“I’ll start when things go back to normal.”
“Now isn’t the right time—when things go back to normal, then I’ll try.”
Oh boy. This expression—“back to normal” has been occupying my brain for the last week. So many aspects of our lives have been derailed by the way the world has existed for the past seven months. We’ve mourned and lost and feared and hoped. Our everyday experiences shifted drastically mid-March, and while we have gradually found new systems and put measures in place, our lives are different.
There is a level of activation we are all experiencing—whether that be frustration or anxiety. And as we try to put our best foot forward and march onward, I find this phrase coming up over and over—“when things go back to normal.” This has been said by clients, friends, family and even the thoughts swirling around my own brain.
And so I’ve dissected. What does this mean, “back to normal?” I’ve been parsing each sentiment of this expression and finding myself pondering whether it even makes sense.
It is difficult to define what “normal” means, as this can be so different for so many. Normal might mean when there are zero restrictions and snapshots of 2018 vs. 2021 would look no different—everything will have returned to how it once was, and the chaos of these past many months would be ingrained into our minds, but not be present in everyday behavioral practice. For others, normal means a return to a sense of calm, to a feeling of predictability; this year has highlighted what so many sit with—the feeling of existential fear around the recognition that life can be messy and unpredictable. For others, “normal” means that there is access to what we don’t currently have: large gatherings, amusement parks, walking outside without a mask, etc.
I believe it is important for us, as human beings, ever-growing and adapting, to recognize an essential reality: We never go back.
We learn from the past. We reflect on our own history and the history of our people and others. But we cannot go back to how anything once was because every moment we are moving forward. Even if our world “returns,” we have changed and so we cannot be who we were before. Our world, too, cannot go back to how it was. There may forever be new measures in place, though the level of impact on our daily lives may change.
This may feel like a hard punch to the gut—this reality of the lack of predictability and also that we can never go back to what once was. This is always the case, but feels most difficult during the times when we experience the greatest change. Everything around us is ever changing and while this can feel scary, it can also provide hope. There is always opportunity for growth and for change. We can experience both the fear and excitement and note that both are true and real and important.
I invite you to reflect on what you may be putting off until things “go back to normal.” Ask yourself, is this truly something that cannot happen now? It very well may be—some events, tasks or ventures simply may not be possible due to limitations at this time. And yet, it may be possible—but will need to look different or may feel different from how it would have been to take this step before March 2020.
Be honest with yourself: Can you try now? Can you take a step toward this goal? Can you recognize what part of you is afraid or feeling helpless or defeated? Give compassion to this part of yourself. No—to your whole self. You have been through a LOT this year. It is okay to want to put things off. And while knowing all of this—can you try anyway?
My message to you is ultimately to give yourself grace. And to seek out support. And also to challenge yourself. Use this opportunity to rise up, however you can, to create and hope. You need not climb the entire mountain. But put on your hiking shoes. Take a step.
We may not “go back to normal.” Perhaps instead we can, together, grow into our futures.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in private practice in New York and New Jersey and is seeing clients virtually at this time. Temimah specializes in working with individuals hoping to process and build a closer relationship to themselves. She specializes in working with those suffering from body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and disordered eating and hopes to support individuals in their journeys to accepting who they are completely. To learn more or for a consultation visit www.temimah.com