Do I want things to go back to normal? I’m not so sure I do
I don’t miss the long commutes, poor work-life balance or feeling of always being in a rush
Children playing the in low tide on Dollymount Strand. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
I stand at my kitchen table surveying the wasteland of breakfast debris and spillages created by three pairs of mischievous little hands. My work mobile is pressed against my ear, as I listen distractedly to my colleague. I pick up, dry up, and wipe up, all whilst muttering non-committal ‘‘uh huh” and “aah” sounds in what I hope is a convincing tone of someone attentively listening.
I have heard many conversations recently bemoaning the fact that things will never be “normal” again. That we will never have back what we used to have. That our way of living has irrevocably changed. I think to myself, “Do I want things to go back to normal?” I’m not so sure I do.
Hands up who enjoyed dragging their young sleepy children out of bed at crazy o’clock in the morning, ramming cereal down their resistant throats, throwing bags, coats, half prepped lunches into the car boot and then battling tired and angry bodies into car seats? This done while trying to remember to leave out the bins, unload the dishwasher and answer an urgent work email flashing at you from your smartphone?
Hands up who enjoyed waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, thinking about the lists and lists of demands, events, and commitments that have to be muddled through the next day, from work meetings, doctor’s appointments, NCT check ups and overdue insurance quotes?
Hands up who enjoyed the constant feeling of never having enough time, always being in a rush, never quite getting through all the things that had to be done, for your family, your boss, your parents, your partner, your home, never mind trying to create time for yourself. That well-meaning Christmas gift voucher from your sister-in-law for the upmarket restaurant remains unused, crammed into a folder on a forgotten shelf. There was never time to spend it before the virus came. And now it’s too late.
Does anyone miss that continual feeling of angst in the pit of your stomach, the constant fight or flight mode that never quite subsided? Our adrenal glands working overtime to keep pumping out a booster hormone 24/7 while burning us out physically and mentally at the same time?
A virus called “STOP”. And we had to just pause, if not quite fully stop. We were suddenly given permission to slow down, to take our time, to remove the harassed and harangued look from our faces and bodies. To put our heads up above the parapet and look around and breathe.
We are all taking time to smell the roses recently, and it’s ok because everyone else has been given license to at the same time. No one else is bringing their child to piano lessons, cello lessons, swim lessons or golf. Extra tuition for exam students is no longer needed. Trips to gyms, clubs and classes are not an option. And yes, there are certainly many of us who feel our quality of life has deteriorated as our usual stress outlets have been temporarily removed or suspended. But the stressors that feed the need for those stress outlets have also changed. For some people, their stress levels have changed for the better. Not for everyone, but definitely for some.
A work colleague can now work from home instead of driving five hours return each day to his city office, thus enabling a quality of life with his young family that never before existed. He has gained back 25 hours of his life every week. That’s a lot of living time. A recent survey revealed that 83 per cent of Irish workers want to continue to work from home once the Covid-19 crisis has eased. The home working parent may now get a chance to see their child say their first word, take their first step, cycle without stabilisers. Perhaps they are more available than they would have been before to provide comfort, support or a reassuring word.
Yes, it is stressful and demanding trying to juggle work life, childcare, elderly care, self-care and financial uncertainty during these times. It’s not all a bed of roses. However, our life before the virus wasn’t either, and it is important to remember that as we emerge from lockdown. Some people may not want to return to the way things used to be.
If the “new normal” was a sweet shop where we could select our own pick ’n’ mix from what’s on offer, we might choose differently this time round. We could leave behind the long commutes, poor work-life balance, the continual feeling of not having enough time, and instead choose more family-friendly hours, home-working options, a chance to practise self-care, and ultimately, better mental health. It could provide the prospect of at least being able to see the roses, if not quite smelling them.
Hands up if you still want to hurry back to “normal”?