"I'm terrified of infecting someone else"
Published January 14th 2022
"Fear and anxiety became widespread during Covid-19 pandemic." Photo credit: © Brynhild Bye-Tiller

Written by
Brynhild Bye-Tiller
The Kintsugi Project (2021) began in Norway during the Covid-19 pandemic when a group of women came together to discuss, investigate and share experiences of being 'Next of Kin'. They asked themselves what does it mean to be next of kin, and what happens if for some reason you are not able to be next of kin?

The project began with a mobile photography workshop, which became the basis for further research and exhibitions. The group of participants were asked to visually portray experiences and share personal knowledge about next-of-kin, using Photovoice as a method to explore the issue.
One participant shares her story about anxiety during Covid-19 pandemic

1-3% of the population in Norway struggle with fear of infection or infecting others. In September 2021, the artist Brynhild Bye-Tiller sat down for an online interview with one of the participants in The Kintsugi Project.
I'm terrified of infecting someone else

"Uh well ... we have talked about the extreme fear of someone gets infected before, it has been, I feel that, I am tired of thinking I have a responsibility all the time, it sounds completely silly, it sounds completely crazy that it is possible to have such thoughts.

It has been the same throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, I've had an extreme fear of being blamed for someone else getting sick. Every working weekend I remember when I worked last fall and this spring, I felt symptoms, and thought now I'm probably sick, I can't go to work, at the same time I had promised to come to work, and I knew that I was not sick, I had not been with people, I had not been anywhere, I had a home office in my regular job. It has been so mental all the time.

The fear of Covid-19 have bred symptoms in a way, I do not know if that is possible. I have felt that it has been like that all the time, knowing that I do not really have Covid-19, how in the world have I got it, I have not been anywhere, but I still feel the symptoms and what if one of the elderly in the nursing home gets sick, what if.. that has been in my mind all the time since March 2020, what if, I am tired, I don't work in the nursing home anymore, so now the guard has settled down a bit, but I am constantly afraid you know, now it's going to be a baptism party, I know that at least ten days before that, I can't do anything special, because then I know it's going to be something that makes me unable to participate.

It's been like that all the time. That's how it was at the exhibition this summer and at the exhibition opening. I had been to Lofoten and Vesterålen in the days before the opening, oh and they had an outburst afterwards, and as I've told you Brynhild, the shame that you feel afterwards, you feel you're destroying for everyone else. I was looking forward to going to Trondheim, to meet you and then it became extremely difficult. It has been like that many times in the last year, because I've not been able to follow-up things, things I've looked forward to do, things I've needed to do and then I have disappointed those who are close to me, because I've invited friends to our cabin or something, and then I've failed to follow-up because I've been afraid I've been infected.

My cohabitant has tried to reality orient me, he says; well where have you been infected? It's silly. I know. I'm tired of it. At the same time, I'm not a social person. In many ways I've not missed the social interaction, but that is not why I've felt symptoms, if you understand what I mean. It's not because I do not really want to be social. I feel the symptoms. I've also thought about that. It's something I imagine. Is it like something is activated in my body. I do not know. I've been thinking. There are many thoughts as to why this has been the case. Then there is so little that needs to be done before everything is activated.

Some times when I worked at the nursing home I was extremely careful. Completely wrapped. Carefully at maintaining distance. I knew that I was not infected. Sometimes we had quick test. It was negative off course. Then I could relax at work. Then I could enjoy myself at work. I could hold a hand. Not too close but it is a patient group where many depend on closeness and comfort. Someone wants a hug. It becomes difficult when you are afraid of infecting someone else, if you yourself are infected. The elderly people did not have corona. You are afraid of infecting someone else. No, it has been a very tough year and a very difficult year. Both in relation to work and also in my private relationships.

I do not know how many parties I've canceled. When I've invited my kids or they invite me. They say: Mom, now he's a little snotty and snuffy. Then I'm not leaving. I may be infected. If I go I might be infected and than I might infect someone else who actually can die from it. This mindset is there all the time.

When I decided not to work at the nursing home anymore, it was a big relief. Then I didn't have to think about infecting someone else. I've also been home from my work at the Nord University. What if the person who is responsible of educating nursing students is actually involved in infecting all his colleagues. That's shameful. The shame is deep inside me. The shame of being the cause of someone else getting sick. I do not understand why this is so. But luckily I have a leader who is generous and smiles a little; you'll be fine. Yes. No, I'm tired. Tired of broken appointments. I do not really feel, so indirectly you feel that you're missing out on things in your life, but I do not feel, I handle well being alone. To isolate me a bit. Because I'm that kind of person. I haven't missed the big relationships or the big gatherings. I haven't missed it, but I miss feeling normal. Not to be so afraid of everything. Not to be so pessimistic. Not to think the worst. I'm tired of feeling the shame. It's bad because I feel I do not live an extravagant life either, If I had been involved in everything, in all settings and done as little as possible to not to get infected, but I am not there either. I try to respect the rules and everything even if you are very tired. That shame is inside me. The fear of being the one who causes the death or illness of others. Surely a faulty connection. (Incorrect connection)"

The Kintsugi Project was an art project based on a photographic social art practice. The methods and the structure of the project made this clear. The project was developed by artist Brynhild Bye-Tiller in cooperation with For Prisoner's next of kin (FFP), South-Trøndelag Red Cross and North-Trøndelag Red Cross by Network after serving time, Door Opener and Good Head/ABC and also LINK Trondheim.

The name Kintsugi comes from a Japanese craft tradition, where one puts together the bits from a broken ceramic bowl with gold. To make it yet stronger and even more beautiful. The creative process in developing the exhibitions was repair work that dealt with both positive and negative aspects of kinship relations.

The Kintsugi Project was supported by Trøndelag County Council, Trondheim municipality and NBK Vederlagsfondet.

© 2021 Brynhild Bye-Tiller. All Rights Reserved.