Cherry blossom on trees

The New Normal

March 16th, 3am. I wake up in the middle of the night, and, instead of rolling over and going straight back to sleep, I reach for my phone, to check the news. 

Since I went to bed, New York and Los Angeles have closed down all restaurants, along with some other public places, and Las Vegas resorts are starting to close. I lie awake for a while, trying to imagine the reality of this strange new normal, and am woken again at 6:30am by the sound of Max chattering happily to himself in bed. 

Before I get up, I once again reach for my phone. No news updates this time, but, on Instagram, a friend who’s a nurse has posted an update on our local hospital, which, she says, is already struggling to cope. Wash your hands, she says. Stay at home if you have symptoms. Take it seriously. As I get out of bed, Terry – who was up late last night and would normally sleep for another hour or so – wakes up too. “Any news?” he asks immediately, so I fill him in in, then head down to get Max, who remains totally oblivious to the fact that the world he was born into has changed beyond all recognition.

Once we’re all downstairs, Terry makes a start on breakfast, while I take Max’s temperature and my own. In my defence, Max came down with yet another ear infection at the weekend, and has been under the weather ever since, so I’m mostly checking him because of that. In obvious-news-is-obvious, however, I’m checking my own temperature out of sheer health anxiety – and I’m doing it way more than the precisely zero times per day that someone with absolutely no coronavirus symptoms needs to: a sure sign that, YAY, my OCD has found itself a new outlet – I’m going to need SO. MUCH. THERAPY.  once this is over…

Our temperatures are fine, thankfully, so we do our best to continue with our morning as normally as possible, while Terry messages his brother to find out if he managed to get out of Spain OK before the lockdown there started. (Spoiler alert: Yes. But only just…) Max, meanwhile, repeatedly asks if he can go to nursery now: which is ironic, given that this time last week he was begging to be allowed to stay home. Trust us to get to the point where he decides he loves nursery at the exact moment we decide to pull him out, right? I mean, I was feeling guilty for sending him , so I guess it’s only right that I now get to feel guilty for NOT sending him…

Not only is Max not going to nursery this week, though, he’ll also be skipping his regular playgroup and swimming lesson (Both of which actually ended up being cancelled indefinitely anyway, shortly after I wrote this. I know it’s for the greater good, but I can’t help but feel sad and worried for the people for whom these groups are a complete lifeline, and the only thing standing between them and serious mental health issues…) and, well, everything else that involves being in public spaces, basically. It’s really not the kind of childhood we had planned for him, but, with an immunocompromised person in the house, and grandparents in the high risk bracket, we really can’t see an option, so we explain again that nursery is “closed” for now (It’s not, but we figure the white lie won’t hurt, as it’s probably just a matter of time, anyway…), then I go to the door to collect a parcel from the postman, who stands a few metres back, and tells me I don’t have to sign for it if I’d rather not.

I take one look at the touch-pad that God knows how many people have already touched that morning, and gladly decline, so he signs for me, and I bring the parcel indoors and place it carefully on the area of the worktop I’ve started thinking of as the ‘Contamination Zone’, before wiping it over with a Dettol wipe, and then immediately going to wash my hands, for what must be the fifth time this morning already. We’re still at the stage where all of this seems strange and OTT even to me, but it’s slowly becoming part of this new normal, and I wonder briefly if we’ll ever go back to just accepting parcels without a second thought – or if the skin on my hands will ever heal from the constant washing? 

For now, though, we have a more pressing issue on our roughed-up hands: how to get the contents of the grocery shop that’s about to be delivered (This is our regular online shop, I hasten to add, which we have delivered every week at this time. Because I’ve been worrying about this outbreak since I first heard about it, back at the start of January, we’ve had plenty of time to stock up gradually, so haven’t had to do any panic buying, thankfully. Who said worrying doesn’t help?) into the house without touching anything? 

