Important Things to Remember in a Time of Pan(dem)ic

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The 12th of March was a Thursday, usually a relaxed affair in Durham; mornings dusty with the bleary debris of a Wednesday night out, a lazy start caked either in shame, triumph, or a painful hangover. 

This particular Thursday, however, was significant. The night before, the World Health Organisation officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic. What once seemed comfortably far away, shrouded in the mist of things-we-worry-about-but-don’t-happen-to-us, had at last punctured the bubble. Everything had changed. 

On my way to the library that day, the air felt tense. A girl walking behind me was on the phone, and her words were unsettling my usually tranquil morning stroll. It was the first of the many coronavirus conversations I was to overhear and partake in that day, what would become a seemingly ceaseless barrage of anxiety and panic.

If you weren’t talking about it, you were listening to other people talk about it. If you weren’t reading about it on the news, you were getting flooded with emails about it from the university. Social media, usually a means of escape from the stresses of reality, was, alas, of no comfort – celebrities were talking about it, meme pages were talking about it, lost acquaintances from school you felt too awkward to unfollow, were talking about it. It was impossible not to listen. 

In the two weeks that have followed, things haven’t really become any better – in fact, they only seem to be getting worse, and more uncertain. It’s important to remember, however, that it’s not all gloom and doom. Here are some important things I’ve learnt from the responses to a Google form I posted on the Facebook page, Overheard at Durham Uni, last week. It was intended as a sort of informal interview with Durham students to gather thoughts from the community about a very uncertain moment in time.  

Try not to panic, because your panic is affecting other people, too. 

‘I already suffer from anxiety, and while I know the shops won’t run out of food and this isn’t the end of the world, I’m extremely uncomfortable with the sense of tension that the panic around COVID-19 is causing. The fear among the populace regarding the virus is just really bad for someone with anxiety.’2nd year, St. Chad’s.

‘This time of year is already stressful and anxiety-inducing, and it is even worse now that we are in this current situation.’ 4th year, Collingwood.  

In a time like this one, inciting stress and spreading negativity is probably one of the least productive things you can do. While some people have been using a rhetoric of panic and negativity online and in person, many others have been sharing useful, productive messages, with myth-busting information about what we know about the virus and how we’re trying to find out more; tips on how to protect yourself and your community from harm; videos of hope and advice from people in some of the worst-affected countries, and positive messages about making the best of self-isolation. 

If we’re urging each other to be socially responsible in our actions, out of consideration for those more physically vulnerable to the virus, it’s probably not too much to ask for us to be socially responsible in how we speak and behave, out of consideration for those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression.

Be there for each other and support your community. 

Life has never felt so bad or hopeless. At the same time, I’ve noticed so much more how in my friendship group we’re all there for each other. The only thing we can do is support each other right now, whether it be about work, relationships, illness, loss or anything that is affecting us. This will end eventually, but the only way that it will ever be bearable is if we all come together and support one another.’Anonymous.

‘My housemates decided to go back to their home countries overnight. We all cried as a house, and hugged each other in frustration about not knowing when we would next see each other. I said goodbye to some of my friends going on years abroad, not knowing if I would see them again soon. I can’t go back home because my country is on lockdown and I am terrified of spending time alone in Durham.’Anonymous.

‘I really love being here and my home life isn’t good, so I’m really worried I’m going to have to stay there for the next 6 months instead of being where I’m happier.’Anonymous

‘Take care of your families and friends, now is the time that we should strengthen solidarity with each other.’4th year student from China

‘My girlfriend is an international student and she’s currently freaking out about her home country closing its borders. She doesn’t know whether to stay and risk not being able to get home, or go and not know when she’ll ever make it back. The thought of having to say goodbye is overwhelming me at the moment, and I’m almost inconsolable. But now I know more than ever how much she means to me. And I’ve found out that the thought of leaving me is what’s drawing her to stay. Obviously the situation sucks, but I hope people can find in the panic that people will show you just how much they love you. ’3rd year.

‘I feel like Durham would fare really well if it was to be quarantined – since the community is quite small and close-knit, we’d all look out for each other and stay in small social circles. Since I am an Erasmus student here, my experience of Durham has only been limited to one year. It might end much faster than expected, and when I realised last Friday that the uni was closing and that all my friends were fleeing to home, I started crying. This year has been so great, and I’ve never made such great friends as here. I cannot believe it’s over. I’m still in denial, maybe one of the reasons I am trying to maximise my stay here as long as possible – even if it means I’ll be here alone.’  – Erasmus student, Stephenson.

If you know someone is going through a particularly tough time right now, let them know you’re there for them, and share your own tips on how you cope in moments of stress. Mental wellbeing is a global as well as individual priority right now, and there are many supportive platforms for those feeling worried or lonely. What we can do as a community is to check up on each other often, especially people who we know are unable, or unwilling, to return to their homes outside of Durham. Simple gestures like this that can make all the difference. 

Find solace in the certainties.

‘In a time of so much uncertainty I think it is of utmost important to focus on the things that are certain – whatever those may be. … When the tide seems high and the waves seem choppy, the best thing to do is find certain hope and anchor yourself to that.’Anonymous.

