I would never say that the pandemic has been a blessing. It’s been traumatic in numerous and immeasurable ways, even for the luckiest among us whose loved ones have survived and who kept our jobs and homes and most (some?) of our sanity. But among the upheaval and the loss were some silver linings:
time to give attention to domestic pursuits and hobbies; elastic-waist pants and afternoon naps; and, for a lot of us, a welcome relief from FOMO, or the the constant reminder that other people are (seemingly) living more exciting, fun, adventurous lives than we are. FOMO really kicked in for me shortly after I became a parent and could no longer partake in the kind of spontaneous adventures and relaxing or exotic vacations my child-free friends – and social media contacts – enjoyed. Over the years, I’ve unfollowed or muted a lot of folks simply because their pics of white sand beaches and late night excursions made me jealous. When I was in the thick of parenting a challenging baby or toddler or preschooler – an exhausting stage I only transitioned out of shortly before the pandemic hit – a friend’s photo of a sublime afternoon on a hammock at just the wrong moment (any moment following a tantrum or a poop-in-the-tub incident) could be enough to do me in.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like my own life, but I’ve never stopped missing the freedom I enjoyed before motherhood limited some of my personal choices. When the pandemic hit and everyone else’s personal choices were so dramatically limited and my social media feed was no longer filled with highlights of all of the different kinds of fun I wasn’t having, I felt some relief. Maybe a lot of relief. As tedious and pretty awful as the past 15 months have been, there was a sense – at least in the early days – of all of us being in it together. We might have been scared and bored and maybe even miserable, but we were all those things together. And most people – in my circle, anyway – who were still living their best lives despite the extraordinary circumstances at least had enough sense to not brag – humbly or otherwise – about it. And the ones who didn’t, I promptly unfollowed (a tactic I will continue to use liberally in post-pandemic life). Now that vaccines are widely available to most people over 12 years old and Covid cases are plummeting, life is beginning to return to some semblance of normal. And with that, the return of FOMO, the return of social anxiety, the return of that needling worry that we aren’t doing with our limited time (on earth, with our summer, in our youth) the best of what we could be doing. The fear that beyond the personal choices we’re making are … other choices and maybe those choices are better? If you’re feeling re-entry anxiety, you aren’t alone:
“Ours will be a rickety reentry. Like Rip, we are unpracticed, we creak. (“As he arose to walk,” his story goes, “he found himself stiff in the joints and wanting in his usual activity.”) But more than that, we are anxious — about being back and not being back. Are all my friends hanging out without me? Have they been this whole time? Now my phone glows with scheduling and agita. “I feel like my feet are rejecting shoes that aren’t running sneakers or Birkenstocks,” a friend recently admitted to me. “When I put on even the tiniest stitch of makeup, I feel like a Kardashian. I know for sure that I don’t ever want to return to the lifestyle of dinner plans on most nights, but I’m so out of practice when it comes to planning that I can’t seem to strike the right balance. Basically I’m lost. I don’t want to miss out, but I don’t want to go out, either.””
Some people are still (understandably) feeling uneasy about being in groups – not just in a socially anxious way, but in a nervous-about-their-health way. Some people are trying to balance the desire to make up for lost time with a newfound calm they don’t want to lose by filling their calendars with too many events. Many of us are leery of returning to a normal that wasn’t very equitable. We’ve become more anti-capitalist and don’t want to jump back in to a culture that rewards over-productivity at the risk of people’s well-being. We want the joy of being in the company of the people we’ve missed so much, doing the things we’ve longed to do, but we don’t want to over-do them, to burn out in the way we were burning out before. There’s fear of missing out on all the fun, but there’s also fear of missing out on some of the peace we may have felt with far fewer social obligations.
The obvious solution is to do less, to keep some of the guardrails of quarantine life in place as the old ways return. “Philosophically, the pandemic should’ve forced us to reconsider a lot of things,” said the designer Mary Ping, who is such a slow-and-steady type that she named her company Slow and Steady Wins the Race. “Personally, I’m going to be a lot more intentional.” But paring back plans and declining invitations in an attention economy is easier said than done.
How are you handling the re-entry? Are you saying yes to all the invitations or being more intentional with how you fill your time? What are you feeling anxious about – if anything – as life begins to return to normal, or a new normal?