After the Pandemic: Are You Ready for the Old Normal?

8 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

A version of this article also appeared in the It’s Not Just You newsletter. Sign up here to receive it every Sunday.

How stir crazy am I after many weeks alone with the dog and my thoughts? Just ask my dentist. And everyone who works in her office. I assaulted those good people with many, many words today. It was so exciting to talk with other humans in person and to do this ordinary thing that I used to dread.

And there was much to discuss! For instance, they’ve redone the office while I was home accumulating plaque for 18 months. There’s a whole Zen wall of real moss that looks like an aerial view of New Zealand. And get this, the moss is low maintenance, i.e., it’s dead but preserved, so it looks alive, not so different from my many root-canaled molars.

Like much of the country, I have not been kind to my teeth over this year of shutdowns. I think many of us are waking up to what one might call our almost post-pandemic reckoning in which we are collectively (and scarily) unmaintained from tooth to tail.

The hygienist told me that things have really picked up in the last few weeks after months of slowness. She’s been working six days a week at three different practices.

It will not shock you to learn that not only did sales of sweet snacks boom last year, but half of all Americans put off dental check-ups due to the pandemic.

And get this: 21% of us aren’t even brushing our teeth in the mornings at all. Seriously, this news is straight from the American Association of Endodontists, which also reports (in the same disappointed tone that my dentist used with me today) that there’s been a “major drop off in flossing.”

Yes, these are important health issues. But I think what’s actually happening is a realization that we’ll soon be live and in-person with people who haven’t seen us for a year–in daylight, maskless, and possibly sleeveless at a wedding, or a party, or an office. There will be no hiding behind zoom filters.

Sign-up here to get an essay delivered to your inbox every Sunday for free.

Without any objective gauge of your corporeal disrepair, it’s easy to deceive oneself. Particularly since many of us have spent quite a lot of time obsessing about physical maintenance and house care and organization and all that. But it turns out that watching other people do those things on Instagram is not the same as doing them yourself.

I’ve spent an embarrassing number of hours looking at famous women close to my age as they reverently tend to their skin and bodies on social media. It’s like we’re besties. They are in their real bathrooms looking right at me without make-up, as they discuss just how to dab various luminous potions on your face. But if you are like me, your life is not actually changed by watching them from your sofa while wearing your day-to-night-to-day yoga pants, unflossed, unbrushed.

It’s just so satisfying to enjoy their satisfaction. Briefly anyway. But at some point, everyone ends up in the dental hygienist’s chair with their X-rays up on the screen. A catalog of sins. And perhaps an archaeological record of one helluva year.

And if you are not young, you realize a few things looking at those images: 1.) The expression “long in the tooth” is not metaphorical. 2.) Pandemic or no pandemic, you can no longer blame the state of your teeth on your genes or the fact that your parents fed you King Vitaman sugar bomb cereal every morning for 10 years.

My hygienist just got the COVID-19 vaccine this morning. This is kind of staggering considering there may be no job that involves more saliva-interaction than hers. She almost gave up, but after refreshing the vaccine site for the billionth time, an appointment opened up at 4 am at New York’s massive Javits convention center which is open around the clock. So she hopped in her car from Brooklyn and found a pandemic miracle when she got to the Javits Center: you could park in any of the no parking any time ever spots.

We’ll all take this year with us, in some form or another. And soon, the COVID gods willing, we’ll all be back out in the messy world of humans with all of our raggedy, flawed, and distinctly un-luminous bits on display. It’ll be marvelous.

If you’re new to It’s Not Just You, SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly dose delivered to your inbox every Sunday for free. And write to me any time:

If you’re new to It’s Not Just You, SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly dose delivered to your inbox every Sunday for free. And write to me any time:


How to help kids regain their footing after a year of stress and disruption: Tips from the Washington Post.

I Avoided Facing My Mental Illness for Decades. The Pandemic Changed That. By Jaquira Díaz in this week’s TIME.

“I’m a short afternoon walk and you’re putting way too much pressure on me.” Late-stage pandemic levity from McSweeney’s.


Register here for TIME’s “Voices of the Future” Women’s Summit on Monday, March 8th, 1 p.m. EST, featuring Jane Goodall, Alicia Keys, Amanda Gorman, and Cate Blanchett.

Women and the Pandemic Time Magazine covers

COVID-19 has made it impossible to deny the ways broken systems hurt women. Meet some of the women who are working toward a better future in this week’s special report from TIME.

Many of the mothers TIME spoke to described how wrong it felt to be forced to choose between caring for their children in the midst of a public-health crisis and earning income to support them.

Ciiru Waweru, CEO of FunKidzPhotograph courtesy of The Female Quotient

They say, when the music changes, so does the dance. This is a new dance, ladies. Be the drumbeat. Be the pulse. Be the song. Be the dance. Let’s hold hands. Let’s do this.

Ciiru Waweru, the CEO of FunKidz, an innovative children’s design brand, speaking at The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge @WEF #DavosAgenda​, 2021. (Watch the full discussion here.)


Here’s your weekly reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all.

Every weekend, Pandemic of Love runs a “Diaper Drive” on Instagram. Followers are encouraged to DM (Direct Message) the words “I wanna mama!” if they can afford to ship one month’s supply of diapers, wipes (and sometimes formula) to a new mom in need. After they send the message, they immediately get a response with the name, shipping address and specific needs of each mom. Moms are put on the list after they are vetted through Pandemic of Love chapters all across the United States. On any given weekend, an average of 300 requests are fulfilled.

Last week, Melissa, a donor from Tampa, Florida went above and beyond for a mom in Hollywood, California named Vivian. Vivian was down to her last ten diapers and had no funds to purchase additional supplies until April 1st when her government assistance funds would replenish. Vivian has been getting help since she lost her job due to the pandemic back in May and has now been unable to return to work because she has no child care options due to closures and is a single mother.

Melissa decided to reach out to Vivian to see what else she needed this month. “I made the assumption that since she can’t afford diapers, she probably can’t afford other essentials either.”

She was right. Vivian divulged that she needed everything from basic hygiene items to cleaning supplies, as well as assistance with groceries. “I was already placing an order for her online and so it was simple to add additional things to the shopping cart and have them sent to her,” said Melissa. “From the comfort of my own living room, I was able to change this woman’s life and make it better for her.”

Vivian was so touched, she wrote to Pandemic of Love:

It's hard asking for help but things get hard and I have no choice. I appreciate this so much and when things get better for me one day, I hope I can help someone, too.

This story is courtesy of Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, a grassroots organization that matches those who want to become donors or volunteers directly with those who’ve asked for help with essential needs. And you can learn more about mutual aid in this new interview with Shelly Tygielski on Unscripted with Shelly Zalis, CEO of the Female Quotient.

Send comments and suggestions to me at:
Did someone forward you this newsletter? SUBSCRIBE to It’s Not Just You here.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.