People from around the globe are sharing their pandemic thoughts in this digital journal
A woman typing is seen in this file image. (Pexels)
OTTAWA -- Nearly 1,500 people have taken to an online platform to express the emotions of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a project that’s working to diversify the pandemic’s historical record.
The Pandemic Journaling Project is an online, anonymous journal that allows users to write about whatever they want. To date, users from more than 40 countries have taken part in the project, posting whatever writing, images and audio clips they like.
“We really wanted to find a way to collect and record people's experiences in a way that would not further burden people during a really difficult time, that would produce something of value to them, and that would also produce something of value for the historical record,” Katherine Mason, an anthropologist at Brown University in Providence R.I., who co-founded the platform alongside fellow athropologist Sarah Willen from the University of Connecticut, told CTVNews.ca in a virtual interview.
“I think people really do feel like they can open up about what they're actually experiencing without worrying about what other people are going to think of them.”
Mason said one of the goals of the project was to preserve the public record of the pandemic through the eyes of people from diverse backgrounds, something the records from other major historical events sometimes fail to address.
“We have a really good spread in terms of racial and ethnic diversity and socioeconomic diversity in the States, less so from other countries, but we're kind of building in other countries now,” she said.
Mason provided CTVNews.ca with the journal entries from three Canadians who’ve consented to making their entries publicly visible on the site. These entries show the frustrations, the grief and the optimism of dealing with the pandemic.
“I hope to be worthy of this time in my life, when the clock is definitely ticking down my days on this earth,” a Canadian woman in her 80s living in a long-term care facility wrote in a post dated June 16. “I want to be able to say at the end of every day, well, I can feel good about how I spent at least some of this day.”
In a post from three days prior, the same woman expressed the gratitude for the things that she does have during a difficult time.
“Frustrations abound, but I am eternally grateful for phone contacts, Zoom visits and events, and outdoor visits with friends in the building,” she wrote on June 13.“I am yet to be able to visit other friends or family, and am anxious to know when I will be able to travel to see any of my children.”
While this woman is largely locked indoors and getting used to isolation, another writer -- a woman in her 20s living in Montreal – experiences the pandemic from a different perspective.
“Conversations are no longer inundated by COVID-19, just slightly sprinkled,” the immigrant from Colombia wrote in the post from June 25. “But some other things are uncanny. The masks. The closing down stores. The lines.”
“Which one feels more like a dream? The pre-COVID-19 reality? The recently past reality? Or the reality today?”
Mason said the overall themes shifted with the current events, from COVID-19 lockdowns, to racial injustices, anxiety about returning to school in the fall, the U.S. election and handling COVID-19 during the holidays.
“This will be my first Christmas season ever not celebrating with my family of origin, which is really difficult,” a Canadian woman in her 20s wrote in a post on Dec. 3. “They are a four-hour flight away, and I cannot justify the risk to myself and to my parents in their 60s, not to mention a family member with asthma.”
While many users are going through a difficult time, journaling has been shown to help people cope.
According to a 2018 study in JMIR Mental Health,online positive affect journaling (PAJ), where a patient writes about a dramatic experience for 15 to 20 minutes across a period of three to five days, “may serve as an effective intervention for mitigating mental distress, increasing well-being, and enhancing physical functioning among medical populations.”
Mason said the plan is to keep the project open until the World Health Organization deems that the pandemic is over at which point the journal entries will be submitted to the Qualitative Date Repository at Syracuse University, where researchers will study it for the next 25 years, after which it will become public domain.