Thankfully, the supermarket are way ahead of us with this, and, when the shopping arrives, the delivery man is happy to wait outside (They normally bring the shopping into the kitchen for us in crates…) while Terry transfers the groceries into bags, and then into the kitchen. Then he washes his hands. Because, every time we do anything in the new normal, we wash our hands.  

After Max’s nap, my parents arrive to take him to their place for the afternoon, as he’s not going to be going to nursery. Because they’re also isolating, we’re assuming it’s probably safe enough for us to see each other, although that could obviously change at any time. For now, though, they’ve offered to help out with childcare as much as possible, so Terry and I can attempt to save our business, which was doing badly enough before COVID-19 hit, and which I’m really worried won’t survive a prolonged period of uncertainty. For now, though, I’m just grateful that we have jobs we can do at home, and family willing to help out with Max while we do it: not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that position, obviously, so we try to make the most of it and power through some work while Max is gone, although what we’re really doing is constantly refreshing our news apps while we wait for the 2pm update with today’s coroanavirus statistics. 

Finally, it comes: 

171 new cases
19 new deaths deaths

As with all of the sanitising-of-shopping and paranoia-about-infection, we’re still at a stage where these numbers seem huge and shocking to us, but, if we follow the same path as countries like Italy and Spain, we know we’ll very quickly reach a point where those numbers seem relatively low: one of the hardest things about the new normal is that it doesn’t stay ‘normal’ for very long before it changes – and always to something even worse than before. 

For the rest of the afternoon, we try our best to work, while waiting for the prime minister to address the nation and tell us what the government plans to do to try to put an end to this surreal nightmare: to #flattenthecurve, and make the new normal the old normal, sooner rather than later. When Boris finally emerges, though, all he has is a range of “suggestions”. He suggests we avoid restaurants, pubs and theatres, but doesn’t insists on it. He suggests we work from home if possible, but announces no measures to assist businesses in helping their workers do that.  Finally, he suggest that everyone over 70, or with underlying health issues, self-quarantine for 12 weeks. We were doing it anyway, of course (Although, I have to admit, we weren’t expecting to have to do it for THREE MONTHS…), but, in some ways, I’m relieved that the advice is now “official” – even if, as with all of the other suggestions, it doesn’t appear to be enforceable, as it has been in other countries. 

As a transplant recipient, Terry falls into the “at risk” group – and as we’re not particularly keen on the idea of him isolating himself from me and Max for the next three months, it looks like we’re going to have to quarantine with him. So there we have it: 12 weeks of being stuck at home with an energetic toddler, in a world that I couldn’t even have imagined just a few short weeks ago, when we were happily planning our holiday and looking forward to spring. Now, however, it feels a bit like spring has been cancelled: like life has been cancelled – and while I obviously understand that the alternative isn’t something we’d even be willing to consider, I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one feeling unbearably sad that this is what it’s come to. 

But this is our new normal. And I guess we’re going to have to get used to it.

[P.S:  I hate that I have to say this, but I just wanted to close this post by saying that writing is my main coping mechanism when I’m at my most anxious, so I’m going to continue doing it despite the handful of disparaging comments and DMs I’ve had over the past couple of weeks: both because it’s therapeutic for me, and because, well, this is an unprecedented time in our collective history, and I’d like to be able to document the massive changes we’re going through, in case Max – or even his children –  finds it interesting to look back on one day. Thankfully there are plenty of people out there who understand my ongoing anxiety about this  – or who don’t, but who can at least empathize with it – but, if you’re not one of them, and are thinking of leaving a comment purely to try to make me feel stupid, please consider taking a step back, and finding a blog that’s more relatable to you: these are tough times for a lot of people, and a little bit of kindness goes a long, long way…]
COMMENTS
  • Hannah

    REPLY

    So glad you are going to keep writing, I find it an outlet for stress to read. So the more you write the more I can read! I’m finding it a very stressful and uncertain time and I can only imagine how much worse you must be finding it so sending love from my family to yours- definitely just virtual love though, keeping the germs to ourselves!

