Same storm – different ships

It occurs to me that even when all the norms are thrown out of the window, it doesn’t take long for a sense of pressure to build up about what is “normal” behaviour, or what people should be doing or feeling in these new and different times.

That’s a bit crazy, isn’t it?

In some ways, this is the perfect chance to take a look at our lives, listen to our bodies, and do what works best for us within the boundaries of what’s allowed at the moment.

I first noticed it with socialising. Many people are really struggling with the lack of contact with others. I understand that. But I felt a real sense of social overload in the first couple of weeks – partly because I wanted to be at all the parties, but also because unlike a lot of people right now, I’m fortunate enough to still be able to work – so after a day with lots of online calls, more online calls weren’t what I really needed.

Not that I don’t want to keep up with my friends – I still book some in and have some that I really need to organise, but not every night. Because it was only in my crazy 20s that I went out every night and still made it into work the next day, running on coffee and not much else.

Then there’s the whole – learn-a-new-thing phenomenon, but I’m already doing a part-time degree on top of working full time, so I don’t tick that box either. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people are gaining new skills, especially if they have a lot of time at the moment. It’s way better than being bored. But if you don’t have the time or capacity to learn something new – if you’re exhausted at the end of the day after running your business or home-schooling your children – that’s ok too! Don’t feel bad about it.

Then there are the creative projects – I’m not doing those either. I can create things with words, but I’m not making, painting, or restoring anything! I did make some banana muffins last night and we’re still doing our monthly spice boxes where we try new recipes. Maybe that counts?

I did have a bit of a moment in the sales last week –my guilty pleasure – but I can’t join in any of the “I’ve eaten/drunk too much” conversations either. I don’t drink alcohol, and I guess I’m used to being at home where the same food is available all the time because I work from home. I’m not going to lie just so I can take part in the conversation, but I’m not going to be the one who joins in to say it’s not a problem for me either, because that just sets you apart even more. So I stay quiet.

I’m not trying to make myself out to be some kind of saint – I have a nicely-stocked chocolate drawer! What I’m saying is that I’ve noticed new pressures springing up around the new normal. Pressures to say you fit in or mirror the experiences others are having. And some people just don’t – which is ok.

I’ve never cared that much about peer pressure. We were having this conversation the other day about school. I care what people think – especially if I know I’ve been unfair or unreasonable in some way – but I don’t care enough to change who I am or what I want just so that I can fit in with what’s currently popular. Of course there are people whose opinions I really do care about, but it’s more based on reasoning that I can follow, rather than “you have to do x to be cool/part of our club”. Especially if I don’t think that x is very cool or interesting!

I’m not knocking any of the really cool stuff that is going on right now, but I am saying it shouldn’t feel like a competition or extra pressure if you’re already struggling to stay afloat.

This is a very long way of getting to my point, which is I hope people don’t feel even more stress by the new norms that are emerging, if those norms don’t reflect who you are or what you like doing with your time.

It’s ok if you aren’t a domestic goddess.

It’s ok if you don’t need as much social contact as some of your friends.

It’s ok if you can’t whip up a restaurant-style meal or if your chocolate cake flops in the middle!

It’s ok if you can’t join in with friends who are complaining about how absolutely awful the lockdown is because you’re just happy to be healthy and making the best of each day.

Of course, if you’re not ok and you’re not going from one fun activity to the next, it’s ok to say that too.

It’s ok if you just need a rest. Adapting to new things can be tiring. We sometimes give being busy much more prestige than it deserves and it feels as though some people have switched a crazily busy social life for a crazily busy home life with no time to just be still and recharge.

It’s ok if you need someone to talk to.

It’s also ok if your experience of the lockdown is different from many of the people around you.

There’s a post doing the rounds on social media about how this is the same storm, but we all have different ships. The experience is not going to be the same, because we are not on the same ship. We can help each other out and support each other for sure, but nobody ever really knows what it’s like on another person’s ship in this storm.

Oh, and if you don’t start doing all the things you haven’t been able to as soon as you are allowed to – even if everyone else you know is doing them – that’s ok too. Especially if you have health concerns that they don’t have!

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Walk a mile in their shoes – or stay a day in their self-isolation house

I think it was a joke. I’m not sure. Maybe there’s a picture that would make it clear if it was a joke, but I can only read the text.

