From the early days of the pandemic, messages of care and solidarity have been shared between narrative practitioners of different countries. The first of these were sent from Australia to Chinese volunteers in early February. In late March, Chinese colleagues have been sending messages to those in other countries.
Please watch the video from David Denborough and see the document sent by Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, and then read moving letters from Chinese colleagues below.
How Some People in our Narrative Community Have Responded to Worry, Panic, and Fear
A collective document created by Jill Freedman and Gene Combs
Evanston Family Therapy Center
Letters from Chinese colleagues
From Sophie Cao
As you know, China is the original and main suffering district of Coronavirus in the past 3 months. Thank you for all your attention, care and love. Now from what we heard, the situation turned better – not all ended, but the most horrible time seemed past. We worry about the virus spreading around the world, and notice that some areas became very serious. Collective minded, we do feel sorry about this. I hope you are all well and please take great care! I’m going to reflect on my experience of coronavirus and share some stories in a double-storied way. I reckon this as a tiny part of global solidarity towards the virus and hope it can be helpful in some ways. Although sometimes I used collective voices as ‘we’, I don’t want to replace others’ experience. Since the big public events reflect the difference in districts, class, genders, and so on, these experiences would not cover multiple stories of the whole society.
Naming some effects of Coronavirus
We feel sad when we witness our folks dying and so many families are suffering. There were countless people unable to be cured for the overwhelmed medical system. So many tragedies happen every day and they are heartbreaking.
Some of us feel panic for the lack of information transparency. However, different cases are not rare. The state media was full of optimistic tune and there is pervasive propaganda: don’t believe rumours; don’t spread rumours. The power produced knowledge and defined what is rumours and what’s not. When we remind our parents who are living in a little city and not good at technology, they often replied: ‘well, it’s not so serious! You think too much!’ Some of us believe that what is more horrible than the fear is the ignorance of the fear.
Some worry about the health of ourselves and our loved ones. Some of us worry about the infections as well as possible consequences such as spreading to others, deaths, pain, discrimination and isolation. We worried more often when we had a cold and began to cough.
We experienced so many ridiculous things happened from time to time, and our sadness and anger are overwhelming! We are angry in the spring festival’s Eve when seeing huge celebrations in the state TV while helpless hospitals recruited medial materials and funds through social media. We are angry that the reports of Coronavirus are not fairly reported and some journalists are disappeared and under threaten. The anger fueled to the peak at the night whistleblower Doctor Li Wenliang died on 6th Feb. Dr.Li warned a Sars-like virus at the end of December. But he and other doctors were labelled as ‘rumour-maker’, disciplined by the police and criticised heavily by the official media. Under huge injustice, he went back to the hospital to save more lives, and finally test positive. He received the interview and revealed his experience in his last days, and died from the once-called-rumour virus.
Some of us feel depressed because our emotions are unable to be expressed. So many words are concluded in ‘sensitive words’. We don’t know how many we can say and where the mysterious power is. Any criticism and dissent can be convicted as ‘bringing rhythm’ and ‘controlled by foreign power’. Some of us are silent for the fear of being gazed and reported. Some of us experience self-censorship and very cautiously inspect every word we speak. Some of us suffered the block of social media account for their voices forever, losing all the contacts and even face more unexpected troubles.
The coronavirus magnified the reality of the individualization of our society. During the time of staying home, the connection of real-world is cut off. The isolation of social distancing can cause a very huge impact to people marginalised, such as elderly people and people with disability.
The coronavirus can bring unemployment and poverty, which cause anxiety and despair. Some face huge economic losses and struggled in making a living. A beer keeper committed suicide because he cannot catch the flowering period for the city closure. A middle school student tried to eat poison because she failed to buy mobile phones for online courses.
The authority controls the discourses and stresses out a ‘major melody’ and ‘positive energy’ and this can even influence our relationships with each other. As we are expected to be ‘politically correct’, our emotions are disciplined. We feel lonely because the feelings like worry, sorrow and anger are less heard and resonated, regarded as ‘negative’, ‘useless’ and ‘unreasonable’. This can cause quite self-doubt. Some of us cannot even open our hearts to our family and close friends, because sometimes our views are so different and unspeakable.
Most of us staying at small space every day experienced boredom, loneliness and meaninglessness. As the cases climbing sharply, we also feel powerless because little we can do to help. We tried to donate money and materials but it’s very hard to deliver to the hospitals and people in need. Some feel frustrated since we are unable to have a saying on the issues. We are too trivial to make a change.
