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Finding hope and meaning in personal narratives

Even as Covid-19 disrupts and changes our lives, the stories we share will bind us together and give us purpose to carry on

Philip Yap on 01 Jun 2020

The Straits Times


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The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes in our lives.


Circuit breaker measures, while necessary to counter the stealthy virus, have caused disruptions to our routines, plans and relationships.


Although the circuit breaker "ends" today, many restrictions remain and we still have to stay at home as much as possible.


With a lack of meaningful engagement, boredom, restlessness and frustration can set in.


The ability to adapt to change is crucial to coping with the present circumstances.


However, change can be difficult for some people, especially those with mood or cognitive disorders. Seniors may also face difficulties adapting to change.


Change is embraced when we recognise the need to move away from an undesirable state of affairs and envisage the brighter prospects change will bring.


So, hope underlies the willingness to bear with the inconvenience of change.


How then can we foster greater hope and make the process of change more bearable?


The key message in best-selling author Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning can be summed up in the following: Pain without meaning brings despair, while pain suffused with meaning and purpose procures hope.


Hence, finding meaning is instrumental to sustaining hope in the midst of the present pandemic.


We derive meaning in different ways. For many, it revolves around people and relationships, while for others, work may matter as much or more.


Coping with a lockdown, especially if prolonged, entails finding new meaning, as the usual means are less accessible.


On a personal level, adapting to the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic was exasperating, as I was ready to embark on a new work initiative which had to be curtailed.


I had to suspend clinics and was subsequently deployed to help treat younger patients who had been stricken with Covid-19.


I felt apprehensive since it was new territory for me, not to mention the fear of coming face to face with Covid-19.


Adjusting to the rather abrupt changes was a struggle as I had to recalibrate my expectations, re-examine the purpose of my earlier pursuits and realign them with the new reality imposed by the pandemic.


Even so, hunkering down allowed me time to step back to reflect on my motivations and priorities, and chart the way forward with hopefully greater clarity of purpose and purity of intention.


I have begun to see the positive in this ongoing experience. For one thing, it has helped me overcome my aversion to donning personal protective equipment and to the even more painstaking doffing process, which entails strict hand hygiene procedures with the removal of almost every piece of apparel.


I witnessed the rare manifestation of a vesicular chicken-pox-like rash in a patient with Covid-19 and have learnt to better identify the early indicators of patients at risk of deterioration.


These lessons will surely come in handy when I return to care for older patients, where timely recognition and intervention can be crucial to securing survival.


Indeed, I am learning to recognise how the experience is a blessing and am reminded of the story behind the Chinese proverb, "Sai Weng Shi Ma Yan Zhi Fei Fu", which tells of the old man Sai Weng who lost his horse, only for the horse to return later with another, superior horse.


Covid-19 has brought the world closer as everyone - regardless of race, nationality or socioeconomic standing - is within its reach to maim.


For many, it has afforded more time to be in the comfort of home and the company of kindred.


This time can be an opportunity to share personal stories about our past and present, our thoughts and feelings, and our fears and hopes.


In opening up about ourselves and lowering the boundaries of our ego, we are presenting ourselves as we truly are and so allow greater intimacy and connectedness to grow and bind us closer than ever before.


It is a chance to bring about growth in relationships, from which greater joy, contentment and gratitude can be derived.


The sharing of personal stories involves giving ourselves to others, which enriches not only the receiver but also the giver.


I hope that in sharing a part of me through this narrative, you have gained in some measure and can pay it forward by sharing your story with others.


The stories we share will bring us renewed hope, meaning and purpose, and transcend the travails of Covid-19.


• Associate Professor Philip Yap is a senior consultant of geriatric medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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