#320: Back To Normal?
Lately I’ve noticed that I’m more tired than usual. (You too?) As far as I know, there’s no rational reason for this. After all, it’s not like living my life requires large amounts of energy. But still it’s something I’ve noticed.
My latest theory about the cause of my exhaustion is that I want things to be normal when they’re nothing but. When I see my friends and family, and when colleagues say things like “now that lockdown’s over,” I want to believe that we’re officially moving into the “after” stage of the pandemic. But we’re still very much in the “during.”
I remind myself that this is going to take time.
This week’s issue of The Highlighter focuses on the lasting effects of the pandemic on our mental health and the challenges of reintegrating back into our “normal” daily lives. The lead article, “I’m Failing My Students,” captures the emotions of many teachers as they try to do their best for young people. The middle two pieces clearly explain the magnitude of the problems we’re facing, lest we pretend everything’s fine. If you’re absolutely not interested in reading anything pandemic-related, which I respect, I highly recommend the last article, “How To Reintegrate,” about a soldier coming back from a tour of duty. It’s the best piece this week.
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Tom Rademacher teaches Language Arts to eighth graders in Minnesota. Before the pandemic, he was on top of the world, being named the state’s teacher of the year, writing books, feeling confident and effective. But this year, as young people return from nearly two years of virtual school, “teaching is just harder.” Mr. Rademacher has run out of energy and patience. “I have less of me to give. I hate being bad at this.”
He writes: “All of us are tired. All of us are doing too much. It’s absurd to me that this year, after last year and after the year before it, we are doing anything other than healing. This should be a year of simple. This should be a year when every non-essential thing is stripped away and every arm we can manage is wrapped around our students to welcome them back into something that feels solid, feels stable, feels human.” (5 min)
Why ‘Getting Back To Normal’ May Actually Feel Terrifying
Twenty months later, we’re no longer on lockdown. But most of us don’t feel “back to normal.” What exactly is this in-between state we’re in? According to psychologists Marcantonio Spada and Ana Nikčević, our brains are coping with chronic stress by keeping our bodies alert and safe from danger. For some people, that means PTSD and severe anxiety and depression. For others, it means wanting to see your friends and family but staying home instead. (9 min)
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The effects of the pandemic on the mental health of young people are staggering. According to one study, two-thirds of young people in the United States have clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression. And the problem is not just an American one. In this article, French researcher Marie Jauffret-Roustide and her colleagues report that young adults in Europe are experiencing high levels of loneliness that may persist for years to come. Psychological despair is even worse for queer people and people of color, with the majority not having access to mental health services. (11 min)
This first-person story of reintegration has nothing to do with the pandemic. But it poignantly captures the in-between nature of being in two places at once. Veteran Bronson Lemer, who served in Kosovo and Iraq, returns from a tour of duty after meeting a man who stirred his insides. While he comes out to a few friends, Mr. Lemer keeps his secret from his family and his military unit. Using the imperative, he writes, “Remember how it felt to want to become someone else. To want to be seen and heard and understood. To connect with someone on a real, genuine level. Wonder if you’ll ever find someone who truly sees you and understands how you feel. That is all you really want from this world.” (12 min)
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