Reflection: As I write this, New Zealand has just shifted from Level 3 down to Level 2, in our 4-Level Alert Plan for combating Covid-19.
We’re stepping from new-normal-but-wasn’t-really-normal, back into old-normal-but-no-longer-feels-normal.
For me, it’s the second time I’ve done this in two years.
The last time I was in this situation, I had just returned to New Zealand after a tough three-year stint in a developing country.
I arrived back in Aotearoa with C-PTSD, Depression and a compressed spinal injury that blew out the nerves in my right leg for a good year or so. Plus a few other fun problems.
It took nearly two years for me to start feeling “normal” again. As 2020 rolled in I was feeling optimistic.
Nek minnit… a global pandemic burst onto the scene.
Suddenly the whole world morphed into the very “normality” I had just spent two years mentally climbing out of:
~ Living in a restricted bubble of activity and community.
~ No access to malls, beaches, entertainment or travel.
~ Uncertainty regarding jobs, homes and futures.
And a killer disease lurking on every corner.
Like everyone else with the luxury of preparing, I stocked essential groceries, planned new and necessary social hygiene rules, and adjusted towards a long stint of home-based activities and online socialising.
Also like many others, I did so with a degree of trepidation.
I knew I was stepping right back into the dreaded limbo from which I’d been trying so hard to emerge.
And limbo is not a fun place to hang out.
It felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole for the second time.
The “new normal” of life in lockdown was all too familiar to me, but with a completely different cause and setting.
And it threw me. The first few weeks were a daze.
I was falling apart all over again, and the whole world seemed to be going down with me.
Suddenly, nowhere was safe.
PTSD and Depression shoulder tapped me a little more frequently.
The setback of arriving once again at square one – struggling to find work, accommodation plans fallen through, future plans collapsed – was incredibly disheartening.
But I faced the debilitating unknown. And I did my best to carry through.
And as a nation, New Zealand dug deep all around me.
There was something strangely comforting about facing my second round, knowing that the whole country was in this together.
Battling difficult circumstances.
Suffering yet reaching out in kindness.
Fighting past demons and struggling through present woes in order to save the future.
We waded through the stress and uncertainty, and here we are pulling through to the other side.
We’re on our way back to a normal future again.
But it will take a while to settle into what that means.
We’ve become used to normal life NOT being okay. Now, we have to say goodbye to the strange familiarity of suppression, and step into a new kind of uncertainty.
And now is the time to be extra kind, both to others and to ourselves.
Because anxiety has a field day at this point.
When I stepped back into “normal” the first time, I didn’t expect that going back to freedom would be so much harder.
It took a while to comprehend that previously avoided activities or places were now safe or that life could function with more stability.
The first time I went grocery shopping, I flipped out at seeing supermarket shelves fully stocked. The food hadn’t even expired, and I didn’t have to check packets for rat damage or nesting roaches.
The first time I faced a meetup with an older Christian woman, my brain was triggered by the matched demographic that had been a key player in the bullying and oppression (and the resultant C-PTSD) of my previous “normality”.
I had a full-blown panic attack on the spot.
As well as generic nervousness, stress was a key player in stepping back into the future normal.
My brain was desperately trying to compute settings that were kind of familiar (after all, I’ve lived in New Zealand before), but also unfamiliar enough to throw me off or unsettle me.
Incompetent and ignorance, anxiety and misplacement became daily feelings.
It’s exhausting trying not to suck at life.
The future was terribly uncertain, and I had no idea how to go about normal life, or what I would do once I had “arrived”.
All I could do was try to survive each day as it came.
The days came. And they went.
And I survived.
So here we are, emerging from what was “new normal”, into the “now new normal”.
For me, it feels like a weirdly ambivalent déjà vu.
We’re easing up on the high-alert lifestyle, preparing to break the rules we’d set to keep ourselves safe, and wondering what the world is going to look like as we slowly piece ourselves back together.
I don’t really know how it all turns out, but I do know one key truth:
We will make it.
Many of us have walked this path before.
We’ve stepped into the future that lies at the end of such a rough and ragged road, and we’ve burst forth into the new sunlight having learned some wild and wonderful things.
About ourselves. About the world.
About respecting the journey one has travelled.
So hug a friend, hug a tree.
You have found new places of fragility, but you have also uncovered incredible wells of strength.
You’re doing okay. We’ve got this.
Kia Kaha is a Māori phrase meaning Stay Strong
Te Reo Māori is the indigenous language of Aotearoa (New Zealand)
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