Not All Normals Are New

WRITTEN BY: Janet Macloed 

This isn’t my first ‘new normal’. ‘The new normal’ is a phrase that got tossed around a lot when I was recovering from a double mastectomy after my bout with cancer. At the time, my universe became a small bubble. It consisted of some amazing caregivers, family, friends, my partner Jim, a basset hound, two cats, cruciferous vegetables, Netflix, and what would eventually become a fabulous new pair of breasts. 

Suddenly I was thrust into this very small world. There was no welcome mat, and there was no list of instructions. Within hours of my diagnosis I was looking over my shoulder at everything I took for granted, and everything that I would be forced to leave behind. I would no longer have a job, all upcoming trips had to be cancelled, and I would possibly get quite sick.  My doctor took me into her office and sat me down, ‘This is going to be your very bad year’, she said. ‘But it will get better.’ To myself I thought that was not good enough. As I entered this unchartered territory, I needed some sort of guarantee. 

But of course there is no certainty. There is just the need for hope, and ability to be prepared. So once I knew what I was up against I was determined to relax, and even thrive, in my small universe. Activities were reduced, I was spending most of my time at home, eating a f*ckload of kale, practicing yoga, and basically ‘doing things for my own good’.  I surrounded myself with positive people, and tried to practice gratitude, because Oprah said I should.   

It thought it would be easy. I had all the things that I needed and an excellent diagnosis. So why was I curled up in the dirty dogbed, watching cartoons, and sobbing uncontrollably when Jim ate the last piece of banana bread? Well, the transition is hard. And we have no certainty. No matter how much we design our bubbles, and rationalize our gratitude, the world we create out of necessity is not always the right fit. (Imagine a cozy looking sweater that feels okay at first, then it becomes itchy, then you wash it, it shrinks, you yank it, loathe it, cry a bit, darn it, and then it finally become yours). Such is it with designing the covid life. It’s a lot of trial and error, and finally expansion. But the process is often uncomfortable. And in this discomfort we must live. 

Coping mechanisms vary. There’s cool calm rationalization, meditation, and therapy. That works for some people. But during my cancer treatment, on my very worst day, I went for the total meltdown. Nobody was more surprised than me. I can usually hold it together, but the load was too heavy and the pain was too great. Unable to summon one ounce of strength, I could feel myself falling apart. And fall apart I did (and not in a pretty way). But when I was able, I called a friend and told her fearfully that I wasn’t able to cope.  And she said, ‘Just because you’re having a meltdown doesn’t mean your not coping’. 

Wise advise from a good friend. And in these worrisome times, it may be hard to hold it together. So don’t. Allow yourself a good cry. And don’t be discouraged by the really bad days, even though they’re scary. Unprecedented times will not elicit ‘normal’ reactions. To date, I haven’t repeated that first ugly epic meltdown but there have been some small (prettier) ones. And that’s okay. I’ve accepted that there are many ways of coping, and for me, a meltdown is just part of the process.

I learned a lot from my experience with cancer, and adjusting to the ‘new normal’. Believe it or not, amidst the panic and the meltdowns, it was a very sweet time. I learned who my friends were, and I learned what was important. I was able to slow down, and I learned to ask for when needed. I developed a new relationship with the world, and my big bald head. I learned to tell people I love them, and I learned to live with discomfort and fear.

So as I do my best to adjust to this new pandemic life, I already know a couple of things. I know that there are good memories in bad situations. I know that people in your life will take on greater importance.  I know the word ‘should’ is overused, as are the words ‘journey’ and ‘gratitude’. I know that kale is not delicious. And I know that whether ‘new’ or ‘old’ there is no such thing as ‘normal’. It’s just the place that we try to make better – it’s just the place where we live.

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