What Is Normal, Anyway?

A lot of writers have already crafted posts and articles with tips on how to be more productive during the shelter-in-place orders that so many of us are facing. The Internet is full of resources for learning new languages, improving our baking skills, exercising at home, and homeschooling advice.

We can find lists of the must-watch shows we should stream. We can get tips on starting new hobbies like knitting, sewing, or woodworking. I even saw a post this morning from Goulet Pens with five resources for better handwriting if people are interested.

That’s on top of employers implementing a number of online programs—from weekly happy hour or trivia sessions to online training videos and conference calls—because they need to justify paying employees’ salaries. They can’t keep paying us if we’re not actively doing our work. Or so I’ve heard a few times at weekly, online, staff meetings.

The flood of advice on how to occupy our time often leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

I know I’m not the only writer who is struggling to create new material or edit an existing story during this crisis. I don’t feel like I have the concentration needed to write or edit.

Hell, I’m sometimes struggling to stay focused on my reading, which is never something I struggle with. I even have a hard time staying completely engaged with the show or movie we’re watching. Perhaps the Internet has shortened my attention span, but that can’t be the entire reason I feel so easily distracted right now.

I think it’s because we’re living in a situation where our “fight, flight, or freeze” instincts have been triggered. Right now, we’re all mandated to freeze, even if our natural inclination is to fight or flee.

COVID-19 isn’t an attacker we can see and fight, and it’s not really anything we can flee. We could try, but we’ll probably just spread it if we do. So, we hunker down in our homes, hoping they are safe spaces and do our best to wait the pandemic out.

But that’s not easy when our normal instincts are being subverted.

And, for the record, I don’t think I could define “normal” to save my life. Some might say our lives before this were “normal.” But I think that version of normal was flawed. Now, we’re seeing the repercussions of those flaws and how harmful they are. (By the way, I was always the weird kid in school, and that hasn’t changed much. So, my “normal” probably isn’t anyone else’s “normal”.)

I wish I had words of wisdom or advice that I felt would make this easier. But I don’t. I can, however, admit that I’m struggling with all this. Yes, I’m an introvert. Yes, my ideal is to be home 24/7/365 with my spouse and our cats. And right now, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Overall, I’m doing pretty well because I’m getting exactly what I always wanted.

But I’m also anxious about friends and family. I know many people aren’t safe at home, and I’m concerned about how abuse victims are faring right now. I also worry about the possibility of losing work or losing a loved one. I’m struggling to concentrate on the activities I enjoy. And I can only watch so many webinars in a single day before my brain feels like mush.

Yes, I’m struggling, and I’m not nearly as productive as I dreamt I would be. And that’s okay. Right now, if all I can manage is to check my work email and then nap, that’s okay. If comfort food is all that sounds good, I can try to make it a little healthier as I prepare it.

But I need to stop beating myself up for not writing the Great American Novel right now.

Maybe someone out there is writing that book. If so, I’ll look forward to reading it. But that person isn’t me. Maybe it’s not you either. And I want you to know: if you’re struggling with all this, you’re not alone.

Social media is a curated, idealistic slice of our lives. It’s the polished, airbrushed, glamourized view that we want others to see.

If your shelter-in-place life looks messier, less organized, and less productive that what your friends and family share on social media, please don’t judge yourself too harshly. They’re probably putting on a brave face because it makes them feel like they have some control.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you and yours stay safe.

(Photo by Evelina Friman on Unsplash)

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