After a year that changed our lives and turned everything we thought we knew on its head… What will “normal” look like?
As the US vaccine efforts have improved over the last several months, I find myself looking forward to things again. Celebrating holidays with friends and family. No longer being so afraid to leave my home. Getting a long overdue haircut. I’ve recently received my second vaccine and while I’m feeling better about the idea of going out into the world again, I still plan to continue wearing a mask and social distancing per CDC recommendations.
There are many things I’m looking forward to, but if I’m being honest, there are some things I will miss about this past year and the specific experience I have had. I have been extremely privileged and I know that. Not only did I keep my job, but I was able to work from home without issue. My home is a safe space and I do not have to fear being here. My loved ones took this seriously from the start so I didn’t have to worry about convincing people to make safe choices. I wasn’t evicted. I was able to easily navigate booking a vaccination in my area when I was eligible. The list goes on and on and I am very aware of the incredible fortune I’ve had during this time.
The benefits of having a better handle on the pandemic as a nation far outweigh any of my personal experiences. The point here isn’t to say that I wish things wouldn’t change, because that’s simply not true. What I hope to do here is acknowledge what I’ve learned about myself through these extreme circumstances and how I can take this new understanding with me as we slowly return to a life that looks more like it did before March 2020.
I know that I’m not alone when I say though, that some parts of the pandemic, especially the social distancing, have made the IBS part of my life less complicated.
When working from home, I’m always near a toilet I like where I have the resources I need when I’m struggling. If I experienced a flare up in the last year and didn’t want to do anything but curl up on the couch with a hot water bottle and cup of peppermint tea, I didn’t have to stress about excusing myself from a social event or canceling plans, or going through with plans and feeling like I might burst at the seams. There were no activities at all for a time and even after there were, I refrained due to the pandemic. While I advocate for sharing your truth and not being ashamed of IBS, I also understand that you may not always want to tell everyone that you’re canceling plans because you need to be near the bathroom until further notice. Simply removing the pressure of having that conversation over and over again was a game changer for my mental health.
The daily commute became a relic of a different time. I didn’t realize how much my daily commute impacted my mental health until I no longer had to deal with it. Not only have I not had to sit in traffic or even drive at all most days, but I was also able to put this reclaimed time to use by walking my dog in the morning and doing yoga in the evenings, both activities that help me manage stress.
When restaurants closed down, we started ordering takeout occasionally to support local businesses. Normally, I would have had to ask all sorts of questions about the food and potential trigger ingredients, but since we were just at home eating anyway, I didn’t worry as much if something might trigger me because I was in my safe space. I didn’t have to consider what I was wearing and if I might be bloated for the rest of the night if I ate something that might not sit right. And since I didn’t worry as much about food, I didn’t experience as many flare ups as I might have if I’d had to be concerned about the impact of eating something.
When I think about how much being home more often has benefitted my gut, I start to feel a creeping anxiety about living a life that departs from this cozy space I’ve carved out in the world in the last year. I recognize that I feel my home is safe. At times I felt it was the only safe place to be. I wasn’t just excited to spend a night in, I was terrified to leave my home where I knew the air wasn’t carrying the virus that had stopped the world in its tracks.
It is in these moments of creeping anxiety that I try to think about the good parts about returning to my old life.
We’ve all had to learn new ways to cope with challenges. We’ve all shared in grief and fear. It seems that so much of our health has been much less taboo since the start of the pandemic. We’ve all struggled with mental health issues like anxiety and burnout during this time and more conversations about these themes can help us remove some of the stigma associated with them. You might find that your peers are more open to hearing about and sympathizing with your chronic condition.
Things may never return to the “normal” as we knew it pre-pandemic. We’ve all been through trauma and as it continues to rage in communities around the world, we cannot let ourselves believe it is over until it is truly contained everywhere. What we can do is take what we’ve learned about self care and mental health back into the world with us. We can care for ourselves and each other in new ways by letting others know what we need and asking how we can support one another. We can make caring for others and speaking up for ourselves the new normal.