The Fear Factor

4 min readMay 31, 2020
Pink Skies in Sydney

Today, in New South Wales, we are officially going back to normal. That said, it doesn’t really feel like it. Why? Well, because today we must overcome a different kind of fear: a fear of returning back to the office, a fear of meeting up with friends, and more generally a fear of doing what we used to do.

Right now I envy my teenage daughters. They seem completely oblivious to this type of fear and are busy catching up with everything they left on hold at the height of the pandemic. As a result, I have spent the weekend on my own in the beach house. It felt very quiet. Maybe that’s the new normal. I wonder. I don’t think so: it’s probably what motherhood is about –you never know what to expect.

I used to meet up for coffee with neighbours every Sunday morning. Then we did it on Zoom. Now that we could all go back and have a real coffee in our lovely local café, only a couple of us are doing so. The only explanation I can think of is that some of my friends are still scared. But why?

I had a quick look at the number of active COVID 19 cases in my neighbourhood. There are none. Zilch. Zero. We have all religiously uploaded the government app to be on the safe side. In my view, there is no rational reason for being scared to go back to normal, provided that we all follow adequate precautions of course. Then why are we still living in fear? What is wrong with us?

The thing is, fear isn’t rational. It just catches you when you least expect it, and is hard to get rid of. When my older daughter was just 6 months old, we had a minor car accident: a truck had problems with its brakes and eventually stopped right into the back of our car. We were shaken, but fine, and the car had to be written off. I remember being terrified of driving for the next few months, despite not being at fault. I was thinking of what could have happened to my baby daughter. The very thought of having to take the car made me shake uncontrollably. I had to relearn to drive from scratch. I remember slowly driving around my father’s farm at least a dozen times to make sure I could do it before being able to hit the road again. Things came back to normal eventually, but the fear factor made it a lot more difficult.

Maybe we have become too risk-adverse. Mind you, we are bombarded with conflicting information, which makes it incredibly difficult to understand what is safe and what isn’t. For instance, I am still unclear as to whether wearing a mask is useful. And is the easing of restrictions safe? What about this herd immunity concept that we might never achieve with so little cases, but that seems to be the only way to end a pandemic? Sometimes it feels like we have delayed the problem, but not solved it altogether. Will we ever get a vaccine? No wonder we are still scared. We just don’t know.

It’s raining on my usual office

Maybe we are afraid of a second, deadlier wave of the virus. This is what happened during the Spanish flu pandemic: the disease came back, even deadlier, and the pandemic lasted more than two years. Maybe what we are experiencing is only a start, and we need to brace ourselves. But does it mean that we can’t enjoy a little bit of freedom when the number of cases is close to zero? I don’t think so. Surely we need to take it one day at a time.

The uncertainty is also stressful: for instance, I don’t know when I will go back to the office, and I like to plan things in advance. It makes me feel in control. Right now, I can’t plan. It looks like, when we eventually go back to the office, it will not be full time. We will have to adjust our ways of working for the foreseeable future. Maybe we will never go full-time to the office again. With modern technology, we can now work from anywhere. For us mothers, it means working from home when the children are off to school. As for school holidays, well, I don’t know how I will manage them if I have to work from home. But again, we’ll take it one day at a time.

In short, going back to normal isn’t as simple as switching a flick and expecting to pick up things where we left them. We will have to be patient. Things might change again, and there will be setbacks. We just have to go with the flow, which is easier said than done. Maybe, just maybe, the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself.




I am a French woman who used to live in London and has now moved to Sydney. Engineer by background. Turned lawyer. Turned writer. Wife, mum, friend, ultrarunner