    March 17, 2020
  • Elaine

    REPLY

    I am glad you are writing too. It not only makes you feel better but i have no doubt will make others feel better too, many people feel like you and it is nice not to feel alone. Basically it will be practically the only way of communicating with people soon. These are weird times – I feel like I have stepped into a film or am asleep but having a nightmare. Take care of yourselves – lets all hope we can keep it together long enough before we start spontaneously combusting through stress!

    March 17, 2020
    • Daniela

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      Hi Amber,

      I’m reading you from Portugal, we’re in quarentine since Monday, with a 5 years old boy. All schools are closed, me and my husband are working from home too.

      I don’t know how to deal with this… Tomorrow our government maybe going to declare state of emergency and we should have a walk on last Sunday, take some sun and now we’re literally closed, even if no one else is the streets…

      My mom and my fathers in law have health issues so we choose to stay away.

      People in my job had tested positive from covid, last week I was opening all doors with a napkin, bathroom was a nightmare, thanks God that now they let me stay home.

      Sorry about my poor English. I hope the best for you and your family and you’re not alone with your stress and anxiety.

      My fav hash now:

      #StaySane

      Kiss,

      Daniela

      March 18, 2020
  • Tracy-Anne

    REPLY

    I often read your blogs Amber, rarely comment. But I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’re documenting this surreal situation. It helps me realise I’m not the only one that feels this way at times. Look after yourself and your family. 💗

    March 17, 2020
  • Hi Amber, I believe that doing a few things from the “old normal”, like reading your blog and looking forward to your every new blog post can help us keep our sanity in these “new normal” times! So please, don’t stop writing! And take care! Sending (virtual) hugs!

    March 17, 2020
  • Vicky

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    Oh God, yes – Boris and his “suggestions”.

    Seriously?!

    I’m still in the office with 50 other randoms, because no-one has told me not to be. Daughter is still at college, son is still commuting by public transport into London. But Boris “suggests” I don’t go for a quiet drink in the pub after work.

    March 17, 2020
  • Eirian

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    Hi Amber

    I look forward to your every post. I also have health issues along with parents who are also 75 and have underlying health issues, although not too serious. It’s reassuring to realise that you are not alone when you lie there at 2.00am wondering just exactly is going to be the outcome of this situation. Please carry on with your writing – look at Samuel Pepys; people could been reading your posts in hundreds of years time (also you are funnier than Pepys) Look after yourself, Terry and Max. Sending you best wishes from a very wet Wales.

    Eirian

    March 17, 2020
  • Sending a big virtual hug, Amber. Yes, we are all in this together, but you are right to feel more vulnerable with Terry’s situation, your parents and a toddler. I know we will all get through this somehow. I’m pulling for you and your coping mechanisms.

    March 17, 2020
  • Alison

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    I think your reaction is perfectly rational if it helps. It’s not you that’s out of step, it is your government. Mind yourself and stay safe.

    March 17, 2020
  • Elaine

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    Thank you for continuing to write Amber. I read every post though rarely comment. I appreciate your thoughts and am sending very best wishes to you and your family and all those who read your posts. As for most of us, life to me feels very strange and worrying at the moment and I can only hope we can all be kind to each other and considerate in our behaviour while we wait and hope for things to improve.

    March 17, 2020
    • Alice

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      How bizarre to criticise you for writing – what do they think you should be doing? If they don’t like it they don’t have to read it……

      I don’t have health anxiety at all but my partner and I both work in a hospital with a big acute admissions unit and intensive care unit which does make me somewhat worried….. It’s 100% certain we will be exposed to coronavirus we just have to hope we are robust enough to resist it and that our daughter is too.

      March 17, 2020
  • Myra

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    Do whatever helps you to cope with these difficult times. Much love xxx

    March 17, 2020
  • Katie

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    Amber, I have never commented before but I wanted to say how much this post helped me. I have been in a downward spiral and have been struggling to see this as a new normal despite knowing it is. So to read your post has made me believe it’s possible.

