So many people are asking...
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
So many people are asking "is there something wrong with me?" This conversation is inevitably turning to a discussion of the last two years and how to move forward in life.
For the last two years the message has been to stay home and stay safe. We've been told to stay away from people we don't live with and wear masks if we have to be in public. Many have been mandated to work from home. People's worlds have changed, some have felt safe including only their closest connections while others have created strong social networks. There have been so many losses and there is so much grief, fear and confusion in our lives.
There are people who have been working solely from home for two years. Two years of virtual meetings, hot lunches, varying levels of productivity, doing laundry while working, casual clothes, emotional ups and downs, pet and kid disruptions, disconnection from colleagues and isolation. The list goes on...
Now, at least in Alberta, it seems we're expected to return to life as usual. But what is usual?
How many people did not go into a restaurant for the last two years? That's me raising my hand. I will admit when I first ventured out with a friend a few weeks ago it was with the caveat that I may need some support to overcome the anxiety of being around so many people in a small space. Something that was such a normal part of my life a short time ago felt so strange. Strange and and a bit uncomfortable despite the fact that I have been working face to face throughout this time so am quite comfortable being out in the world.
Some people are absolutely over the moon to be able to go to a concert or movie theatre. For others the thought of such an outing can be extremely distressing. They may wonder how they will ever regain the level of comfort and safety to move freely in the world.
Let's face it, I don't think anyone has missed being stuck in traffic these past two years. The time to prepare lunches, get ready and commute to work has now been taken over by other activities, possibly walking that new dog or engaging in that new hobby you've picked up. And should we talk about the pressure of coming up with a wardrobe for work? Let's be real, comfortable is the new must-have.
Offices are reopening and many people are transitioning from quiet (or maybe not) home offices back to busy spaces and often cubicles. Meeting new team members, connecting with colleagues, in-person meetings and elevator conversations are something many of us didn't give much thought to in the past. They were typical parts of the day. Now they feel uncomfortable and can evoke fear. And what about the handshakes and hugs that were part of our everyday life? There is going to be a lot of awkwardness around figuring out each person's unique comfort level.
And then there's the kids... Do you know there are children who have never experienced a parent leaving for work? Kids who have had three meals a day with their parent(s) for two years. For some this is their entire life. And the teens who, admit it or not, have grown accustomed to having parent(s) available.
And what about the pets.. .how do we support all the animals adopted in the last two years who have never been left alone for a day?
There are people who are dancing for joy at being able to return to schools and offices, meetings that aren't disrupted by children (and those barking dogs!), and those who are devastated to leave, or scrambling to find childcare. There are people who need and thrive on human connection and are relieved to be free to move in the world, but who may also experience some unexpected emotions at this transition. There are also people who are experiencing all of this at once.
There are people struggling in relationships because different people have different comfort levels.
What about the people who were anxious in group settings before? The people who relished quiet spaces and thrived working from home. We really need to be looking out for those people as they navigate this transition.
It's also important to recognize the people in our lives who won't be safe to return to the office or the restaurant or gym, or anywhere else due to health concerns. While many struggle with the anxiety of returning to public spaces, they may also fear they will never be able to make that return.
So many people are telling me they don't know how to make this work, they're feeling anxious, some are afraid of illness, others aren't understanding why they don't feel safe in situations that were part of day to day life two years ago. They're talking about not knowing how to find time in their days to do all the extras it takes to work in the office, about worrying they won't be productive in shared spaces, fearing they won't be able to maintain their current workload. There are so many unknowns.
So....my answer to the question "is there something wrong with me?" You are definitely not alone. Our worlds have been turned upside down these last two years and to suddenly be expected to return to our previous lives and routines unscathed is unrealistic. Everyone's path through this is different but it's important to remember we are not alone. Give yourself permission to not be okay, but also to seek resources to help you cope.
Some ideas for coping with change:
Try to create consistent routines, especially around sleep.
Identify what you need to create balance. Can you negotiate regular work from home days or flexible shifts? Prioritize the things that make you feel well and build these activities into your days and weeks. It might be a regular trip to the playground with kids, time at the gym, making a meal, reading a book or coffee with a friend.
If you're returning to the office and especially if it's a new office, try to check it out before the first day rush. Having an idea of what your space looks like can help ease uncertainty.
If you're not already doing so, venture out in public a bit at a time. A walk, picking up coffee or dinner with a friend can be small steps towards feeling more comfortable.
Focus on what feels right for you, whether you need to jump in or take things slowly.
So what can we take away from all of this? Be gentle. Be gentle with yourself, be gentle with your colleagues and managers. Be gentle with the other drivers in traffic, and the kids and pets and everyone you meet. Be gentle with those making different choices from you.
The other important thing to take away is to realize when you're not okay and need help. Please reach out. You don't have to struggle alone. I can help, your healthcare providers can help. It's important to talk to someone.
Wishing everyone health and gentleness,
A note of gratitude: Thank you to all the people in jobs that required their physical presence over the past two years. To the people ensuring we have access to everything we need and often delivering it to our doors, the healthcare workers and those producing and transporting our food to name a few. You may or may not see yourself in this rambling, but you are so appreciated and seen.