Stories from Seattle: Letting Go of "Normal"

The key to survival: Lower your expectations, or get rid of them all together
| Updated: March 23, 2020
Isolation then: More drooling, less homeschooling.

This is the first in a series of personal essays we're calling Stories from Seattle, contributed by our community and designed to show how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the lives of Seattleites. Want to share your story, coping mechanisms, wildest ideas? We’d love to hear. Please email:

For a few blissful moments each day, I forget we’re living in a collective nightmare. Usually they’re first thing in the morning, between the time my eyes open and my brain processes its first coherent thought. Occasionally, when I’m particularly invested in whatever book I’m reading or laughing with an old friend via video chat, I catch myself in a moment of normal placidity. But this is far from normal, whatever that means anyway. We may never know that old normal again. 

For the last two weeks—Has it been longer? What is time, even?—much of the day is spent with a deep ball of stress moving between my belly and my throat. The last time I felt this way was in those fragile days and weeks after giving birth to my daughter almost nine years ago. I’m a social person, one who thrives on deadlines and full schedules and interactions with others. The sameness of those days—how dawn faded to dusk and then dawn again, sometimes while I was in the same position on my couch with a perfect tiny human attached like a barnacle—was exhausting, both emotionally and physically. I felt tethered to her, in the best and worst ways. 

Now, we’re all tethered to home. There’s a pervasive fear I’ve struggled to identify; though I’m deeply worried about my over-60 parents and loved ones who are immunocompromised, I don’t think the fear is actually about the virus itself. The fear feels like that new-mom dread (and I’m not even talking about postpartum depression even, which is far worse). The fear, then and now, is that life as I know it will go topsy-turvy permanently. Maybe it already has. 

So I find myself trying to follow the same advice folks gave me then: Try to shower everyday. Get outside for a walk, even if it’s just around your neighborhood. Reward yourself for making it through the day with your favorite cocktail or cookie (I made that last one up, but it has worked for me). Revel in those brief interludes of joy; for me now, that’s been having the time to slow down with my kids and teach them the fun to be had with creativity and no schedule, to dance with my husband in our living room, and to cook ambitious dinner recipes I’ve been bookmarking for years. 

Most importantly, we need to give ourselves the grace to let go of expectations. Maybe that looks like wearing sweatpants everyday, but so what? Months after giving birth, my life shifted pretty dramatically for the better when I realized I needed to build a new normal instead of clinging hopelessly to my old one. It’s not an overnight transition—this won’t be either. The small amount of solace to be had now is that even in isolation, we’re all in this together.

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