When Will I Feel Normal Again?
Today is the national day of reflection, marking what is now two years since the first lockdown was announced and life moved into a new and unusual pattern. And it isn’t just a global pandemic that has rocked our lives since then. Several events have challenged our sense of security and safety, forcing us to face up to our vulnerability and the possibility that sometimes bad things happen that we can't control. War, acts of evil, prejudice, violence - all these things have made darkness and evil feel very tangible.
In the midst of this then, believe me it is no surprise that your mind is reeling. When something happens that questions an assumption we previously built our life on, it's like playing Jenga and pulling out a block that actually was carrying a lot of the weight of the structure above it. Things suddenly feel rather wobbly. Some of these beliefs - like the idea the world is basically safe, or that bad things will only happen to bad people, or that we can keep those we love safe - these are foundational to us feeling stable and secure. And the last two years have messed with many of these beliefs.
When something foundational is shaken, your mind draws attention to it by triggering negative emotions. Anxiety, frustration, rage, sadness, grief - all these awkward and uncomfortable emotions share one thing: they make you think. Emotions act like an alarm grabbing your attention and drawing you to reflect and so you can start to figure out: what does this MEAN? How does this change how you live life? How does this fit with the things you thought before about yourself and the world?
Of course, we don’t always WANT to think about difficult or painful things. And those emotions feel overwhelming and we may struggle to give them headspace. Sometimes you just HAVE to suppress them, to get on with the things that need doing, or just to keep going. Other times you don’t WANT to think about things. Maybe it is just too painful, or you don’t know where on earth to start trying to figure out how you move on from something that feels like it hasn’t just rocked your world, but destroyed it.
In these moments we can end up fighting with our own brains, as they try to get us to ponder and process, and we try to suppress. Memories and thoughts can become more and more intrusive, even hitting us as flashbacks - moments when it feels like we are actually reliving a traumatic or painful moment as though it is playing out again in the present. This tends to make us even more keen to suppress and avoid going there in our minds. But you can’t just suppress some emotions - so this leaves you feeling flat, separated from yourself. And it is exhausting - so your mind gets more and more tired. Some people still feel like they are just going through the motions and not really living. Which is why the most common question I get asked right now (or after any season of trauma) is this: when will I feel normal again?
How can I process this?
There is no quick fix route through this. The way to enable your mind to start the process of letting go and moving on is to make space for that processing.
This isn’t about finding magic answers or somehow denying how painful something is - it's a bit like marinating a stew, your mind just needs to feel it has spent enough time on something. Got the things from it it needs to, paid attention to something so important.
So, we need to make space to process. And the more we do this the quicker our minds will start to be able to consolidate what we have been through. But how?
You can think of processing as a bit like playing thought tennis - so think about three ways you can do it:
1. Alone. Think about hitting that tennis ball up against a wall! Bouncing round thoughts in your own mind and giving yourself time and space to ponder is really important. Pray, walk, ride, journal, listen to podcasts or read - whatever works.
2. With friends. This is so often overlooked. But that casual tennis knock about with no pressure, no one keeping score, just mates who love you and really get it - that can be SO valuable. And if you’re the mate, remember this isn’t about saying something super clever or solving every problem someone shares - it is just about helping them have space to bounce thoughts around. So think: what does it mean to bounce this back to them? Keep the conversation going, create safe and comfortable places people can linger, offer time to them. It will make a real difference.
3. With a coach. Because let’s call it - sometimes this is REALLY hard. If something has been very traumatic, challenged lots of parts of your life all at once, or is triggering powerful emotions that feel overwhelming, you may need help to process well and safely. Find a therapist trained in doing this, who can help you to have a safe space separate from the rest of your life (where you may feel you need to keep things together). Somewhere you can go weekly or fortnightly or whenever to unpack things. They will help you do this carefully and without it becoming too much for you. And help you figure out how to move on.
Two years feels like a long time. But for your mind it may feel very much like the events of this last season are still current, present issues you haven’t got your head around. Give yourself time and space - and we’re sending prayers on a day that will be difficult for so many people. Remember you are not alone x