    March 17, 2020
  • Miss Kitty

    REPLY

    I was trying to plan a wedding for May. Now it has all gone out the window, we have no idea what is going to happen. I feel guilty for feeling so upset about it, when so many people have had their lives disrupted by this stupid virus. But it really is the hardest thing about it, the uncertainty of everything – unable to plan for anything, because we don’t know how long it will last. At least if someone could tell us it would be over in 3 months, it would make it easier to get through, knowing there was an end in sight. Right now there seems to be worse news coming every day. First it was all travellers into NZ (where I live) have to quarantine for 14 days. Then Australia followed suit (where most of my fiance’s family lives), which would have meant most of my guests would have had to quarantine for a month, there and back, if they bothered coming at all. Now Australia has banned people leaving at all. And on top of that both myself and my fiance have health conditions which put us in the at-risk bracket, so it would be absolutely stupid to go ahead with anything. It is just so hard to have all your plans and deposits go out the window, and not even know when you can start planning again. And then I feel guilty for moaning, but I don’t feel like Little Miss Sunshine right now, so why should I pretend to be? I just pray every day that all my family will be spared.

    March 18, 2020
  • Katie

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    I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I hope you all stay well xx

    March 19, 2020
  • Sarah

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    I’m glad you are still writing, Amber! It helps me to hear from other people around the world. I’m a pediatrician in the US and every day I go to work I feel like the entire world is falling. Your anxieties are valid and you guys are doing the right thing by staying inside. I wish I could tell you not to worry but I would be lying. I will be thinking of you guys often from this side of the pond!

    March 19, 2020
  • Nita Schmid

    REPLY

    Thank you for writing this, Amber. I’ve started to try to read less news because it just gets so damn depressing but I still want to keep up to know what’s going on, and it’s been really difficult. It hasn’t impacted my own life that much as I’m a student and was on semester break anyway, so my exams have been postponed until the end of April at least, and my boyfriend has been working from home as of this week. But, my papa is 79 and my stepmum is 81, and they’re both in the US right now – thankfully the Bay Area which has been taking things seriously and has things on lockdown – but I can’t help but be terrified for them, especially as they’re expecting an international visitor as previously planned and they can’t turn her away now. And my granddad is 90.

    I think the hardest thing is that my boyfriend hasn’t been taking it as seriously, he thinks I’m being overdramatic to be so worried about it and stock upon food and all that, and he’s annoyed to be working from home and have imminent restrictions on going out… meanwhile I’m just trying to make the most of it, and it seems so self-centred to not realize just how lucky we are to be safe and healthy and not have to worry about our livelihoods. Posts like this remind me that I’m not the only one struggling and worried and trying to take precautions and refreshing the news and voraciously reading updates while trying to stay sane. You’re not alone, and it’s good to be reminded that I’m not either.

    March 21, 2020
  • Lori Burke

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    Hi Amber, Thank you so much for sharing your worries, concerns and thoughts during this unprecedented time. In the strangest way it helps to know there are others that don’t flippantly tout this as “no worse than the flu”. We realize this will change the future , the way we look at the world, and our lives. I finally slept last night(see my post on your 3-13 chat) and woke to deepening concern. My 24 year old son checked in and still has 7 more days to quarantine before he can come home to me from Santa Monica. He’s trying to be strong, but his job in the restaurant business is gone, he’s been exposed to hundreds upon hundreds of people in the last 3 weeks, and today he has a fever and cough. It could be nothing, allergies or a death sentence. And we’ve just been told not to bother getting tested. Assume it’s covid. I feel as you do that this is a surreal time in our lives, and it’s so very hard not to let anxiety overtake us. My daughter is resting at her home, her first day off in 2 weeks and 14 hour shifts. This will pass. Until then I wish you and your loved ones, continued good health, moments of peace, and profound thankfulness that we are blessed to have one more day.

    March 21, 2020
  • Candice Parker

    REPLY

    pls continue to write! #sorelatable

    March 24, 2020
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