Letters from Milán, Kassel, London and Warsaw
by Simonetta Diena, Gertraud Schlesinger-Kipp, Lesley Caldwell, and Justyna Pawlowska
Dear friends, dear all.
I’m from Milan. I’ve been living in isolation since the end of February. Now, it’s almost a month. I’m seeing patients through Skype—all of them, including the one previously on the couch. No direct contact. They pay through the internet as well. Patients are now tired. Some of them are afraid to lose their jobs. Some have already lost them. They do not see the end of this nightmare. Children stopped going to school, and again, they have stopped since the last week of February. They cannot go out and play in the parks or in the public gardens; it’s forbidden.
This is (isolamento) isolation, which means: the isolation of those sick necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. But we are not sick; it is a necessary action to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the population. Outside our windows and terraces, the sun is brilliant and lovely, but we cannot go out. We slip out covered with our masks and wearing our gloves, avoiding even eye contact with people we meet because we are afraid. We go out in a rush, to get the bread and the milk. We are ugly. Hairdressers are closed; beauticians are closed. We do not care about our dresses; we, from Milan, the fashion capital! It doesn’t matter now because we do not see anyone. Our sons and daughters are living in their homes away from us because we, or they, could be contagious. We are as tired as our patients are; afraid of a global recession, to lose money and to lose our beloved ones. The very old are dying alone in the hospitals. We cannot see our old mothers or old fathers. We leave their shopping outside their apartments, and we speak with them many times on the phone.
We also speak with our sons and daughters, but we are working, as they are working. They call it “smart working,” that is, from home. They’re at home with their children, our grandchildren, whom we cannot see for the reasons I said above. Again, we spend long hours at the computer or at the phone. We call our friends, our relatives. We exchange jokes all the time. Nothing will be ever the same—we all know. We are not afraid to die or to get the virus, not more than other illness. But we want this to stop. We want our lives back; we miss the grass of this wonderful springtime, the beauty of the flowers of our countryside. We miss going out in the evening, going to La Scala or other concert halls, again closed since February. We miss the movies we loved seeing with friends at night—after many hours spent with patients, we’d go to see the last movie and then spend some time at a restaurant together. Or we invited our friend to our home, cooked for them, spent the evening talking and laughing. Some of them are in the hospitals. Some are struggling to remain alive with terrible pneumonia. Some are struggling to keep them alive, risking their own lives.
We are blessed with our excellent public health system; we are blessed with our doctors. We are doctors as well, and we left the hospital a short time ago, before the catastrophe. I don’t know if you can understand the many pages of obituaries in the newspaper or the anxiety with which we wait for the 6:00 p.m. announcement from the Public Health Department, with the last list of new cases and deaths. We had booked holidays, conferences, meetings, congresses. They are canceled, one after another. Our gym is closed; our swimming pool is closed. The ski resorts are closed. This is isolation. It is like a war against some strange enemy which we do not see. Please, give us our lives back. I’m tired of listening to people crying because someone has died. It’s my job, and I’ve done it pretty well for so many years. But I want my life back, and I don’t want to lose my dear ones. Sorry for this long and useless cry. In five minutes, I’ll start Skype again.
This is normal now.
Dear Simonetta and all,
My second home is near Milano, and my whole body yearns to see the blossoming of the camellias and the white peaks of mountains behind. We in Germany are one week in isolation and it seems so long already, and there is still a phase of great solidarity, but if it goes longer, I can imagine we feel like you describe. You are beautiful, not ugly, because your heart is still open for your patients and loved ones.
I can work with my patients online or on the phone but not with the refugees, whom I see every week. We have to practice “psychotherapy with three” (translator), and it seems not possible on the phone. And as Ronald describes for South Africa, the poor ones cannot not be reached and cannot be isolated as we can. The virus, is a big leveler, someone said; yes, the virus is the same for everyone, but the social and psychic consequences are not the same. See at the EU borders (Greek-Turkish and Greek islands, Morocco), where some European countries still want to help and bring some of the refugees into our countries, especially the unaccompanied children. This is finito now; the borders are closed now; because of the virus, military forces fight them back! We don’t need open racists and fascists now to do this.
Thank you to all for the list itself and for the range of issues you all raise of continuing relevance to us all.
But especially thanks to you, Simonetta, for this cry from the heart about the reality of isolation for you, and now/soon us, as human beings and as analysts and the difficult and delicate emotional and psychical realities each creates for all of us.
Your message is anything but a useless cry; it represents the foundations of our life and work and why we do what we do.
We in London are just beginning this new reality we share with our patients and our colleagues, our families and friends, and your words carry such a resonance, I think for us all, but certainly for me.
Dear Simonetta and all,
We will have our lives back—not tomorrow, not in a month, but eventually we will. It may be a different form of our lives; nothing will ever be the same. Here in Poland, we have just started isolation. We work online or on the phone, trying to contain out patients’ fears as well as ours and those of our children, as all of you do. I was in Milan in October 2018, and it is so sad to think about it now.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Simonetta Diena, MD, is a training and supervising analyst at the Societa Psychoanalitica Italiana (SPI) and the IPA. She lives and works in Milan.
Gertraud Schlesinger-Kipp is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, and training analyst of the German Psychoanalytical Association (DPV, IPA), former president of DPV, former member of IPA Board, and member of COWAP and Migration and refugees committee.
Lesley Caldwell is a member of the British Psychoanalytic Association and honorary professor in the psychoanalysis unit at University College London.
Justyna Pawłowska, MA, is a psychologist and psychoanalytical psychotherapist at Polish Psychoanalytical Society.
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