And that’s the tea. 

It’s okay to be upset. 

‘There are a lot of Durham milestones I am probably not going to get because of COVID-19; like handing in my dissertation in person, sitting my final exam and getting sprayed by champagne, potentially graduating and walking up with my parents watching and getting a diploma for the last three years of chaos I have sat through, and even though these are all small and petty, I cannot help but feel disappointed by the things I will not get.’  – 3rd year, Van Mildert

‘I am really scared and upset. I’ve been so upset about my uni experience coming to an end that it’s hurt so much more for it all to be taken away prematurely. I feel robbed and though I know it’s no one’s fault I cannot help but feel angry.’ – 3rd year. 

‘The most uncertain time of my life. Feel like I can’t be sad as others have it worse, yet I’m still sad.’ – 3rd year, Grey

As the saying goes: saying someone can’t be sad because someone else may have it worse is just like saying someone can’t be happy because someone else might have it better. We’re all entitled to feel upset about the current situation, and it helps if we talk about it, because everyone’s probably experiencing similar feelings, and we’re all going through this together.

Don’t play the blame game.

‘If I cough I’m suddenly public enemy number 1.’3rd year, John Snow.

The virus has broken down many of the social barriers we construct for ourselves. It doesn’t care about race, ethnicity, gender, or class, despite the nonsense that some people in unfortunately high positions of power might be spewing. We know so little about how and where the virus really began and how it spread, that it is completely wrong to make assumptions. Many people are feeling threatened by the hostility they’re facing because of their ethnicity or country of origin. As members of a small but diverse community, we should be quashing these unfounded animosities, not propagating them, and striving to create a community where each and every member feels safe and welcome, especially in times like this. 

Seek academic support.

‘I’m a masters student and this is already pretty isolating when you are only here a year, and the activities focused on masters students are few and far between and it’s harder to get involved in college activities. This is really the icing on the cake after having the strikes last term. I really hope the university takes into account the huge effect this has on everyone’s mental health, motivation and optimism about their degree.’Anonymous

‘Having to upheave my life in a matter of days while having a dissertation due in under two weeks and five essays in May was not ideal. Made even worse by the uncertainty for the people that we love.’3rd year, Josephine Butler. 

‘As an international student, I feel incredibly lost and confused about what I’m supposed to do. … I feel like I echo the concerns of lots of final year international students in saying that I feel sad and anxious and lost.’3rd year.

‘I left Durham on the 9th March because I have asthma and chronic lung disease from being born at 24 weeks. I wanted to get home before the cases increased, whilst public transport remained fairly low risk. I got extensions on my summative presentations and my department was very supportive.’Anonymous

We’re all going through this together. And by all, I mean all of us, including our professors, college masters, and university staff. Be gentle and understanding: all of this was unprecedented for them, too, and everyone is trying their very best to make sense of the situation and figure out the best way to approach things. 

That said, if we feel our departments are not providing enough clarity or taking into account the newfound stress of the situation, bring it up with your college, personal tutors, academic advisors, or course reps. Find the relevant contacts to seek the support you need. Your course-mates and reps are your lifelines in situations like these, and if we communicate with each other and stand together, we’ll find the answers we’re looking for. There’s strength in solidarity. 

Be socially responsible. Do what’s best for you, and for those around you. 

‘Please stay at home, wear a mask if you are going out.’ – 4th year.

‘My main opinion is that people should stop panic buying. Every hand sanitiser or mask bought is a mask or sanitiser taken away from medical use. Plus people really need to learn the difference between a mask and a respirator. All masks do is stop you touching your face or spitting on anyone and only last about an hour anyways. Whereas a respirator is an actual filter (but again not designed for long term use).’ 3rd year, London placement.

‘I urge everyone to stay home as much as possible. We are young and likely to survive the virus should we get sick, but that doesn’t mean we are exempt from taking these measures. It’s not about us. It’s about everyone else. Stay safe and mentally strong :)’4th year, Stephenson

Try your best to stay positive. 

‘The world has never seemed so fragile, and life so precious.’3rd year

‘I hope everyone stays well and safe! There could be difficult times ahead, or it could just blow over.’Anonymous

‘Friends will do anything to cheer you up, family will do anything to keep you safe, and partners will hold you just that bit tighter. Stay strong Durham ❤️x3rd year.

‘Hang in there kids, it’ll be all right.’3rd year.

Even with things looking as dark as they are, there are still ways we can look on the bright side, and these responses from Durham students is a testament to that fact. Thinking about it now, personal hygiene has probably improved tremendously: previously disgusting student houses have now undergone some much-needed deep cleaning, people are actually washing their hands before they eat now, and just think how much nicer some of your housemates are smelling because they’re taking more showers. 

We can be vigilant and responsible without being negative. Times are debilitatingly uncertain, but perhaps we can try to make the best of this glitch in the matrix and use this momentary global pause to reflect on the things that are really important, like compassion, kindness. Above all, solidarity. 

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One thought on “Important Things to Remember in a Time of Pan(dem)ic

  • Beautifully written piece Julia 🙂 much needed positivity in the current climate of uncertainty!

    Reply

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