Some of us experience complexities and confrontations of mixed feelings. The influence of Coronavirus is different from person to person depending on where you are, how you care about it as well as the information you get. Some of us feel frustrated seeing others careless. Some of us also feel some benefits of this period time, such as avoiding social activities, feeling more relaxed when wearing a mask, staying at home without pressures to live a busy life, and so on. Some of us can feel guilt and unethical to enjoy the privileges while others are still suffering. Some of us don’t know how to handle these complex feelings.
Some of us spend the most time online and immersed with numerous information. We review news, posts, social media messages from different platforms. For a long time, I cannot escape from online activities and concentrate on anything else. Some of us face anxiety when all the plans were broken. Some of the students are anxious about their studies and exams. Some of us feel uncertain about the future.
The coronavirus can divide persons and objectified persons if we don’t remind us carefully to separate the problem from persons. When people from Hubei province step out of their homeland, they encounter discrimination in other provinces. When Chinese people go out of the country, they face discrimination overseas. Now it turned to racism and all Asian people suffered from this. In the early period, some went out because they don’t know about the virus at all. Some oversea Chinese bought many wearing masks because the situation in Wubei province is so horrible and we all hope to help. As the infection cases increases, our hearts turned heavy. Although we tell ourselves we should separate virus from people and separate people from the government, some of us do feel that’s our faults to cause troubles to the world. This will hurt our cultural and self-identity.
Domestic conflicts & abuses
While some people enjoy staying with family members, some people face troubles. Longer time at home can magnify some domestic conflicts when problems have no way to go but accumulated in the same places. Some of the transgenders have to bear wrong nouns from their family members. Some females and children are more vulnerable since it’s harder to go out and seek for help in this very time.
Some of us sleep a lot to kill the time; Some of us cannot go asleep at night.
Responding to Coronavirus
Protect ourselves and care about each other
I bought 4 masks after work on the day I knew about coronavirus. But then I cannot buy any proper masks soon. We remind each other to stay at home as much as possible. I noticed and cared about what happened, did necessary fact check and shared some knowledge with others.
Do what we can do to help
We knew the extremely lack of defending materials of hospitals in Wuhan, the central zones of coronavirus in Chinese new years’ eve. We joined in some money-raising project to support the difficulties in Wuhan. There was also some projects supporting the marginalised communities such as sharing masks with clean workers and delivering riders. There are volunteering folks in different areas. Some hotels and restaurants provided free accommodation to healthcare workers and wandering Hubei people. Private car drivers delivered drugs to patients at home when the public transportation ceased in lockdown. During the coronavirus outbreak, numerous posts appeared online seeking for help. I forward these posts like millions of netizens to make them more visible.
Sometimes I share sorrows when I read a sad story. Some of them need to be known. Once sorrows can be shared by more people, they can be witnessed and companied, then it’s less overwhelming for the individuals.
We mourning the death of our ordinary people and our doctors who die from coronavirus. When Dr.Li dead, we changed our profile to black. While discussions about Dr.Li was censored, we wrote the poems to remember him. Some people take photos about that they wore a mask with the sentence: ‘I can’t. I don’t understand.’ We claimed freedom of speech. Now every day, there are millions of people comment on Dr.Li’s last post to share their own life stories. Dr.Li left us but become a national therapist. Today there are 16.5millions forwards, 65.2millions massages left, and 274millions likes of his post. We cried for him a lot. We lament his death for what we cherished -to be a kind and honest person. We agreed with what Dr.Li said: “A healthy society should be more than one voice.”
When we saw articles talking about social injustice, we forward them. Some journalists went to the central areas to investigate the facts. We do what we ordinary people can do to protect the truth. Speaking up in some way can make a difference, even though the difference is so invisible. If others see you speak up, they will stand out, too. We do these actions to support each others’ courage. Several days ago, a doctor’s long story about how coronavirus was silenced in the early period was killed all around the Chinese internet. Within 24 hours, netizens spread the story through different ways, including counter-writing, picture transformation, ancient Chinese, different languages and dialect, Morse code，language of Mars, emoji writing, invisible words, Pinyin，showing subtle resistance to strong censorship. Finally we gained a victory and the story of Dr Ai are not delect anymore. Dr. Ai said: “If I known about the consequence of virus, I speak everywhere.’ ‘Speak everywhere’ become popular sentence recently. We all hope for a just society.
Leave mobile phones for a while
It’s helpful to leave mobile phones for a while after use it for a long time. Sometimes we can be occupied by information and technologies. But if you do spend a lot of time on it, don’t blame yourself. There are so many things to be concerned sometimes I don’t want to miss them. Just try to create some space for the real world.
