My New (Extremely Late) Normal

A consistent phrase mostly meant to be motivational, I've heard since March, is "finding your new normal." I kept waiting for the feelings of loneliness and isolation to strike, but it didn't come. Working from home wasn't as bad as I had initially imagined. I did have to tailor a job meant for an office, but things were okay once I got that part settled.

I was not feeling the loneliness a lot of my co-workers were feeling. My children were already homeschooling, so I avoided that stress as well, which I know had to be brutal when unexpectedly thrust on parents. I was able to eat lunch with them every day, and homeschooling became a more creative outdoor exploration. I had my kids, my husband, and my dogs.

Early days of being back at work

In early August, a minimal number of us were allowed back on campus 1 to 2 days a week to help with student enrollment. I sat in my cubicle to answer phone calls in case someone called, but they rarely did. I had 3 other people in the main office with me, but we were still wary enough to keep our distance from each other.  

In general, this didn't bother me. It allowed me to leave the house a couple of times a week and readjust to office life. Even then, I felt okay. A co-worker would walk by and wave or stand about 6 feet back from my plexiglass barrier, and we would have a brief conversation.

'New normal' hit me like a ton of bricks

Classes began at the end of August with no students on campus. At this point, I was working on campus 5 days a week. That first day of class, I felt my first initial twinge of pain over how much life had changed. Usually, my co-workers and I would be throwing a welcome back event, which we had spent weeks planning.

There would be plenty of nervous freshmen taking advantage of the massive spread of delicious junk food and free school supplies. This has become our campus tradition. I tucked the emotions away and helped the many departments that were in desperate need of help. As we moved into September, when the other departments no longer needed my help and student phone calls because non-existent, the isolation and sadness hit me like a ton of bricks. It came out of nowhere — my new normal.

Grieving my normal work life

September is usually the start of our full-blown student activity season. It starts with Banned Books Week, which I plan with the assistance of students and co-workers. Shortly followed is a Creative Writers Workshop hosted by one of the most talented English Faculty for area high school students. She is one of the most qualified faculty members I have the pleasure of working with, and I love assisting her with her workshop.

Finally, it ends with a campus Halloween party, which is my absolute favorite event to plan. The closest emotional state I can describe is the feeling of mourning the loss of not only our students but the hard work we put into making their college experience the best possible. The day before Halloween, which would have been my busiest day of the semester, ended up being my saddest.

Overwhelming sadness

I have no one at work to talk to, which made my isolation feel a hundred times worse. Sometimes, I would become so overwhelmed by sadness and isolation at work I would cry in the bathroom. Other times, I would take my lunch break in my car and cry, hoping no one would see me.

Emotions are something I tuck away if they are too painful. It takes a single hand to count the number of times I cry in a year, maybe 2 if there is a death in the family. Handling things so well during the initial stages of quarantine, it was impossible to find the right words to talk about what I was experiencing. I could not grasp what was changing within me. The only words I could utter to my psychiatrist were, "I'm doing fine."

A pause on loneliness until bedtime

Things would ease up at the end of the day when my kids greeted me at the door. The isolation and loneliness disappeared when they hugged me and asked how my day was. They got the usual answer; "My day was good, how was yours?" I don't like lying to my children, but this is a burden they will not bear for me. Spending time with them made me forget my day until bedtime.

I was alone again because of my husband's work schedule. I often hear of people crying themselves to sleep, but this is a luxury (if you can even call it that) in which I do not possess. Laying in bed alone, after a long lonely day made the tears worse, and the loneliness turned to pain. Some nights I would cry until it was impossible to cry anymore. Sleep never came, but temporary numbness did.

Learning to cope in new ways

Learning coping skills is new to me. My way of coping has always been to bury the pain so deep I never feel it again. I made the mistake of thinking I was immune to worldwide pandemics' social and emotional consequences. Initially, I managed to bypass the isolation and pain which came with it.

Insomnia doesn't make it any easier

Having insomnia makes it difficult for me to handle my emotions, especially the sad and painful ones accompanied by tears. For the first time in my life, no room is left to tuck my negative emotions away and carry on.

I have realized insomnia will throw curveballs for the rest of my life. Living with insomnia will always part of us, but who knew a global pandemic would be yet another life lesson?

Do you have a "new normal" since the pandemic started? What are some things that are helping you cope? Share with our community in the comments below.

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