Two years ago this week, I posted this:
“Today’s Micro Shift For A Mega Difference: Replace NEW NORMAL with FOR-NOW NORMAL.
NOW Normal isn’t the same as THEN Normal. And it’s definitely not the same as what Normal WILL BE months from now, when the dust settles, we emerge from our doors, and enter a post-pandemic society. And hug. It’ll be so, so wonderful to hug.
The words we choose to describe the time we’re in matter. Saying that this is our “New Normal” implies that the Now is the Forever…which it’s definitely not.”
Welp, it’s now more than two years later.
We have emerged from our doors.
Hugs are a thing.
So why does it feel like we’re still waiting for something to happen?
PART ONE: The Forgetting.
Okay, let me amend that: so why does it still feel like a lot of us are waiting for something to happen? I don’t want to assume what your life has been like, or is like, or how you’re feeling in this moment. But if the conversations I’ve been having and posts I’ve been seeing on social media are any indication of what’s going on beyond the walls of my own brain, then it’s pretty clear to me that a lot of us are still waiting for this New Normal people were talking about so often a few years back. Stuck in an interminable limbo.
Planning, just enough.
Acting, just enough.
On a call with my therapist the other day, I admitted to her that I didn’t have vivid memories of the past year or so. This, I told her, was alarming to me. Because this, I told her, was something I’d experienced before. And as someone whose memory is usually crystal-clear (one friend likes to tell me that I remember her childhood better than she does. we met well into adulthood, I just know all her family’s stories and inside jokes), the fact that my memory presents itself as fuzzy and vague is, I told her, a big red flag that something is very off. The last time I experienced this on an intense level, after all, was in college — a time when my life felt so unlike my own that I ended up developing multiple eating and body-related disorders.
And while I thankfully haven’t been even so much as flirting with any of those destructive avenues this time around, there’s one thing that I do realize I’ve been doing:
I’ve been shutting down and going through the motions.
Relationship therapists and mental health communities will often talk about “avoidant” attachment style, a pattern of behavior within relationships where the person disconnects from their own expression of needs and feelings and becomes overly independent. Others will talk about shutting down emotionally as a response to feeling overstimulated and not knowing how to handle it. I always like to get curious about relationship patterns and studies when I’m dealing with my own inner stuff — if the most important relationship you’ll ever have is the relationship you have with Your Self, wouldn’t it make sense that (at least some of) the same advice and findings might (at least some of the time) apply to that mega-important relationship, too?
You can logically know what you want to do, how you want to do it, every single step on the 200-step list to get you where you want to be. But logic won’t get you everywhere.
“It’s like I put up a physical wall,” I told my therapist, illustrating the wall in front of me with my hand gestures. “I don’t feel any which way about the wall — not angry, not sad. I logically know that I want to walk around the corner of the wall and keep moving forward; the corner’s right there. But it’s like there’s something inside of me that just won’t do it — that’s telling me it’s not the time yet.”
“It sounds to me,” she said gently after some thought, “like your strategy of shutting down and therefore not really remembering is a protective strategy. Is that maybe it? You’re doing your best to get yourself through tough times.”
As I think about this interminable in-limbo, this For-Now Normal I’m so eager to transition into a New one, I have to remind myself over and over again that this is the thing.
For all of us.
We are doing our best to get ourselves through tough times. And I think where we’ve been getting tripped up is thinking that this tough time isn’t supposed to be as tough as it is.
If we’re not in the Before anymore and we’re not in the After yet, we ask ourselves — then why does it feel like we’ve been wherever HERE is for so long?
“Maybe,” I mused to my therapist, a cartoon lightbulb popping over my head, “I’ve needed this moment of checking out a little to help me reset for whatever comes next.”
PART TWO: The Motions.
Here’s the thing. Transitions, are usually just as tough if not tougher than all the Befores and Afters. Even if we feel as if we’re on the precipice of the other side, that doesnt meant it’ll all the sudden be easy. And even if we’re in a transitional moment, that doesn’t mean that moment is a quick one.
My expectations formed in 2020 — of a smooth and quick transition from the Before to the After — did not match up with the reality of the During that’s been 2021/22, and that’s both my own doing AND not something to shame myself for. I’m pragmatically positive, looking at the truths in front of me and choosing to believe the ones that feel proactive, not reactive. This is what prevents me from going to those deeper and darker places when times get tough. I’m grateful that my pragmatically positive outlook has carried me through the last few years. And if that part of me needed a transitional moment of “going through the motions” of life in order to clear the slate for whatever’s next, I’m here for it.
That’s not to say if you get into a pattern of habitually checking out, tuning out, or going through the motions, it’s always okay or healthy. That’s why I brought it up to my therapist!
But if you’re someone who is used to always being ON, always having PLANS, always STRIVING REACHING SCHEMING with motivation and drive for days, and over the last couple years, has been HUSTLING SUPER HARD physically mentally and emotionally just to keep your mojo going…well, maybe this moment is a sign that your mojo just wants a nap.
Having high productivity, drive, and vision 24/7 isn’t just not-sustainable, it’s not how a full life works. Life is a mix of highs, lows, and everything in between. The thing that matters is that you focus on responding to and/or maximizing the moment you’re in instead of escaping it. It’s kind of like your classes in high school: maybe you lived for English class and poured your soul into every essay — but you still had to pass Chemistry, which you found boring and aggravating, to graduate.
It’s okay to love some times and go through the motions in others.
That doesn’t mean you’re failing.
It means you’re human.
PART THREE: The For-Now.
I’ve started to believe even stronger in the concept of the For-Now Normal, and believe in it in a different way than before.
What if these past two years — and this past year, especially — has been a call-to-action for all of us to remember that every “Normal” has a “For Now” in front of it?
That things can be both temporary and interminably long at the same time?
That as long as you’re not causing yourself of others harm, doing your best to get yourself through a tough time is sometimes the best you can do in the current For Now, before the next For Now comes along?
I’m not telling you to subject yourself to a life of waiting. Be proactive, not reactive.
And I’m also not telling you that every single thing in your life is a matter of choice. Life is a waltz between circumstance and choice, where at any moment one can take over the leading steps.
All I’m saying is that you, dear reader, dear friend, are in the midst of one of many of your For Nows.
When you become tempted to tell yourself mean things about the season you’re in, remind yourself:
The Now is not the Forever. It never is. Sometimes things come easily, some times are tough. I’ve gone through many seasons before this and will go through many seasons after this. What matters right now is that I honor where I am, knowing that where I’m going is just another moment away.
Do the best with where you’re at, and the best for whatever’s next. Your For-Now is for now, just like your next For-Now will be too.
Honoring where you are now allows you to practice honoring where you will be.
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