I don’t know how to do meditation thought I hope to learn, so I call it focusing. One of my friends said you don’t need to do formal meditation, focusing is a kind of meditation. So I try to focus, when I’m cooking I try to look at the steams. When I cut the foods, I try to concentrate on the process. When I am walking, I look around the world, feel the wind, and hear the noises. For a long time, I get used to listening podcast when I’m cooking; or checking messages while I’m on the road. Although doing one thing one time seems boring, this can give me a sense of devoting and free me of complexities. There might be some unexpected discoveries.
Clean the bathroom
I found some specific things can overcome a sense of powerless and anxiety. I learned this skill from one posts from an online friend. She said: “Whenever I feel unhappy, I go to brush the toilet. ” I was very curious about this skill and wanted to try it by myself. Then one afternoon, I brushed the toilet and cleaned the bathroom. I enjoyed the process of focusing on my mind and using my hands to make something different. When I saw all the items ‘bling-bling’ at the end, I felt a sense of personal agency.
Talk with others
Talking with others can make us feel better in the isolation period. We can talk to strangers about simple things like ‘How many masks do you have?’ ‘Where you get you masks?’ ‘where do you spend your Chinese new year?’. These questions can create connection and understanding about others’ life. One friend shared her experience and I was inspired. Then one day I talked with a stranger and answered his questions in a more specific way, instead of playing smartphones all the way. We can also talk with friends who we didn’t contact for a long time. It’s difficult to live in an environment full of judgement but without understandings. It’s good to find some mind-like people and join a community where we can find some resonation, while sometimes we can still keep curious about different points. We can also make some new friends. I added some new friends online. Sometimes it’s difficult to be the first one to connect others because we are afraid to be refused or cause disturbance to others. But we can give it a try. Maybe other people have similar worries and hope to be connected. In the meanwhile, if we joined too many groups we can be lost in overloaded information. It’s fine to stay alone.
Sometimes I want to express my ideas and comment on something, I found the events are so complex that far beyond my knowledges. I do some readings to help me understand some situations.
Writing& keep diaries
There will be a time we read everything crazily, there will be a time we cannot read anything. Sometimes my minds are exhausted and disordered, particularly when I tried to think about something beyond my limits. Through writing, our voices can be heard – at least by ourselves. This is therapeutic. One of my favourite authors said: ‘When we transfer the dilemma into a masterpiece, we can feel more peaceful.’ When we write our thoughts and feelings out, we keep a distance from them – Externalising! Sometimes I thought the problem is that there is nothing worth writing – my life is so boring and every day is just repeated yesterday. In this case, we can write some daily experience that we ignored before. Details are precious. It ‘s a good time for us to notice something unnoticed on busy days when we have to stay in a little space. We can write tiny things like what our family members are talking to each other or just what our pets are doing every day. Through these stories, we reconstructed our relationship with the world, through our experience instead of theories. It’s helpful for me not to put judgment on what is deserved to write. Either free thoughts, answering some questions or keeping a diary can be helpful. I learned the skill to keep a diary from my primary school from my Chinese teacher. At that time, we have a song about this: “diary diary, record every day. One day without recording, it shall be forgotten.” It’s true! After so many years, every time I went back to the diaries of my childhood, I cannot help smiling and feel lucky that I wrote down those! Even though there are so many wrong words and unlogical sentences. When I grew up, I just forgot this skill as well as every day I spent. I heard that many citizens of Wuhan are writing a diary to remember these special days. I guess keeping a diary is a skill accessible for most of us. I regarded writing a diary as something to rescue personal history, and personal history consists of collective history.
Do a little exercise
While staying at home for a long time, we can feel tired. Some of my friends used an app to do exercise every day. When they shared their activities in social media, I do want to follow. However, it takes a long time to take action. I did some low-key activities. For example, I go for a walk after dinner in a quiet area I live in. And when I went back from work I took off the bus in advance, walking more for one-station distance. This is because my community were not blocked and I went back to work early. Maybe people in Hubei can only do sports in inner space.
Beat the virus I am the best
The following letter was written by a kindergarten teacher in Huanggang city, which borders wuhan, Hubei province, to the children in her class. In addition, she recorded a story “beat the virus I am the best” audio podcast for children to listen to. The teacher’s name is Yang fang, her letter was written in Chinese, first published on January 29, 2020 on the official Wechat account of Youshikoudai. The following is a translation from Chinese re-Coronavirus team (Sophie Cao, Angela Tsun on-Kee, Jun Hou & Hong-Ru Liang)
Beat the virus I am the best
(The Chinese version is available if you email firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Spring Festival is coming, have you eaten dumplings?
