Life in Quarantine: 3 Things to Stop Saying (and What I’m Doing Instead)

A couple phrases have started to play on repeat…

“New normal.”

“Stay safe.”

“Unprecedented times.”

They show up in every conversation. And, if you’re like me, all three have slowly started to chip away at you. Conversation after conversation, they’re starting to break me down. It’s not that I don’t find validity to the words- it does feel like a new normal, I do want everyone to stay safe, and I completely agree it’s all unprecedented… and yet, we don’t need to keep saying it over. And over. And over. Hearing the same slogans on repeat begins to wear down one’s mental spirit. Slowly, it can start to feel like we’re all living in a very extended episode of The Twilight Zone. You can only hear “new normal” so many times before you start to question if you remember what “normal” was in the first place.

To stop the madness, I have a proposal. Or, really, a challenge. Next time someone asks how you are, try to avoid the three above statements. Rather than lamenting our upside down world using these buzzwords, repeating the same news headline you’ve ranted about to the last 10 people who asked, try going a little deeper. Share the feelings behind the words. Or, better yet, turn the questions around… Why is the new normal bad? What don’t you miss about the old normal? How do you find certainty in uncertain moments? When do you feel safe?

Every conversation we have – in quarantine or not- is a choice. We can take back power from this pandemic by actively choosing the life we want to lead from this point forward. How? By being present in every conversation you have rather than continuing to rely on catch all statements. While we may be physically distant, we don’t have to be mentally or emotionally. Why? Because, newsflash, it’s not just the pandemic that has led to all our conversations feeling stale. Lack of depth existed long before the world shutdown, it’s just much more obvious now. Pandemic or not we’re all guilty of getting stuck in cycles. When it comes to our relationships, cycle syndrome has (unfortunately) always been normal. Now we have the opportunity to hit reset. We can create an improved normal.

Yes, we’re living in an unprecedented time. At least that’s what I am reminded every time I turn on the TV or read an article or email about this pandemic. Unprecedented. We. Get. It. We’re all well aware – without turning on the news – that these times are unprecedented. We feel it. We’re also all very acutely aware they are unknown and uncertain. But I want to remove the “un.” I want us all to set our own precedent for how this can be.  The truth is, we cannot control the state of things (beyond doing our part and staying home – so do that, please), but we can control the state of our surroundings. And, in this time of being closed in your home your surroundings are people (even if only virtually) you let into your bubble. So, set the precedent in those relationships. Choose wisely, choose thoughtfully. Who you let into your ears via phone calls or eyes via Zoom will affect you. In quarantine or not we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with, and let’s face it we’re investing a lot more time in those 5 lately. For better or worse these people are our main source of socialization, whose energy affects ours. So, let’s use the craziness of the world to get crazy with our own level of vulnerability. Look around, see the actual friendships you’re growing – and reinvest intentionally.

Whether we do it consciously or not, we make commitments in all of our relationships. Some are more formal and binding than others, like in marriage where we declare vows publicly, but most are unspoken agreements. Rarely do we make friendship vows… but maybe we should. Allow me to recite the “I dos” I am choosing to make in my friendships for an improved normal:

  • I promise to be honest – this is at the top because it’s really the foundation. In times of change (pandemic or not) a friendship is nothing without a core of honesty. This means admitting when I’m not okay, while also responding to you truthfully when you share where you’re at. No sugarcoating.
  • I will listen first – aka I will shut up so you feel heard. When all the feels arise, we tend to need to ramble or rant. Sometimes on repeat. As your friend I will let the words roll, however many times they need to be shared, until you’re ready for a response. I will make you feel heard so you can feel seen and valued.
  • I won’t let you spiral – at some point the rants need to give way to more. We may not know what that is while we are spitting words all over the place, but when the time comes and we’re both fatigued from our own complaining I hope we can remind each other of this and hold each other accountable.
  • I will cut you off – lovingly. And no, I am not referring to the wine consumption (keep that flowing). I mean I will be here to stop you from going down a negative rabbit hole and remind you that while a lot is unknown, we don’t have to get stuck in that spin cycle. And trust, I will need you to the same for me.
  • I will laugh at you – and with you. We’re all running on the fumes of worn down emotions and fatigue from being left alone too long. So, it’s inevitable we will have dumb moments. Let’s share them, mock ourselves together, and laugh it out.
  • I guarantee constant check ins – and I will hold you to real answers. This one is self-explanatory. You’re allowed to avoid my texts until you are ready to answer truthfully, and I will give myself the space to do the same.
  • I won’t take it personally. As an empath I tend to absorb things, especially hurt feelings or anger. Right now there's a lot of that. So, if I sense something is off with you, I won’t take it on or assume it’s my fault (unless it is, and if so, I apologize in advance here and now). I will ask, trust your answer, and not make it about me. I want to create a space where you can be unfiltered and real. You matter and whatever you’re going through (even if it changes on the hour right now) has validity.

My “why” has always been the people in my life. They’re the essence of who I am and inspire me to be better constantly. Not being able to hug every last one of them is torture. However, rather than frustratingly focus on how not normal things are right now I plan to show up for them tenfold. My improved normal is just taking all the energy I’d normal pour into physical outings with them and show up more emotionally.

In the (slightly adjusted) words of Rodman Edward Serling, we’re now in an area called the Twilight Zone. We’ve entered another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination…

…It’s your zone, make it what you need it to be.

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