Struggling With The New Normal

Emily shares her challenges of dealing with ever-changing routines.


I’ve been struggling this month. There I’ve said it and I think it’s important to put it out there. I’ve spent the last few months writing pieces to help support our family communities and stakeholders, so I know all the tips and advice, and yet I’m still finding this autumn difficult.

As October marks International Mental Health Awareness Day and also National Work Life Balance Week, I feel it’s important to be open about this – and understand that if you are struggling you’re not alone.

The scariest thing about all this is that, objectively, I am lucky to have a pretty good life with no major issues:  I have a relatively robust mental health, I am lucky to still have a job and even luckier to work with a great team. I have a kind partner, nice kids and while we’re not rolling in it, we aren’t living hand to mouth either. It brings into sharp focus that if I have nothing tangible to bring me down why am still struggling? How much worse must it be for others who are also juggling additional work, family, monetary or mental health worries?

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll explain the trigger. It started when the momentary euphoria of packing children and husband off to school was swiftly replaced by a loneliness and foreboding sense of ‘what next’ and looming lockdowns. While work is busy and interesting, the fact is I’m working alone at my kitchen table again, just 18 months after making the decision to return to an office job because I’d had my fill of solopreneurship, working alone at my kitchen table. Aw the Covid-induced irony.

So I found myself at this wretched kitchen table again, having made it through the crisis mode of lockdown, then summer holidays and with no exit plan in sight. I was alone and facing the challenge of reframing the situation to create a better work-life balance and daily framework to support myself.

As many people – and particularly parents or carers - will recognise, the need to keep reinventing yourself to fit the situation and reframing the world we’re presented with - whether that’s finding our feet in a new job or town, finding out who we are as working parents or carers of loved ones – takes energy.

Although it may be necessary, and beneficial in the long run, the effort it takes to keep changing our routines and expectations to keep ourselves positive and reinventing or tweaking our personas – rising like a phoenix from the ashes of one’s former self, is downright exhausting. I genuinely wasn’t sure I had the energy to do it again.

But I’ve been there before, so I slowly dragged myself back together. The running is back, as is eating clean and a pre-sober-October month, but I’ve also started listening to relaxation recordings and doing some lunchtime-workouts to break up my day. I’m trying to compartmentalise work more after the all-consuming Covid-crisis-mode, really switch off and call my friends more, go for walks again.

I’ve also decided to take up singing and – to my children’s delight and husband’s horror – I’m looking at getting a dog. Well if I am stuck at home alone, then at least I’ll have a friendly furry companion – as opposed to my standoffish grump of a cat.

The other thing I’m acutely aware of – and it does help me although I know I shouldn’t compare other people’s situation with mine - is I know I’m not alone and my situation is far from the worst it could be. Far from schadenfreude, it helps me keep perspective and focussed on the positives I’m lucky enough to have in my life as well as finding satisfaction in supporting those around me who are enduring worse.  Amongst friends and colleagues, there’ve been parental (and other) deaths, divorces and redundancies as well as children and adults starting to suffer mental health issues. In truth, we’re all supporting each other as we navigate the rollercoaster of life – it’s just it feels like this ride’s been cranked up to warp speed.

The point is, if you are struggling with feeling low, or worse, then do seek help. Whether that’s, as has helped me, by throwing a metaphorical bomb into your life to change routines and make the situation work for you, or by seeking more formal support through talking to your workplace EAP, counselling services, or seeing your GP. Just whatever you do, don’t sit there in silence.

A friend of mine, who has sporadically suffered from mental health challenges, wrote recently that when she feels that overwhelm and tsunami of emotional dark clouds coming on, she finds focussing on her feet helps, watching herself physically put one step in front of the other.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that clinical depression and other mental health conditions won’t require more substantial interventions and medical support, of course not, but I think that’s good advice for us all, especially if, like me, you’re not actually suffering from depression, but just struggling to grapple with these ever-changing scenarios, moving goal posts and muddled endgames.

The world is - and will continue to be - in a state of flux for some time, with jobs, relationships and lives all mirroring the turmoil. If we can just keep putting one step in front of the other in the direction we want to go, we will get there eventually – wherever your ‘there’ is.