"all the old familiar places"
More and more I find myself returning to my old favorite TV Shows and movies. At the start of quarantine, I tried watching a new series, and asked a friend of mine to spoil the ending because I was feeling too anxious about it. I remember saying, “If it doesn’t end in a way that I like, I don’t think I can make it through.” The possibilities of bad endings were too high, my brain was growing weary of trying to predict them, and the last thing I needed was for my favorite character to have an unhappy ending.
With my old favorites, even when there are difficult moments, I know how they end. I know what happens and where things go wrong. What was once a plot twist or a cliffhanger, is now an expected moment of emotional tension and catharsis. It still brings up an emotional reaction, but it is a predictable one; it feels safe and confined. There is comfort in those old, familiar places.
Our brains thrive on a certain level of predictability (though like all things, some of us like more predictability than others). Predictability saves us from guess work, shortens problem solving, and decreases our decisional fatigue. As things get less predictable, we often fall back into old habits. The old habits are easier, they require less effort, and we are already putting so much effort into figuring out what might happen next, and what we should do about it. The COVID 19 Pandemic has brought about changes big and small in our everyday lives. Here in Michigan, we have close to 3 months of changed living. We’ve been living with precautions long enough that many of those things have started to feel normal, and now some of them are being adjusted and lifted.
My husband affectionately refers to our life before COVID 19 as “The Before Times.” Some things in our world are going back to almost how they were in “the Before Times.” For some that feels great, for others, it brings on a new wave of transitional anxiety. Getting through a period of relearning and readjusting isn’t easy, even when it means returning to where we’ve been before. These massive changes have also probably created some distrust of the “old ways,” or at least have us questioning of the permanence of things we never dreamed would change. There are things that we once took for granted, things we expected to “always be” that suddenly, were not.
Feelings of doubt, anxiety, instability, wistfulness, nostalgia, regret, anger, and vulnerability are “normal” in these rather abnormal times. You may find yourself returning to familiar places and stories, but also to old habits, maybe habits you hoped not to return to. If that is where you find yourself these days, be gentle with yourself, and find a space where you can reach out, be nourished and do some healing.
I leave you all with this wistful little tune, sung by Billie Holiday.