In case you have not figured it out already, life looks a little different today than it did earlier this year. Somewhere around March 2020, many of us morphed from professionals into teachers, remote workers, therapists, future predictors, and pop tart hoarders, all while trying not to freak the heck out that the entire world was shutting down.
Sometimes, I think about what I would tell my old self if I had the opportunity to call pre-COVID Bunny, circa February 2020. Maybe it would go something like this:
Current Bunny: Hey, listen – it may sound odd, but you are going to want to stock up on some toilet paper and buy a bunch of Zoom stock. Now.
Pre-COVID Bunny: Um, okay, but why?
Current Bunny: Also, you probably want to see about getting that old Xanax prescription renewed. It would be good to have 90 days’ worth mail-ordered as soon as possible.
Pre-COVID Bunny: I (we?) haven’t taken Xanax in years. Remember? We meditate, do yoga, go riding, get massages and pedicures, hit the gym, go out to eat with friends. We have this stress management and self-care stuff on lock. Don’t be silly.
Current Bunny: Oh yeah, that reminds me, you also are going to want to get new riding boots. You’re about to have a LOT more time for riding.
Pre-COVID Bunny: So I’m in for lots more anxiety, a ton more time on my hands, and a depressingly large need for toilet paper? You realize you sound insane, right?
Current Bunny: Sure. But in my world, that term is really quite relative.
As I write this, I am half laughing and half grieving the days when I could just hop in the car, hit the gym for a kick-ass cardio class, and go out to eat at a restaurant (and sit indoors without wondering which surfaces are safe to touch and how far away I’m sitting from other people).
Remember when we were told that this would just be a two-week endeavor? When we thought we could just hunker down for a little while, and then the world would go back to “normal?” But nothing ever goes backwards. Even if you are reading this in the years since the great pandemic of 2020, and the COVID crisis is ancient history, I think you’ll still agree: The funny thing about life is that it is always changing. For better or worse, our experiences always impact our lives, sometimes on the micro level (personal crises), and sometimes on the macro level (giant, worldwide crises). No matter how large or small the impact, once it happens, it has happened. The past cannot be undone.
This is actually both good and bad news. Knowing and accepting we can never go back means acknowledging that where we are is someplace new, which can be kind of scary but also exciting. But realizing change cannot be undone also means accepting there will never really be a “new normal,” and not only, as I’m fond of saying, because there is no “normal” other than the setting found on a washing machine.
What I’m trying to say here is that because change is always happening, and we can’t undo what’s been done, the whole idea of “normal” was an illusion to begin with. Life is always shifting and changing. If you look back, you’ll easily see this is not the first time you’ve experienced a major change or shift in your life. Sure, maybe it wasn’t a global pandemic, but you survived. We have all survived a lot, especially recently, and now that we are where we are (with no “new normal” in sight), it’s time we all take a deep breath and, together, start the process of getting our heads around what has happened and how we’ve been coping with it.
I never actually thought I could miss going to the grocery store. But I do. Not so much the store itself – I do still buy groceries – but the freedom of it. I remember sometimes I would just aimlessly wander the aisles to see what was there, never thinking about what I might be exposing myself to by staying for too long. I was just drifting for a moment in time.
Now, when your thoughts drift, do you find yourself, like me, reflecting on your “old life” and comparing it with where you are now? That old life almost seems foreign, doesn’t it? Like another world, not one you lived in just a few short months ago. Psychologically, what you are processing is loss. The loss of an aimless wander down the grocery aisles is one example, but so is the loss of the ability to drop the kids off at school. The feeling of knowing they would be taught well and be safe so you could fully dedicate yourself to being present with coworkers and clients that day, upholding and standing strong in the professional identity that went with that peace of mind.
Then, at the end of the work day, you received a “release” – the sensation of a job well done, a chapter closed, a day finished as you walked out of the building, got into your car, and began change-over from your professional to your personal life. The physical act of driving (a different headspace than working) and the time you spent doing it helped with the transition from business meetings to bedtime stories. Now, that time is gone.
So much of what we thought was steady, stable, and secure has changed, so quickly. We have all lost in some way. And, grief is a process, not just a set of stages, as you’ve probably heard. Grief also comes and goes in waves of intensity and emotion. Timing varies. There is no predictability. Loss impacts individuals differently; the journey is never exactly the same.
However, as much loss and grief as we’re experiencing today, we all have one thing in common: We are all facing a changed world, together.
We cannot go back. But we can go forward. And, in our own time, we each will. As we do, we will learn about ourselves, our priorities, and the things that matter most. For in the emptiness of loss, there is space. And, quite often, there is also tremendous clarity.