“Eventually, you do get to a new normal. There will be a stability out there.”
We’re sure you’ve read this many times before, but we are in unprecedented times and are having to drastically change our way of life to prepare for the future. In a rare break of the self-imposed 4-minute rule on the vlogbrothers channel, Hank Green explains how we’re often unaware of the expectations we have for our daily life until they’re are broken, “These moments when you realise that your expectations are not going to be met are often the first times you even realise you have these expectations.” He describes his experiences with chronic illness and helps us apply them to the current uncertainty in which we are all living.
Hank begins by describing the process of diagnosis for his chronic illness, ulcerative colitis. The physical pain was joined by a whole lot of uncertainty, as the severity of what was causing it was unclear, “During the months I was undiagnosed, I spent a lot of time feeling like I was probably just fine, and I spent a lot of time thinking this was very, very bad.”
Even when finally given a diagnosis, things did not become clearer, “Basically, I had this one new piece of information, but it opened up all of these other questions. […] I knew one thing, which is that my future definitely was not going to be what I’d imagined it would be.”
There are many times in our lives when we experience this uncertainty. Hank uses the examples of breaking a bone, going through a break-up or, indeed, living through a pandemic. We lose something in these moments that we are unable to get back. “The story that you have been quietly, silently telling yourself about what the future is going to be like, that story just falls apart,” he explains.
Hank sought a word to describe these moments. It is such a precise feeling that many people experience at some point in their life, so the word must be out there. That’s why he did what any reasonable person would do: reach out to Dictionary Corner’s Susie Dent. The word she came back with was “wuthering”. Hank thought it was not quite it, but close enough that “we can just make it, it”.
Hank goes on to explain how he resisted his new normal. He would go in cycles of taking it seriously and going back to a “gut-level hope” that it isn’t real and his life hasn’t changed. Over the years, this management has become more routine, and whilst there remains uncertainty about whether the condition will worsen, the “wuthering” has gone. Ulcerative colitis is now a part of his imagining of his future. He explains how the sooner you can get to this, the better, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t something you can force and is emotionally taxing:
“Some days, your mind is going to find ways to believe that everything is actually the same and this whole thing is a lie. Other days, you are going to swing exactly in the other direction and you’re going to be overwhelmed with frustration and fear. […] This is how we find where normal is.”
Hank relates the process of wuthering and moving past it with his chronic illness to everything currently happening in the world. “Right now, it feels like we’re in the part where you’re just deluged with uncertainties,” he says. He gives us comfort that we will get through this part together and as individuals to find a new normal. This framing of wuthering can provide some much needed hope, “It’s gonna suck, but we will catch ourselves and we will rise because that’s what we do.” Whilst some will have significantly worse experiences than others, we are able to go at this together. This is different from most other wutherings, and it gives us the opportunity to learn from and help one another.
Hank leaves us with a number of things that he has learned that we may find helpful in the coming weeks and months as we go through this unbelievable wuthering, “I needed to not believe my gut feelings and I needed to believe my doctor. I needed to do things to create stability in my life. […] I needed to rely on other people and accept their help when I needed it. I needed to let myself be weak in the moments when I couldn’t be strong and I needed to let myself be strong in the moments when I could.”