To read the news in the spring of 2021 was to encounter every day a deluge of columns, editorials and think-pieces – so many think-pieces – on the diverse psychological traumas unique to our liminal moment, our transition out of quarantine, our return to something pundits insist on calling ‘normal’. We read, for instance, about the stresses of returning to the workplace; of leaving pets and family from whom we’ve grown inseparable; of resuming the horrors of dating; of reckoning with the Covid ‘19’ (that is, the pounds we’ve gained); and with the acceleration of addiction (around 40 per cent of drinkers said that their alcohol consumption had increased since the pandemic began). A recent video essay in The New York Times called ‘Are You Dreading a Return to “Normal”? You’re Not Alone’ chronicles a reluctance to return that is, counterintuitively, widespread.
Another terror goes undiscussed in such analyses, perhaps because it undermines our shared romance as self-possessing realists capable of understanding our desires and modifying our behaviours. What I have in mind here is that that some of us seem to pre-emptively miss COVID-19, to fear the moment when it will recede into our collective rear view. We fear a time after COVID-19 not because its passage will require the various reckonings and returns enumerated above. We fear it because we’ve come to enjoy its privations. On social media and in person, we increasingly appear, many of us, to perceive the recession – not exactly of the virus itself but certainly of the relational and cultural formations it engendered – as a psychic loss. It bears stating explicitly that this anxiety is both different from and, in a sense, foundational to the other stresses of re-entry listed above. In those accounts, we’re depicted as fundamentally excited about our return to ‘normal’ and worried merely about the hiccups that will inevitably attend the resumption of regular programming.
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