A young woman throws masks in the air in celebration.

The Reckless Fantasy of ‘Life After COVID,’ and Why People Are Pushing Back

Recently, the WHO declared an “end of emergency” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. This means many things that we’ll get into later, but it would seem that most (or, at least, the loudest) people are interpreting this to mean that we can all officially “return to normal.” In other words, we can all go out and do whatever the hell we want again … right?

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Wanting to perceive “life after COVID” in such a rosy-colored way is certainly understandable, in the sense that seeking relief after stress is an incredibly natural response. Yet ultimately, it’s neither entirely realistic nor is it respectful to the lived experiences of most people during such unprecedented times. “Returning to normal” in this context means going back to work as usual, with our usual bodies and our usual minds—and after everything we’ve been through, I’d be shocked if anyone was still the same as they were before the pandemic. This expectation to just forget what we went through and charge ahead is not only wishful thinking, it’s just plain reckless.

The most obvious ramifications are the ones on our bodies. I recently caught COVID for the first time myself (no idea how I avoided it until now), and what I went through was painful enough: two weeks of barely eating, with an incredibly sore body that could barely get out of bed. Even now, a month later, I am still trying to regain my sense of mental cognition and physical strength. But honestly, compared to the experiences of others, I got off easy.

This person has partially dedicated their TikTok page to educating people on the more devastating effects of COVID, as their experience has been an incredibly painful one:


Replying to @scotty221212 your personal feelings don’t matter when it comes to peoples lives, especially for something that is such a small thing #wearamask #covid19 #covid #fyp #disabled #mask #chronicpain #chronicillness

♬ original sound – mothmansnightlight

It’s unfortunate that we still have to say this in 2023, but different bodies require different levels of care, and this applies now more than ever. It would be dangerous to forget how COVID-19 has affected peoples’ bodily safety and well-being, especially now that certain COVID-related healthcare resources will no longer be so readily available (which isn’t to say they’ll be scarce, just not as accessible and affordable as they were during the height of the pandemic).

Even more than the physical elements, mental health struggles are still too often ignored in the wider conversation of “normal.” It’s as though we’re expected to forget that we either had to shut down our entire lives and radically retreat from society, OR we had to work through it all anyways, putting ourselves at risk because our work was deemed essential. Either way, we all lived through a massive crisis, and that has tangibly left many of us with the aftereffects of trauma and intense stress.

This Tweet below sums up my feelings on this matter:

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the delusional one for remembering a very mandatory quarantine, in which even going to the grocery store posed a massive risk. My social bubble happened to involve many immunocompromised people, so it felt like every little outing—even just going for a walk—could potentially be dangerous. And regarding these bubbles themselves, many faced a higher risk of interpersonal abuse because of such close proximity at all times. These are all real things that we lived through in order to survive, because this wasn’t just a regular cold, it was a disease with a death toll.

YES, we all want to go out and play again! YES, we want to move on! But most of us don’t have that luxury, even if we think we do! We have all been tangibly been affected by this pandemic, and it is mind-boggling, the level of mental gymnastics people are pulling to pretend otherwise!

One of the most saddening things about all of this, aside from the immediate tolls we’ve taken on our minds and bodies, is the potential for change that many were hoping for from all of this. Quarantine forced us to disrupt our workhorse routines and find a new way to operate, and while obviously, these changes weren’t seamless or especially gentle, many still worked. Free testing, remote work, all of that was made possible under quarantine. But because we live in a world that prioritizes gain over bodily welfare, we are being forced to forget all of that in favor of “getting back to normal.”


Ultimately, I wanted to write this because I’m so grateful other people are pushing back, and I wanted to reassure anyone who reads our content that you’re not going crazy. The ways in which you have been affected by the pandemic are real and valid, and you have a human right to recover however you need, and however you can. You don’t have to pretend like nothing happened just because other people are pressuring you to. You lived through it, I lived through it, we all lived through it. It happened. And no matter the WHO’s official categorization, it is very much still happening.

(featured image: Eloi_Omella/Getty Images)

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Image of Madeline Carpou
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).