I Don't Know How to Return Back to Normal After COVID-19
After over a year of holing ourselves up in our homes, social distancing and missing our loved ones, I’m ready to get back out there again. I’ve missed the trips to restaurants and bars, the feeling of sitting close to someone and chatting and the thrill of running from one place to another. With restrictions lifted and being fully vaccinated, I’ve been so excited to start getting back to that sense of normalcy.
But, it seems like my anxiety and depression are on a different wavelength. What I mean, is that while I thought I’d have some COVID-19-related anxiety about going out and about again, I find myself facing new anxieties that I didn’t think I’d have before. I’ve always taken pride in being good with my words, with quick wit and an answer to everything, but as I try to come out of my shell and socialize again, my anxiety takes away my ability to form words. Suddenly, I’m stumbling to get the words out, mixing up my sentences or just saying nothing.
A million questions pile up in my head to ask friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and then as soon as we are together my anxiety takes over and my head is empty. For the past couple of weekends, I’ve made a point to make plans with people I haven’t seen in what feels like forever, and had been looking forward to that moment for months but yet when it happened, my mind was full of anxieties and depressive thoughts.
“Are they having fun with me? Do they want to be here with me? Am I saying the right things? Am I doing this right? What should I say? Why aren’t they saying anything? Is this a normal silence or an awkward silence? Why can’t I be my usual self? Why am I so anxious? Why am I so off? What’s wrong with me?”
It’s like the past year has made me forget all the social rules and cues I once knew like the back of my hand, and navigating social situations that used to bring me joy now make me feel like somethings wrong with me. I expected some level of anxiety as the world opened up, but I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect returning to “normal” to feel so foreign and uncomfortable. I certainly didn’t expect that the simple things I have been longing for since last March would make me feel sick to my stomach, even though I have been so excited for it. I didn’t know I could feel so uncomfortable around the people that bring me the most comfort.
I find the battle between the “real me” and the “anxious me” or “depressed me” is getting louder and louder, as we fight to dominate taking control in a social situation. I’m scared of the anxious and depressive moments coming up when I’m trying to have fun — after a year of being stuck at home, it was so easy to let those moments come and go as they pleased. Now I’ll be laughing and chatting with a friend one minute, and crying the next minute. Or I’ll be engrossed in a friend telling me about their life’s updates, and anxiety will seep in, filling my chest with an unbearable tightness. I find myself shutting down in those moments, disconnecting when I so desperately want to feel connected.
I’ve started to wonder about who the real me is versus the depressed or anxious version. Is this who I am now? Someone who gets nauseous over the idea of being away from home more than a few hours? Someone who constantly feels on the verge of tears, even when I’m doing something that used to make me so happy, and if this isn’t me, if this is just some anxious or depressed version of me, then where am I? We’ve stopped physically distancing and social distancing, but when will I stop mentally distancing? When will I feel normal again? When will I come back?
I’m scared that I’m not living up to my friends’ expectations of what I used to be — like this version of myself isn’t as fun, lovable or as good as I once was. I’ve always struggled with feeling like enough — but it hits so much harder when I feel like less than what I was before. Less chatty, less engaged, less open, less happy, less worthy of their time, just less. I feel like my anxiety and depression make me constantly let myself and my friends down, even more than before.
But I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. Change is scary, so it’s no wonder that my insecurities and anxieties feel louder. Maybe yours do, too. Being ready for the world to go back to the way it was before isn’t black and white — it isn’t just ready or not ready. I’m learning I’m ready in one moment and not in the next. We can want to get back to “normal” but we also have to be patient with ourselves, and be patient with the trauma we’ve experienced over the past year. Despite us calling it going back to the way things were before, it all feels very new, and that can be triggering.
My mental illnesses often make me feel like they hold me back from doing things as fast or as easily as others, and that can be really frustrating and upsetting. I’m trying to remind myself that this is new, and that I deserve patience and grace as I try to ease my fears and anxieties so that I can get back to enjoying social activities like before. We’re all moving at different paces, mine just might be slower than yours. I hope the people around me understand that I’m struggling, but that it won’t always be this way. I hope they still see enough of the real me to give me another chance to try again. I hope they can offer me the grace and patience I’m trying to offer myself. Our pace doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else. Needing to go at our own pace makes us human.