Is Social Isolation is the New “Normal”?

“We will see you when everything returns to normal,” is a phrase that I have seen and heard multiple times in the past two months.  As a parent, daughter, teacher, business owner, friend, and sister, I understand the logic and can rationalize why our world has shut down.  I can also rationalize the importance of social distancing and the need to retreat for self-preservation and the good for the collective.   What I have difficulty understanding and accepting is the term, “normal”…what does that mean exactly?  Yes, you could spout out a definition from Merriam-Webster to me but that isn’t what I mean.  In the sense of today’s world, when comparing yesterday, today and the future, what is truly “normal”?  Is it what others tell you it is/should be or is normal what you make for yourself based on where you are mentally?   What happens when the world “opens back up”?  As we become accustomed to isolation, no longer communicating or interacting in person, no more hugs, handshakes, etc.  where will that leave us? How will children understand the importance of social interactions and cues – these are not exactly skills you can learn/acquire on YouTube or TikTok.  

Within weeks of our stay at home time, my five-year-old son has completely come undone because everything that was “normal” to his five-year-old brain is no longer.  The structure of going to school, the schedule of going to the library and the park, the time with his babysitter away from his parents…all his norms disappeared overnight.  This made me think if this is happening to the social and emotional health of a preschooler/kindergartener, how is affecting those of us that are older.    

We are social creatures by nature.  We seek out others for comfort, emotional support, and humor.  We gather together to celebrate and mourn and when the routine of going to social gatherings, work, school, etc. is removed, it makes us lonely.  I am, by nature, someone that thrives in my work.  I love what I do and I have intentionally separated my career from my home life as best as a small business owner can.  Because of the current health crisis we are in, those worlds have collided and I find myself struggling to maintain balance, let alone sanity.  Thus, the hazards of being a psychologist and a musician come up.  How do I remain emotionally healthy and available to my family while thriving in my much loved passion as a teacher and musician?!  Where do I get the socialization I need to complete my mission while still making sure my children complete their class assignments, get dressed, eat and attend to their self care?  How do I maintain these standards when I haven’t worn a pair of pants in weeks and my pajamas have become my “casual wear”.  I pity my neighbors that have become accustomed to seeing me walk my puppy, Ghost, in seven different varieties of plaid PJ ensembles, no makeup, the messiest bun possible topped with sunglasses and flip flops being followed by a five year old in crocs and a green bowler hat.  I’m not sure if they will necessarily wish to survive the pandemic because the zombie apocalypse, a stick welding labrador pup and the leprechaun in charge of Lucky Charms are having a parade 10 times a day.

Now that I have digressed into my personal fashion and existential crisis, let me tell you what is keeping me quasi-sane.  This week, I have discovered a number of local and national musicians, DJs, television personalities and lecturers, that have blown up Facebook, Zoom, YouTube and other platforms to break up the monotony of Thisday, Thatday and Someday to provide much loved entertainment, memories and laughs.  We can listen to new projects or be swept back into nostalgia with classic covers.  You, too, can see the original cast of Hamilton sing on Zoom the opening number of the musical while swooning at the sight of Lin Manuel Miranda in a t-shirt while touring the many vacation spots in your house.  

Social distancing doesn’t mean community distancing and I think the pendulum has swung so far to the right that it is going to make it difficult to return to where we were.  Concerts and other live music events will most likely have to evolve and if so, what will that do to the human experience?   What will be the long term social and psychological ramifications?  I’d like to hear from you and what your experience has been….what have you done while home to find an outlet?  How are you coping and where do you see yourself and your mental health once this pandemic is over and you are free to roam, again.  Tell me in the comments below and let’s share so that we as a community can survive this isolation together!

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