It’s nice to think of returning to the people, places and things we once loved, but will we ever be able to enjoy them the way we once did? As much as I love leaving my house, I feel like it will be a while before I can enjoy grabbing a latte from a barista, taking a muffin sample from an anonymous basket or using a key attached to a giant, germ-y spoon just to access a bathroom.
Besides, what exactly are we returning to?
Jerry, for one, a 34-year-old in Florida who worked at a restaurant that’s since gone out of business due to the pandemic, has no idea what his industry will hold for him once things start to reopen. “Obviously, I have fears of being destitute if I’m unable to find work,” he says. “But I’m also worried that the lethargy I’m feeling now will have a lasting effect. I’m worried my trade skills will be rusty, and I won’t have confidence in my work. It took a long time to become confident enough that I knew I could always find a job in a day or two. I’m not sure I have that now, given the conditions.”
“So I have no idea what my life is going to be in six months,” he continues. “Am I going to be living in my car, or will I be stuck in a kitchen till 3 a.m.?”
Paul R. Nelson, a therapist who specializes in men’s issues, has been seeing a dramatic increase in clients dealing with anxiety and fear about returning to a “normal life” post-quarantine. The overwhelming stress factor is related to finances, but he’s also seeing his patients grapple with whether or not their pre-quarantine life is something they even want to go back to — i.e., spending more time at home has allowed them to feel more bonded to their kids and partners and made them question whether it’s worth risking that bond for their career once more. “Being at home has led a lot of men to discover that they’ve missed out on many aspects of their lives,” he explains.
“The bottom line is, we all have a choice — whether or not we know we’re making that choice. And many men unwittingly chose their job at the expense of their home life,” Nelson adds. “Men are feeling guilt and even anger now that they’re realizing they’ve sacrificed a lot of happiness and family time for an employer whom they’ve discovered really doesn’t care.”
Garrett, a 42-year-old in Minnesota, definitely has had his perspective changed in this regard. “My fear is that six months after everything goes back to normal, things will be exactly the same as they were before,” he tells me. “I never would have been able to spend as much time with my 9-year-old son as I have these last six weeks. Our jokes and patter with each other have deepened and evolved. I’m scared of that dissipating. I’m afraid of things going back to their frantic, transactional normal.”
The same goes for Spencer, a 48-year-old in Atlanta. “We’re all together, all day,” he says. “It’s a challenge for me to do the homeschooling stuff, but the time I get to spend with my girls has been awesome. I feel like, even though this is overall a horrible situation, I’m going to look back on it fondly.“
As such, several men mention that quarantine is making them re-evaluate their work situations. Graham, a 55-year-old in the U.K., is worried that when he returns to the office, he won’t be able to put up with the bullshit like he once did and might finally go off on his boss. “I feel devalued and under-appreciated by my employer, and my pride is struggling with it,” he explains. “This time away has allowed me to see that my time could be spent more productively doing things that bring value to me. I’m not sure I can go back to being a drone.”
Meanwhile, Brad, a 43-year-old in Canada, has enjoyed the transition to working from home because he’s gotten away from a toxic coworker. “There is someone in my office who has cost me promotions that I’ve worked hard for over the years,” he says. “Being away from that person and their toxicity has done wonders for my mental health. Thus, I have a lot of anxiety about returning to the office.”
Along those lines, Eric, a 37-year-old in Maryland, has suffered from depression since he was 12, but he says that since coronavirus took hold, his mood has improved significantly. “I’m much more active,” he tells me. “For example, I’ve started a large project with a friend — building three raised garden beds. I no longer spend most of the day in bed, scrolling Twitter or Instagram, or napping, waiting for it to be late enough to warrant actually going to sleep for the night. I go on walks with my mom instead of declining her invitation, and our relationship has gotten closer as a result.”
And so, what’s the thing that might be stressing him out the most these days?
Not the pandemic. Not the “new” normal. Just plain ol’ normalcy.