By Tim E. Renzelmann
In his recent article, “Coping with Isolation,” Philip Chard reminds us that “Talking out loud or writing about things we find disturbing alleviates stress.”
You can read the full article here: https://shepherdexpress.com/advice/out-of-my-mind/coping-with-social-isolation/
I whole-heartedly agree.
Like Chard, I have always found the writing process (i.e., journaling, expressive writing) to be an effective coping strategy throughout much of my life including my personal cancer experience as well as other life challenges over the years and through to current times.
When I feel myself becoming overwhelmed by a rapid and never-ending stream of fearful and anxiety-ridden thoughts and uncertainty I find it helpful to put my thoughts into words. I can only write (or type) so fast... so the deliberate act of writing (or typing) forces me to slow my thinking and often brings some much-needed calmness to
the moment and, eventually, greater clarity to my thoughts.
What brings me to my keyboard on this occasion is not cancer but the current coronavirus pandemic that is currently gripping our community, our nation and our world. Not surprisingly, it brings with it many of the same difficult thoughts and emotions that can arise throughout the cancer experience: fear, disbelief, anxiety, sadness and bewilderment that can be gradual or sudden and overwhelming as we find ourselves facing a variety of actual, perceived or potential losses (temporary or permanent) related to health, livelihood, income, independence and the ability to do the things that give us purpose, meaning and enjoyment.
There is, I suspect, a familiarity with all of this to many cancer patients and survivors. A common and reasonable response amidst such times of uncertainty (whether it be a cancer diagnosis or a pandemic) is simply, “What do I do?”
Before I proceed, I would like to note one very distinct difference I see between approaching the “What do I do?” question as it relates to the current global pandemic compared to approaching it as it relates to a personal cancer diagnosis. The former due to its infectious nature much more directly involves the health, safety and well-being of family, friends, neighbors, community members and fellow inhabitants of this earth. What I choose to do regarding my own cancer diagnosis most directly impacts my own health and well-being. What I choose to do in response to COVID-19 may more dramatically impact the health and well-being of many more! Personally, the stakes are similar... communally, the stakes are much greater.
“What can I do?” can be a tough question to answer especially when we consider the contrasting nature of COVID-19. There is the contrast in symptoms of the virus that range from being so mild that the carrier may not even realize he or she has contracted the virus to the increasing numbers who have paid the ultimate personal price. There is the contrast in responses from those who have made little (if any) changes in their social behaviors to those who are taking extreme steps and precautions. There is the contrast in opinions that range from those who feel we are doing far too little to those who suggest we are over-reacting.
Over time, we will gain a better understanding of this virus. That, of course, won’t happen by chance... but through science. It is times like these that we should all be reminded of the importance of science in our everyday lives. I am not a scientist. Admittedly, I lack the intellect and the discipline. But I do know enough about science and the scientific process to know it takes time!
So, In the meantime, what do I do?
While the medical and the scientific communities do what they need to do to confront this pandemic, perhaps now is an opportune time for us non-scientists to take the time and make the effort to develop a better understanding of and a greater appreciation for science. College students are offered appreciation classes in art, literature, music and more. And yet I have never seen a “Science Appreciation” class!?!
Allow me to share this description from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations website (www.unesco.org) that speaks to something we may often take for granted – the vital role of “Science for Society”:
Science is the greatest collective endeavor. It contributes to ensuring a longer and healthier life, monitors our health, provides medicine to cure our diseases, alleviates aches and pains, helps us to provide water for our basic needs – including our food, provides energy and makes life more fun, including sports, music, entertainment and the latest communication technology. Last but not least, it nourishes our spirit.
Science generates solutions for everyday life and helps us to answer the great mysteries of the universe. In other words, science is one of the most important channels of knowledge. It has a specific role, as well as a variety of functions for the benefit of our society: creating new knowledge, improving education, and increasing the quality of our lives.
Science must respond to societal needs and global challenges. Public understanding and engagement with science, and citizen participation including through the popularization of science are essential to equip citizens to make informed personal and professional choices. Governments need to make decisions based on quality scientific information on issues such as health and agriculture, and parliaments need to legislate on societal issues which necessitate the latest scientific knowledge. National governments need to understand the science behind major global challenges such as climate change, ocean health, biodiversity loss and freshwater security.
To face sustainable development challenges, governments and citizens alike must understand the language of science and must become scientifically literate. On the other hand, scientists must understand the problems policy-makers face and endeavor to make the results of their research relevant and comprehensible to society.
Challenges today cut across the traditional boundaries of disciplines and stretch across the lifecycle of innovation -- from research to knowledge development and its application. Science, technology and innovation must drive our pursuit of more equitable and sustainable development.
Even if we are not scientists, we owe it to ourselves and to our fellow earthly inhabitants (humans and non-humans alike) to, at the very least, become scientifically literate about issues, such as COVID-19, so we can act reasonably, intelligently and for the greater good. We must understand what science is, recognize science for what it does and allow and empower science to do what it can do.
Science may not have all of the answers and it is probable that some of the answers of science may be wrong. But science, far-more-oft-than-not, points us in the right direction!View PDF