one? Everyone has been affected by this. It is easy to become consumed by it all, constantly searching for the latest Covid related news, obsessing over every development of governmental strategy or the vaccine rollout, continually listening to the distressing stories of small business owners in financial decay who are desperate for support, students who feel their education, and therefore their futures, have been severely compromised, and distraught families who have lost loved ones. This behaviour is something I have been guilty of, crossing the line from an innocent effort to stay informed, to an unhealthy obsession. But I do not blame myself. In hindsight, this was an attempt to distract myself from my own lockdown anxieties, a way to deal with what was happening in my own life. There is no right or wrong reaction to what we are going through. We are all just trying to cope, trying to survive this period of darkness as best we can.

 Lockdown can be convenient. We don’t go to school, university or work, they come to us. Our professional environment is projected instantaneously through the screen of a laptop. There is no 8am rush hour, rather, a mosey from one room to another, often dressed in one part shirt and one part pyjama bottom. The daily commute has become a thing of the past. For many, the commute to and from work was a necessary, but uncomfortable, feature of every working day. Not only does it necessitate rising earlier than one might want to so as to catch a bus or train, but it takes a certain amount of energy which may be better conserved through an extra hour in bed and then devoted fully to your tasks throughout the working day. The prospect of once again forcing yourself onto an overcrowded Luas at 8am, or searching in vain for a seat on the upper deck of a Dublin bus, is not one that inspires a great deal of joy.

Though some may long for the spontaneity and revelry that comes with an unbridled social life, for others, the lack of house parties and nightclub outings and nights in overcrowded and bustling pubs may be viewed as a blessing.”

Not to be dramatic, but it might be fair to say that the pandemic has put an end to the social lives of many people. Countless students found themselves cocooned at home with their parents and siblings for the first lockdown period. The easing of the restrictions during the summer months offered more opportunities for gathering with friends, though some may still have been apprehensive and limited social encounters as much as possible. For those who decided not to return to Dublin for the academic year, it is very possible that they may not have seen close friends or classmates for almost a year. There may be a fear that once the vaccines have been administered and confidence has been restored, that things may go from 0 to 100 on the social front. Though some may long for the spontaneity and revelry that comes with an unbridled social life, for others, the lack of house parties and nightclub outings and nights in overcrowded and bustling pubs may be viewed as a blessing.

Ultimately, none of us can predict with full certainty when normality will resume. There is also the awareness that really we won’t be returning to normality, but rather adjusting to yet another dreaded “new normal”. For one, masks are probably here to stay, and the days of sharing water bottles at your football training may be condemned to the past. We all hope for an emergence from the difficulties we have endured over the past year, and hope for positive changes to occur as quickly as possible. Yet, at the same time, there may be a lingering strange nostalgia for this strange limbo period in our lives, when we were united together as one, and life slowed down and became a little bit quieter, and a little bit simpler. If it takes you a little while to adjust and ease yourself back into the bustle of a post-pandemic life, rest assured, that there is no shame in that.