Illustration by Mariam Diab

The Imperfect Pursuit of Normalcy

We need to reevaluate what “normalcy” means in the context of a Covid-19 world and figure out how to return to a normal way of life without forgetting the experiences of the pandemic.

Sep 19, 2021

It’s Dec. 31, 2019. Every other post on social media reads something along the lines of “This is going to be my year” and I involuntarily nod, already picturing myself travelling, partying and socializing. That nod, obviously, did not age well. Instead of browsing through travel guides, I was stuck navigating through the number of PCR tests I would need for my journeys. Instead of partying, I was stuck learning the ins and outs of a Zoom room. Despite the rocky start, perhaps now is a good time to move away from grievances over every habit that was changed by the pandemic and instead embrace this opportunity to learn to adapt and merge the new routines with the older, almost forgotten, style of life.
That is not, however, to say that our experiences should be forgotten. Whether it was being stuck behind a laptop screen for hours every day or being separated from a loved one, the pandemic reshaped the way most of us viewed the world. It felt like someone switched the lights off and the never-ending buzz of life that surrounded our society disappeared into thin air. The early months of lockdowns and the corresponding restrictions have resulted in a great portion of the global population suffering from depression, anxiety, stress and possible risks of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The impossibility of movement and in-person contact was just one of the factors contributing to the deterioration of my mental health. I found myself wondering whether it was because of the value we attribute to “normalcy” that our society seemed to suffer from withdrawal. A six-month-long quarantine could potentially become the “new normal” for a penthouse owner but would be hell for the more than 150 million homeless people around the world. From just these examples, it is easy to establish that normalcy is relative.
However, when we look at normalcy through the prism of an ongoing health crisis, we arrive at a different meaning. To move on, we need a definition of normalcy that accommodates our present perception of the world. Although the negative emotions brought on by the pandemic will never be fully erased from our minds, there persists a need to learn and carry on. The question then is how to move forward with our lives despite the pandemic’s toll on our mental health.
Klaus Grawe, a German psychotherapeutic researcher, explains the four basic human needs that allow a person to thrive psychologically. According to Grawe, in order to achieve self-efficacy, people need to believe they have control over their environment, allowing them to accomplish their goals. In other words, an awareness of one’s circumstances and influence over them is paramount for people to believe in their “competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task and producing a favourable outcome”.
When I was forced to spend a good chunk of my senior year in the tiny room on my school’s campus because the administration considered it hazardous to let students go out unattended, I felt powerless. No matter how much effort and energy I would put into the dozens of emails sent to different departments, I would receive no response. I felt unheard. With no apparent control over how to spend my time, I began to lose sense of my own reality. Having control means one can choose what they want their reality to look like. Normalcy has to come from at least some sort of psychological conviction that “Here, now, I am the master of my fate.”
The first months of Covid-19 were the exact opposite of control. Between the daunting uncertainty that lingered like a dark cloud and the restrictions on freedom of movement, control was the last thing our society had. I, for one, definitely underestimated the importance of self-agency until I realized that my decisions were not mine to make anymore.
In order to redefine normalcy in the Covid-19 era, people need to regain the feeling of control over their own surroundings. Let the new normal be social distancing, wearing face masks, panicking when you get a sore throat, making sure you have that vaccination card everywhere you go and resorting to more online purchases. Redefining normalcy might be a personal thing too, but, speaking in general terms, it should not be a means of forgetting the sorrow we, as communities, have gone through, but rather a way to channel the negativity into a new sense of normalcy — one that will bring us together once again.
For communities such as ours at NYU Abu Dhabi, the new normal should be a renewed pledge for transparency between the administration and the student body. In order for students not to feel left out of the decision process, we need to have a say in matters concerning us. Otherwise we might end up losing all sense of control. Conversely, a return to normalcy but in newer, brighter terms, should also be a commitment to appreciating the lessons we have learned through the pandemic — lessons of trust, faith and reason. These lessons will not only help us build back a lively community but will reinforce the values we hold dear: inclusion, diversity, belonging and equity. Normalcy must be enhanced by bettering the promises we make each other.
Amina Rotari is a Staff Writer. Email her at
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