Fast and Slow Thinking in Narrative Recovery: Pluralistic Trauma Processing during Covid-19




fast-thinking, slow-thinking, trauma, dissociation, Covid, plague, Northern Irish Troubles


How can writing about the collective cultural trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic help in an autobiographical illness narrative about coming to terms with pre-existing Dissociative Identity Disorder? This disorder is characterised by inner plurality, autobiographical amnesia, and difficulties in discerning past from present times. Thinking about how to recall let alone organise such a life story might appear, at first, to be an impossible challenge. Might slow-thinking (coined by Kahneman 2011) through critical reading of comparisons between personal experiences and collective cultural experiences of trauma be a resolution? This lived experience account shares how the pandemic triggered fast-thinking dissociative symptoms but in so doing, gave me the story pieces to start forming a narrative about my earlier childhood trauma. Through slow, comparative readings of this personal experience with classic literary and collective cultural experiences of historical traumas, a co-produced narrative emerges. As a result, instead of the therapeutic creative writing modes that are gaining much traction in third sector mental health programmes and wellbeing forums (such as therapy journals, expressive writing or drama role play, see for instance Sampson 2007), the focus here is on how auto-ethnographic self-therapy can also provide new directions for narrative recovery in pluralistic trauma processing.

Author Biography

Elayne Smith, University of East Anglia

The author is an Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, in England. Many of her publications focus on medieval and early modern literature. She also publishes on the relationships between creative heritage storytelling, place studies and community wellbeing. She is passionate about applying this research in practice with cultural impact projects co-produced with stakeholders and demographics beyond academia. Recently, as with this essay under the pen-name of Elayne Smith, she has started to engage with life writing, with particular interests in autoethnography.