Anyway – I’ve seen it a couple of times now – a post to people without kids asking them how life is in lockdown without kids. How wonderful it is. All the things you have time to do.

I get it – I have no idea what it’s like to entertain or home-school children who are scared or full of energy or sad because they can’t see their mates/go to their favourite places. The constant noise and interruptions or fighting with siblings.

I know I sometimes overthink things or take them too literally, but it got me thinking.

We don’t fit so easily into groups like that. Those with children and those without. Those who are medically vulnerable and those who aren’t. Those who are self-employed, employed, or unemployed. Those who are quite happy to take a break from people and those who hate the lack of contact with others.

All of these things together, and many more, go to make up our own individual set of circumstances. You may think someone has it easy, but you don’t know what else they’re dealing with.

I might be tempted to feel envious of my employed mates right now, but as a business owner, I got to make the decisions about what’s safe. I went into voluntary isolation at least a week before it was mandatory, and I’m not stuck working in conditions that I don’t think are safe, as some people that I know are.

Going back to the children thing – I chose not to have children, but I didn’t choose some of the other things.

I have a physical disability that means I shop online for food because this means I can do it independently. I do it every week – and I have done for the last 20 years or so. It worked fine for me up until now – now everyone wants to shop online and it’s hard to get a slot. I’m ok, but I know some blind people who are really struggling to get the basics because the one accessible way of getting food that they always use has suddenly become problematic. I’ve had offers of help from a couple of local people if we need anything, but not everyone has a network like that.

I have a medical condition that means it’s better if we self-isolate. My prescription wasn’t affected, but I also need items from the chemist and they weren’t there when we tried to get them during the last weeks. I’m ok now, but it took trips to four or five different chemists till I had what I needed.

I know someone who has died and a couple more who have been quite seriously ill, at least one of whom had the virus. So I’ve experienced all the emotions that go along with that – sadness, worry, fear for people I care about . On the other hand, I know plenty of people who still don’t know anyone who caught the virus.

My business is online, but I’ve had a number of cancellations for training since the lockdowns started across the world, which is inevitable, but still tough.

So no, I don’t have children, but life’s not one big party right now! There are good days and hard days – just like for everyone else. I’ve laughed about funny things, cried about sad things, and got frustrated by the people who still aren’t taking it seriously.

I see other people too in my group of friends and customers.

Some are scared because they have vulnerable relatives who live far away in other countries, whom they can’t help to get the basic essentials.

Some have family members working on the front line in the NHS, and they’re concerned about supplies to keep their loved ones safe.

Some have had to shut down their businesses temporarily and find new ways to generate income – or not.

Some are far more at risk or they are living with people who may not survive a severe case of the virus.

Some of those people who are more at risk need help from others to carry out personal care tasks. Those tasks are necessary, but each new person they let into their home could be bringing the virus with them. I haven’t experienced this, but I heard someone talking about it recently.

S and I living and working together 24/7 isn’t hard, but I know there are some people stuck in the house with those who are hurting them – physically, psychologically or emotionally. I have no idea how hard that is.

Others are completely alone, with no contact to anyone. I used to live alone and loved it, but it’s a different story if you get ill and have to do everything yourself.

I have to remind myself that generally I adapt well to this kind of more isolated life, (though in some ways I’ve had more contact to people than ever through all the wonderful opportunities we now have with technology). But I know I would be moaning if I were stuck in a room of 100 people for the foreseeable future and couldn’t get away to have some peace and quiet.

I need to have more patience with people who are complaining about being bored. I don’t relate to boredom – there are never enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do – but I suppose it’s a real struggle for those who do.

We all have our own struggles. As parents, as self-employed people, as at-risk people, as people who love to be outdoors. As extroverts who crave lots of face-to-face social contact – I don’t relate, but apparently it’s a thing! As basic human beings who are doing their best in what is a really difficult time. We need to be kind.

I think there’s a danger to look at other groups of people – those without kids – those with a guaranteed income – those who appear to be fit and healthy. But we don’t really know what’s going on for them, what’s making them sad, or keeping them up at night. We probably have different problems, but I think we’re all going through something right now.

Some will be open about it. Others will hide away and look fine on the outside – I’m really good at that when I’m not ok. I’m not asking for help in this post, but it’s often not the people who shout the loudest who need our help the most.

I think we need to be a bit careful because you never know what someone else is dealing with. You may think their life looks easy, but you don’t really know what struggles they have.

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