Returning to “Normal”?
Many of my recent conversations have involved the question, “When will things return to normal?” I am incredibly interested in these conversations. I always find myself asking, “What do you mean by returning to ‘normal’”? Do you mean returning to the way things were before—familiar, desired, or natural?
I recall an incident I encountered as a young therapist over 40 years ago. I was meeting with a patient diagnosed as bipolar whose doctor had requested that I meet with her to convince her to take her medication. I explained that lithium was a salt that would reduce the highs and lows that she was experiencing and keep her in the normal range. She replied, “Normal is a setting on a washing machine. Do I look like a &#!*% washing machine to you?!”
The challenge with the concept of normal is there is an assumption that things remain constant, consistent, and steady. It misses the observations of Heraclitus: “The only thing that is constant is change” and “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
So Long to the Good Ship Lollipop
Recently, Covid and war have shown us that our world has changed. The lens with which we view the world has changed our perspectives. We are no longer dancing with Shirley Temple on the “Good Ship Lollipop.” We are forced to see a world apart from what was familiar and desired. We are required to deal with the reality of the present moment. Our desire to “return to normal”—the way things were—is a way to avoid and deny the current pressing realities of life. So how do we adjust to the changes in our lives? How do we grieve the loss of what was our accepted reality?
We begin by acknowledging our loss, the metamorphosis we are going through, the passing or death of what we took for granted as permanent. We grieve, learn to tolerate discomfort, and seek supports. Then, we acknowledge that life/things are impermanent. Everything changes, and not always for the better. Once we accept that scenario, we evaluate our current situation using our awareness and insight, moving away from fear and blame to a position of acceptance, seeking hope, freedom, and gratitude. We focus on our personal strengths, priorities, and values, seeking what is positive in our new situation. These actions require that we be flexible, face our fears, and assess what is in our control—our attitudes, behaviors, and responses. We cannot compare current life to yesterday. We must stay present in the moment, being aware of what is transpiring.
We can build a toolbox to handle change specifically for our strong emotions, such as fear, anger, and hurt. These tools include grounding tools (breathwork, mindfulness, and meditation), self-care (exercise, hygiene, and feeding our minds and bodies), challenging negative thoughts (journaling, conversations with friends and family), caring for others, and using the creative arts (drawing, music, writing, or whatever stirs our creative selves). One way to understand change and the concept of “returning to normal” is to look at Dr. Spencer Johnson’s book, Who Moved My Cheese.
We can learn several vital life lessons from the characters of this modern fable:
- Change happens and is inevitable.
- Anticipate change.
- Monitor change; pay attention to what is happening in the present. Do not assume that things will continue as they currently are.
- Adapt to change quickly, don’t blame, do not let fear stop you.
- When you change what you believe, you change what you do.
Normal is not a static condition—it is ever-changing, and we must adapt or become extinct.
James W. Osborne, MS, LPC, has been one of Natural Nutmeg’s 10Best Winners for Holistic Psychotherapy/LCSW/Counseling every year since 2018. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 40 years of clinical experience. He employs mindfulness, Jungian psychology, gestalt psychology, ACT, EMDR, and value-based techniques unique to the individual to support positive health changes. His undergraduate degree is in philosophy, and he views psychotherapy as philosophy in action.
You can contact James at: ProNatural Wellness Group in Berlin, CT, at 860.829.0707