Perhaps you will feel that this Spring Festival seems to be different from the previous ones. In the past, you would visit your grandparents, visit your friends’ homes and travel with your parents. But this year’s Spring Festival, your dad may say, “Baby, you’d better stay at home rather than go out to play” ; your mom may say, “Sweetie, we canceled the trip!” Why can’t we go out? It turned out that a big bad had come to our world—-
“Ha-ha-ha-ha, I am a big virus with a crown on my head, which is not welcomed by human beings! Up to now, you humans do not know what my name is, only know that I am a coronavirus! I am so small that you can’t see me with a magnifying glass. I like to hide on wild animals, and when the time is ripe, I will sneak into people’s bodies.
I am so powerful that as soon as I enter a person’s body, people begin to get sick: some have a fever, some cough, some are out of breath; I am so powerful, I will fly all over the sky, fly in the patient’s saliva, get into other’s nostrils, mouth and eyes, let the one infected two, two infected four, and more and more people will be infected. Ha-ha-ha-ha!“
Boys and girls, don’t be afraid. Although the coronavirus is very powerful and makes many people sick, our scientists, doctors and nurses are thinking of ways to deal with it:
There are scientists who are developing vaccines to this coronavirus, and with vaccines and antibodies, the virus can no longer make people sick any more.
There are also many brave doctors and nurses in the hospital, who are treating and caring for those infected patients day and night.
There are a lot of cleaning staff, they are in every corner of the city to carry out disinfection and cleaning work, efforts to eliminate these viruses, so that they have nowhere to escape!
”Ouch-Ouch! These scientists, doctors, nurses and cleaning staff are so formidable that I have to run quickly, where to go? Ha-ha, right，I want to sneak into the children’s home!“
Kids, don’t be afraid, do a few things bellow, coronavirus can’t do anything to us!
Close the door, and don’t open it!
Open the window to ventilate, and let the air circulate!
Wash your hands frequently, and wash away the virus!
Drink plenty of water, and don’t let the virus trick!
Learn to wear a mask, and nobody catches a cold!
Kids, do you remember that? Moreover, if you don’t feel well, tell mom and dad right away, they know the best way to protect you.
If you can follow these, you become an excellent little soldier as well, who can contribute to the rapid victory of the human coronavirus battle!
Dear little soldiers, please join us in Huanggang Experimental Kindergarten “beat the virus I am the best” activities. Punch in every day, live a healthy life, fight against the virus, meet the battle together!
Angela Tsun from Hong Kong
While we were all preparing to celebrate the lunar new year, we were not aware that Coronavirus has slyly sneaked up on many people in mainland China and other Chinese communities caught us all with fear, worries and uncertainties. As the epidemic grows, we experience mixed feelings.
We are fearful if our family, friends, and ourselves will contract the virus. We are worried about those people who are admitted to the hospital, about the health care people who work 24 hours a day to take care of the isolated people as well as inadequate protective equipments for them and for ordinary citizens. We are saddened by the sharp increase of confirmed cases in different countries and feel sorrowful for so many lives being taken away in a day. We are aware of the social injustice as many people cannot get a face mask when the price for one went up so high. As well, we miss the face-to-face contacts with one another and the times when we stay close together.
The virus brings us other harmful effects. When we are advised to self-quarantine, we heard more about conflicts and violence in the home. People who are already affected by depression face even more challenges. We hear stories about families with a member passed away due to the virus, and there was no funeral. We feel sad, angry, helpless, …
Yet, it (the virus) can never control our persistence to lead our preferred ways of life, nor can it rob off the values that we hold dear, and our hopes and dreams for life.
We do have strategies against it. While the health care people are doing their best to prevent further harm and researchers are working on a vaccine to kill it, practitioners and ordinary people are working hard against its effect on us as well.
Practitioners and NGOs from different provinces have organised online courses about the epidemic and conversations with people being affected by it as well as online and telephone services for people to fight against the epidemic. Some organisations developed kits for children and for family times. People share their stories and strategies online and this does help support one another in times of crises. Even though we are staying home most of the time and many of us including children feel really bored at times, we are creative and connected.
Besides involvement in online learning, children created different activities at home. They do more physical exercises, dance and sing, talk with their friends via different Apps and programmes. Parents and children have more communication (though conflicts may arise as well) with one another. Adults spend more time on cleaning the house and cooking healthy meals for themselves or the family. We believe all of us have different knowledges and skills against hardship in the past and in the present moment when the pandemic is still going on.
We don’t know when the evil days will leave us and sometimes it appears as though it will never go away. But we do have hope that dawn will arrive!
I have always remembered Aunty Barbara Wingard saying “telling stories in ways that make up stronger”. It would be our privilege to hear your story which will certainly keep us strong.
Angela Tsun from Hong Kong
26 March 2020