Chicago - Oct. 15, 2020
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Letter From Shanghai | Living In The Time Of Coronavirus

Carly Siuta is a former Chicagoan and dear friend of the Beachwood who recently returned to Shanghai to live and work for New York University's campus there, where she earned her Licensed Master of Social Work. She sent out this e-mail on Friday and granted us permission to publish it - after all, she said, her mother in Wisconsin had already posted it to her church's Facebook group.

Dear friends & fam,

While watching the news and talking with many of you over the past few days, I wanted to reach out again.

First, a brief update from here . . . things have stabilized and are moving in a positive direction. Life is returning to the streets, businesses and public spaces are reopening, and we just heard that some museums will be open again next week. I am back to the office two days per week. Everyone is still wearing masks while in public and there are body temperature checkpoints everywhere, but there is a distinct sense of hope and slow return to normalcy.

It's hard for me to describe the emotions I feel as I watch the cycle of fear and anxiety just beginning in the U.S. and Europe. I have found that helplessness - in many forms and triggered by different things - has been one of the most difficult feelings to cope with throughout this whole ordeal. I feel like I am starting a new phase of helplessness, observing from a distance as my loved ones are impacted.

In many ways, you can't fairly compare the experience of the virus between China and the U.S., because of the outbreak's timing and the differences between countries and cultures. I don't have any grand answers or real words of wisdom. But I thought I would share a few pieces of advice I received during the early days of the outbreak - as well as some personal reflections from China's (hopefully) winding-down phase of the crisis - that I have found helpful and comforting.

1. Constant fear and anxiety will do as much or more damage to your health than the virus itself. Whatever works for you to combat stress, keep doing it. Talk to people you care about if you don't know what to do.

2. A concrete strategy to reduce anxiety: limit the time you spend checking news and social media. Give yourself 2x per day, 15 minutes max to check the news (from a credible news source.) This is enough time to get all the updates, I promise. Consider turning off your news app notifications. Replace most of the time you spend on social media with something that makes you happy or relaxed, or just call someone instead.

3. If the weather is decent and you can avoid crowds, GO OUTSIDE. The virus is not floating around in the air; you have to be in close proximity to an infected person to catch it. Sunshine and moving your body will do more to preserve your sanity than almost anything.

4. Try to accept that you can't control the actions of others, the general public, or the government/health system. But, you DO have a high level of control over your own personal health and safety by practicing the common sense prevention measures we all know.

5. If you have friends or loved ones who you think are "too freaked out" or overreacting, don't give them a hard time. Everyone's perception of risk and safety is different. I have young, smart, healthy friends in China who chose to not leave their apartments for over a month. I have learned to give them care, patience, and compassion . . . and utilize video calling to check in.

6. Don't stress about your toilet paper supply, but go get your hair cut or done ASAP. This will make you feel better if salons end up closing for a few weeks and you have to be on a bunch of video calls for work . . where people can only see you from the shoulders up.

7. My final lesson learned - as things are closing down, it's more important than ever to stay connected to people you care about. The students from NYU have helped me gain perspective that having more time to invest in your relationships with family and friends can really be one "silver lining" of reduced activity and mobility.

Love you all. Hang in there,
Carly

*

P.S., from a follow-up e-mail:

One thing that I realize wasn't especially clear in the message is that my work has involved leading support groups and mental health programming for all the NYU Shanghai students who have been displaced by this . . . and I have consistently been impressed by how easily they can identify the positive impacts of their experience (spending more time with family, pets, old friends etc.)

*

P.P.S., from a previous e-mail from Carly:

One of the bright spots for me during this time has been collaborating with a group of colleagues and students on a translation project called UnCoVer, sharing stories from people in virus-stricken areas of China. We hope this allows an international audience to gain a better understanding of real-life experiences beyond what we're hearing from news headlines. If you're curious, please take a look and pass this link on to others in your network who may be interested. I'm really proud of my friends and our students who have organized this project.

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 14, 2020


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