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Holly Richardson: Where were you in the great coronavirus crisis?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist from the Utah Department of Health, talks about one of the main ways the coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, as she address the outbreak on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, during a YouTube Live webcast to share protective measures businesses can take in the workplace. When a question was asked about how to talk to kids about staying safe, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said "YouTube sneezing videos with them, It's gross but it really shows what happens."

What an amazing time we are living in. Seriously. So much has changed in just a week.

Did you ever think you’d see the day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would suspend church meetings and close all temples? Or the NBA would abruptly suspend its season? Or all of Utah’s universities would move online in a matter of days? Yeah. Me neither.

These are the days that your grandkids will ask you about. Where were you? What did you do? How did you cope? How long did it take before you took it seriously? (Since I traveled out of the country a week ago and am still not back, put me in the slower category.)

I never imagined that worldwide panic could spread so quickly (much more quickly than COVID-19). Whether you are quarantining yourself because you have elevated risk factors or you are staying home to flatten the curve of the viral spread or because large meetings have been canceled or because your job asked you to work remotely, here’s what I would ask you to do:

Begin keeping a journal. Today.

You already know that this pandemic will be in history books someday. It will be taught and discussed in classes for many years, not only the scientific facts about viral contagion but the human response to it.

Add your personal voice to the mix. As you write (or type or film or speak or photograph), don’t worry about capturing the specifics about how and where it started. There will be lots of resources for that. Capture you. Your story. Your family’s story.

Do you have elderly family members who are afraid to go the the store? Write about that. Did you stand in line for five hours to check out at Costco? Why? Write about water being gone from stores, even though our water supply is currently safe and stable. Write about a run on toilet paper.

Write about your emotional response. Did you think it was over-hyped? Do you still? Why or why not? How is it impacting your daily life?

I homeschooled my children for a dozen years, so having a kindergartner and a 10th grader at home with me during the day doesn’t worry me. But it might for others.

Some professions will be working long, hard hours. If you or your loved ones fall into that category, write about that. (Or, journal by speaking into your phone on your drive to and from work,)

It’s OK to laugh, too. Humor can be a totally appropriate coping mechanism. Today, my daughter sent me a meme that showed the coronavirus hovering over Spongebob but unable to touch him, with a caption that read “My strong immune system because I ate dirt as a kid.”

Other friends have posted that, as introverts, this is the moment they’ve been waiting for all their lives. Capture some of those humorous moments.

If fear or grief touch your family, write about that, too. What happened with your job? With school? What plans changed? Did you have to change a wedding date? A dream vacation? Did you lose a job? Lose hours? Miss your own graduation? Get stuck outside the United States? Journal, journal, journal.

If you can (and your writing is legible), write by hand. There’s value in that. But more important than the how is that you do it. Type it out on the computer. Do Facebook Lives or other types of video-recording. Photojournal. Record audio only. It really doesn’t matter what the format is, just do it.

James Pennebaker began researching journaling as a path to healing and growth in the 1970s. He and subsequent researchers have shown repeatedly that even just 20 minutes a day of journaling can have positive psychological and emotional benefits, including what researchers have called “post-traumatic growth.”

Even if you haven’t been a journaler before, and won’t be after this pandemic subsides, please capture this moment. It is a defining one, for individuals, local communities, states, nations and an interconnected global community. Shared experiences can create new and stronger bonds. Capturing those experiences will be invaluable.

Now - anyone up to watching “Contagion” with me??

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.

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