Letter from Birmingham
by Elizabeth Trawick
Birmingham, Alabama, USA
My thinking has been simpler, less developed. Yesterday morning, I did three sessions: one phone, two FaceTime. At the end, I was overwhelmed with emotion, struggling to hold myself together. My last patient had her own version of “I’m not accomplishing anything.” I realized that she is working so hard in unrecognized ways: caring for her ninety-four-year-old father when she just remarried a few months ago, needing to social distance from a beloved daughter who is coming to town, having the strength to do this, her own terror and needs for care, etc. The familiar storms that batter us now. I said to her simply that she is doing so much work emotionally that she does not recognize. She was relieved of a piece of her omnipotence, recognizing she can’t do it all for everybody. When we ended, I thought, all this is just so much work. For me too. And that is the thing—these emotions are constantly with me, requiring constant containment, containing awareness. I can’t leave them and yet so much is still unworded.
I live in Alabama. Monday, the reopening begins. I have an email from my massage therapist. I can have a massage wearing a mask, after my temperature is taken and my oxygen level checked. And I use hand sanitizer. All has been cleaned and ultraviolet light shone on everything. This is tempting, but could I breathe deeply and relax with a mask? The nail salon in my condo complex will likely reopen. Oh, I would love a pedicure. Now, a new piece of work. Say no, no, no. Wait. See what happens. Be glad for the socially distanced walks with dogs—though, honestly, I am beginning to hate them and their needs. Sometimes I yell at them, and then know they don’t deserve that. Then, I try to hold my hatred. That one is very hard. So much to hate that cannot, it seems, be changed. I live alone except for two dogs and a cat. No one except me has been in my home for two months. I want to cook a dinner for friends and have everyone sit around my table with wine and comfort food. I want to be appreciated for it. I hate that I can’t. On and on I could go.
Now, the morning is sunny. My old dog, Sunny, waits for his walk. I go.
Again, thank you, all.
Elizabeth Trawick, MD, is a psychoanalyst practicing in Birmingham, Alabama.
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