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Letter from the editor | Feb. 21

Why “normal” is, and has always been, a hoax

A person sitting with their head down, and hands from the outside are reaching in, taking pieces of them. Pandemic exhaustion and emotional burnout are present factors in today’s reality. // Illustration by Alfie Short

As an editor for The Front, I’ve been given the time and space to have my voice amplified by the means of a letter. However, as the photo editor, I’m not primarily the one on the team who is “out there,” getting and giving the hard-hitting news — so now that I’m in the hot seat and talking directly to you, dear reader, how do I make the most of it? 

I’ve thought long and hard about what I’ve wanted to write, and I found myself coming back to this topic time and time again: the thoughts I have about the state of the world and what “normal” is supposed to mean in response to it. 

When I say “normal,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? 

For some people, it might be thinking of an average day. For others, the actual definition from Merriam Webster: “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.” It’s possible you’re still thinking about the title of the article and wondering why I’m calling it a hoax. 

Well, here’s my short answer: 

There never has been a “normal,” saying you want to go “back” to it is actually liable to be more harmful to you than you think. 

I know this because I thought the same thing for quite a while, too.

If you’d like to hear my long answer, let’s start with an exercise. 

Picture this with me now: the last two years or so of the pandemic. When someone says to you, “I can’t wait for everything to go back to normal!” what do you think are they referring to? The most consistent answer I’ve found is “the Fall of 2019.” Or “Pre-pandemic.”

People want to get out of the pandemic and believe me — I agree. Wearing masks everywhere I go and worrying about possibly infecting my loved ones with a deadly virus is a terrible time, in fact. But, when I think about life pre-pandemic, those times were all sunshine and rainbows, either. 

I don’t necessarily know if I want to go back to that form of “normal” —  there are lessons I want to learn and incorporate from what we’ve been forced to experience. Lessons like being a compassionate person for others, not taking the life I have for granted and standing up for the values and people that I hold dear to me. 

Maybe at first when I’d only heard the word “Coronavirus” as brief whispers in the hallways, I could’ve feasibly hidden away from the truth —  but as COVID-19 grew closer and closer to my own personal life, I realized that trying to stick my head in the sand to avoid those lessons until the “pandemic ends,” isn’t something I can responsibly do anymore, even if it’s the more tempting tactic of the two.

There’s a word that’s been thrown around so much that it’s started to get worn out, “unprecedented.” But I want to remind you, dear reader, that the times we are living in are just that —  never seen before in our modern era. And frankly, it isn’t fair. If nobody has, I’m here to be the person to tell you.

The emotional baggage that the pandemic has wrought is heavy and it isn’t fair that you or anyone else has to carry so much.

Emotionally, physically, ethically. Maybe by virtue of your job, you’ve had to see the horrors of the pandemic firsthand as a healthcare worker or just by reading the words “Hospitals Slammed, ICU Overfilled.” First in China, and now here; now everywhere. Maybe you’ve had a loved one pass.  

But the exhaustion and burnout from the pandemic can come from smaller things than that, too.

Maybe you haven’t gotten to see your friends for years because you’re immunocompromised. Perhaps it was seeing someone you love discredit scientists and go maskless. Hell, remember when nobody could buy toilet paper? 

Having to put on a happy face and get back to work after everything that’s happened or go back to school in what’s been dubbed the “new normal.” You don’t have to be the one experiencing something to feel weighed down by it. 

The emotional burden of seeing the world work through a pandemic, isolated — it’s a concept so novel that we’re all still floundering to get a grasp on it, two and a half years later. It’s all a heavy emotional toll that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

All of this is to say that you don’t have to be “okay.” You don’t have to feel “normal.” 

Our circumstances are extraordinary, and I think trying to pretend that we can get on with our lives from “before” just isn’t a reality that can be reached anymore. We have to learn and adapt to what lies before us — even if it feels like trying to walk through a minefield.

I want to close with a final few thoughts: I’m not an expert on anything stated here. 

As much as I wish I did, dear reader, I don’t have all the answers — and I doubt I ever will. I have no idea what you could be going through because of your own circumstances. 

As the therapist I’m working with put it, working on finding “radical acceptance,” which is accepting reality as it is, not as you wish it to be. And that’s what this letter is partially about, too.

All I know for sure is that I’m a person with anxiety, imposter syndrome, and a knack for “hyper-empathy.” This means that I have a lot of thoughts, all of the time. I hope at the very least I could give you a vessel for the emotions you’ve felt but couldn’t put into words. 

The state of the world is crazy, so give yourself a break. You are human — nothing more, nothing less.

—Julia Brigolin, Winter ’22 photo editor

Julia Brigolin

 Julia Brigolin (she/her) is the Photo Editor this quarter for The Front! Getting her degree in Creative Writing with the Teaching Endorsement option, this junior's hobbies include photography, writing, reading, and playing video games. Storytelling can come in many forms, and she aims to capture them all.

To reach her, her email is Stay curious!

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