A viewpoint is a format of narration. Perspective, on the other hand, is constituted within a person’s sense of culture, heritage, physical traits and personal experiences. Often these two words are used as one and of the same, yet when you break down the point of view into elements, you can see how the viewpoint affects the story. Then you can evaluate the relationship between the overall picture and the story.

Julia Byers is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at GRI. Read more about the author here.

My story is privileged. I am safe. Now. I live in NH, where I have ready access to local woods, lake, and nature in order to get “outside”. I am technically regarded as a vulnerable population due to my age and related family medical issues.  But then…

I have also been a global humanitarian relief interventionist combining my skills as a mental health professional, university educator and administrator, an expressive arts therapist, a consultant, mentor, advisor, and when able, an artist.

Mostly, I am a woman who has been an immigrant twice to two other countries that tend to be considered as the same, British, Canadian, and American. Another hybrid identity might know of the cultural subtles that make the acculturation process vivid. Language is the same yet …

I THINK I KNOW WHO I AM, and then the pandemic COVID 19 arises, that globally affects us all.

From my experience, life is abounding with stages and phases of human development and the human condition.  I can re-learn how to wash my hands, yet my friends in Uganda, have little access to water. Many of them are instructed to put onions in every room and rub their hands frequently with the juice. Perhaps there is little scientific proof that onions due in fact reduce the transmission of the virus, but perhaps the smell alone protects you from interacting with your face and /or guarding other people from coming too close. Our mutual awareness of the spread of the virus is almost the same, barring some naysayers, and yet the context of the solution is widely variable.

We worry about our loved ones and friends, dying as a result of contracting the virus, as we watch the “numbers” light up on a computer monitor, cell phone or other forms of social media. Emma Aceng, Director of Psych AID international, Uganda and Eurnice, worry about how they can isolate and care for elderly who live in tribal mud houses. This is in an area already robbed of its livelihood, dignity, and profound loss of life and limb as a result of the Lord’s Resistance army killing thousands of women, men and children, several years ago. This “leadership “turned youth into child soldiers and young women into sex slaves.

I can’t bear the thought of my husband and children and friends near and far dying of COVID 19 in such a cruel way of isolation with severe breathing wars. But I can’t imagine how much more painful the fear is reenacted in a tiny town of Lira. I can’t begin to feel how post-traumatic stress disorders resurface for those who have experienced unimaginable pain and loss.  This pandemic does, and it really does, re-surface unresolved grief, in the saddest forms.

Within the stages of psychological integration, this pandemic does seem to trigger various emotions and regression and various times dependent upon whether the household has a single or multiple member who go into ”quarantine“.

When my husband and I first heard about the upcoming “shelter in place” curfew, we were dazed, in shock I guess, about changing plans and also the underlying sinister cloud not knowing how or what to feel. We bounced between emotions of fear ranging to an opportunist sensation. We nestled into our content obit while rapidly scanning information that triggered a world which is not so kind, friendly, or thoughtful.  Also heard another voice, a child’s voice in New England, jumping up and down for joy that the time was one continuous “snow day” with more time to play, and more personal time emerged.  But within over two months of self-quarantine, other phases of this pandemic evolved.

What or who do you get angry with? Social media will politically blame this or that, or us and them but the truth of the matter is that this period of history brings out the best and the worst in many people. What remains as the underlying sensation is the burning sadness that all can, or cannot feel, but we are all changed. Good or bad.  

So, my way of reaching out, when I couldn’t travel, hug or touch people near or far, was to start several community of care gatherings. Google zoom made it possible for privileged folks to be “in touch” with family or friends to “feel the next best thing” to “see“ each other and negotiate with how and why we spend our time together and apart. It’s not so easy in the little town of Lira, Uganda, but I know finding enough money for cell phone SIM cards has never been more important.

What I learned from this resilient Ugandan group of women, is that the way through this pandemic is not taking extreme political views or feeling victimized when depression, anxiety and self-harm behaviors set in, but the goal is to find the capacity to reach out to someone else more in need.

Even though I have “accepted“ the present situation in my isolated part of the world, I remain confident that the active role in going beyond oneself to reach out to another, heals the soul. Again, this maybe a very privileged notion, but my experience with the resilient ladies taught me that the process of trying to reach another for companionship and care, can also serve as emotional balming. I wonder if every global person reached out to at least one other person beyond close family and friends, to help deal with the polarity of emotional panic, our possibilities of surviving, or not, this pandemic, is grander.

My re- search is continuing with engaging community groups, and I imagine that I will find similarities with other resilient researchers, but what will I learn the most to share with others? My viewpoint or my perspective or yours? My overall gestalt point, is in the quest to balance the profound sense of despair that can happen and arise from this pandemic, to medically, economically, socially, psychologically, physically and more explore my changing states to be more innovative, creative, productive, and peaceful , even though who knows what kind of global world we will soon live in if we are lucky enough to survive. Dealing with the ambiguity and uncertainties of living, is indeed humbling. It is real. … It is NOW.