Letter from Bethesda
by Marc Nemiroff
Bethesda, Maryland, USA
Thank you, thank you, thank you all.
These emails are so helpful. Let me just add a few words.
Some of my experience:
The pandemic is terrifying, and I often dissociate intentionally from the danger. It is exhausting to be constantly, unchangingly aware that there is an enemy out there; it is really there. It is invisible. It could kill me and the people I love.
Some days, I am on Zoom until my eyes can’t see and my head feels caught between two cymbals, like in an old, from-childhood cartoon. (A bit of regression there.)
Trying to transmit empathy through a screen saps my energy, fortunately after the clinical fact. I certainly am tired of sitting at the same desk in the same stiff chair endlessly, or at least it seems that long. I am sad that seeing my people tires me; it didn’t use to. I am tired of the artificiality of Zoom. We have to talk over each other until one of us is loud enough to grab the attention of the capricious yellow border, so it’s my turn to talk. And the other person has to do the same. This situation, through no one’s fault, creates a (albeit benignly intended) struggle between two people for airtime. Zoom is far better than nothing, but it never will be two people in the same room. And I miss the real people, the two of us. The saddest aspect of this is that we cannot share a laugh; only one person can be heard laughing at once. Part of my post-session exhaustion is grief. Day after day of “What is missing?” rather than gratitude for what is there, takes so much energy. And whoever said that mourning was easy?
To a certain extent, I’ve found a way to mitigate the Zoom distance, at least for some people. I am using the phone more, often at the request of the other person, sometimes at my own request, with permission. The phone focuses my attention on a single modality. There is no distraction from a flattened visual, or a freeze, or a funky mic, or a disrupted connection. (It’s also distracting to see my face on the screen when I am trying to focus intently on the other. I listen more closely to shifts in breath, lengths of pauses, the tiny telling of a slight shift in tone of voice. Some people are more self-revealing over the phone. My best bet is that the lack of a visually artificial other intensifies the immediacy of the phone. Language is more spontaneous on the phone. It’s a curious phenomenon.
It is also a comfort.
Marc Nemiroff, MD, is a member of the Washington Baltimore Center of Psychoanalysis and former chair of the Infant & Young Child certificate program at the Washington School of Psychiatry.
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