Not there yet: Finding our way to a new normal

It sometimes takes a while to publish a peer reviewed paper. It has been so with one of my papers. Having written this journal article in 2010 it was finally published in 2020. This feels all the more poignant as the title is ‘…finding the way to a new normal’ and it was published just before life become anything but normal for people all over the world.

Our paper is about recovery for families after a child is admitted to Paediatric intensive care. We talked to families in the year following an admission. Their children were well and recovered from whatever had resulted in their hospitalisation. And yet still, many of the families I spoke to were still finding their way through, still trying to make sense of what had happened, and still aiming to find some sort of ‘new normal’. They’d often gone through phases of yearning for ‘old normal’ or ‘life before’ and were now finding a way to accept and live with the way life was. It hadn’t been an easy journey and was very bumpy along the way.

‘New normal’ a phrase I hadn’t really heard when I was writing my paper in 2009 and 2010 is one which is bandied around at the moment with such abandon that I even saw it on a Catherine Tate sketch about lockdown the other day.

I agree that since we started on the Coronavirus road things have changed a lot, and do, to some degree, feel more settled than before. But I don’t think this life in lockdown we’ve crafted for ourselves can be called the ‘new normal’. Yes, it’s a new way of being, and yes, we’ve found some normality in our every day lives. We find ways to go to the supermarket, get work done, school our children. But that’s not the same as ‘new normal’. I think we’re very much still ‘in’ the difficult times. We are still finding our way through. We still often have to queue for the supermarket. We still have to stay 2m away from anyone who doesn’t live in our house. We are still frantically trying to get hold of hand sanitiser or flour or other items we used to take for granted. We still clap outside our front doors on Thursday evenings. We still warn our children not to touch things. This isn’t normal. We are doing what we can to just survive the twists and turns of this pandemic.

But I have a lot of hope. I have spoken with families who sat at their child’s bedside wondering if they would make it through. Hoping and praying that things would improve. Finding they couldn’t focus on anything, not wanting to talk to anyone, crying often, sleeping badly. Sadly, children do die on Paediatric Intensive Care. But many more survive, and those families, brave because they had to be, because circumstances were forced upon them, found a way through. And they sought their ‘new normal’ which wasn’t the same as life before, and took a long long time coming. But come it did.

One day, we will look back on this time in our lives. We will see just how tough it was. And we will see how much goodness there was in people during this time. And we will see just how hard we worked to find a way through. And we’ll have settled into a life which is not better or worse necessarily, but different to life before the pandemic. And we’ll have found a way to be ok with that. That is the new normal.

Will the path to the new normal be easy? Probably not. Will we get there? Yes. At here at Headspace Guildford, in the NHS and all over the country people will be there to help you if you stumble on the way. So, for now, as I so often say in this blog, just breathe, just keep putting one foot in front of the other (occasionally stopping to allow someone past at a safe distance). We’ll get there, each in our own ways and with our own struggles and triumphs. We didn’t choose this, it’s not what we would have wanted for ourselves or our children. But despite all that, we will find a way to a new normal. Give it time.

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