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When Normal Things Feel Abnormal


It had been weeks since I was in the city. Up until that point, things felt mostly business as usual. Nothing abnormal. When you live in the country, with lots of space between you and others, you don’t feel the pandemic as much. You are in communion with nature, less so with people.

Being with others in public spaces was a shock to the system. Between my local garden centre and a hardware store, I found the whole experience emotionally befuddling and experientially confusing.

The pandemic is a cataclysmic event on a large scale. It’s so big, it almost feels unreal, like a dream or a nightmare. The sheer size of it is almost numbing. The devil, though, is in the details, especially when it comes to our emotional and mental well-being. When normal things feel abnormal, our lives feel topsy-turvy. Unpredictability fuels anxiety.

I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific that happened while I was out. There were no incidents, and everyone was very civil. But everything was very different – line ups, taped arrows on floors, masked people, spray bottles, visors – everywhere you looked there was a visual cue that everything and everyone had changed. It’s like you go to sleep and you wake up to a world gone sideways; something out of an Escher drawing.

Those little changes can be the most jarring. The things we take for granted that are taken away from us leave the deepest mental impressions. Suddenly, your mind has to think and feel through things that previously were assumed. In the age of Covid-19 anything you ass-ume, makes you feel like an ass. And, to put it plainly, that just stinks in every way.

It’s particularly smelly for your mind because it is an engine of difference noticing. The mind as a whole is a bloodhound for anything that reeks of difference. In that noticing there is a feeling of oddity, and in that oddity we feel at odds with our experience. If your mom came down for breakfast wearing a scarecrow suit, you’d start asking some questions. That, or you’d go on a long journey with her down a golden path – your call.

Every exertion of the mind when faced with things that are unfamiliar creates a feeling of being out of touch with reality. It’s like your mind is being put through a never-ending work out, building up emotional lactic acid, without any rest in-between reps for recovery. The mind is also a muscle; it needs that rest that comes with habitual behaviour and ‘normalcy’.

People will talk about the new normal and the period of adjustment. What we need to be feeling through is the resistance we feel to accepting that new normal, and the tension game we play in our minds between what once was and what now is.

We can’t resolve everything about the new world order out there. We can only shape the internal narrative happening in here. The antidote to the cloud of Covid-19 smelliness that has engulfed our world is a little interior air freshener; a disposition of learning to be okay when things are not perfectly okay. Acceptance and flexibility is the new normal.  Despite our sometimes dated beliefs to the contrary, acceptance was always our go to resource for emotional survival. That is one truth that has stood the test of time and will help us thrive in an age of Covid-19.

Written by
Mark Stolow