March 19, 2020. 7:54 a.m.
I feel very blessed about the possibility of hearing your voices coming from all over the world.
This is connection, containment, intimate sharing, and deep support in a harsh and uncertain time.
Thank you all for being there, narrating your stories, your fears and fragilities, and for giving me the chance and the space to share my own.
I’m writing from the northmost part of Italy, locked down in my family town, a one-hour drive from the place where I usually live. My last weeks started with denial and a deep irritation about feeling bombarded with trivial, blown-up, and panic-inducing information.
I wasn’t aware of the tsunami rising above us and ready to hit my beloved country with full impact.
I decided to prescribe myself a rigid social media and news diet in order to protect my psychological well-being, communicating my digital retirement even on Facebook. As a longtime world traveler and backpacker confronted with severe illnesses and critical hygienic conditions in minorly developed countries, I found myself shaking my head and glossing over what I felt was media-induced mass hysteria. In my grandiosity, I fiercely relied on the health of my immune system. I classified myself as not belonging to any of the risk groups, not yet informed about the intensity of the contagion risk and the chance that I could be a potential passive, asymptomatic transmitter. I shifted the responsibility to every single one of us, being responsible to guard his own health.
Now, I feel ashamed for this way of thinking, and I feel deeply betrayed by the local media and the government for not giving proper and crucial advice sooner.
From the beginning, I have been cautious, avoiding direct contact with anybody and switching to remote ways of meeting my patients.
A week ago, I developed flulike symptoms, starting with a sore throat, headache, and proceeding with a low rise of temperature, an enormous tiredness, and awkward muscular pain. For three days, I slept up to eighteen hours, waking up regularly through severe nightmares. I felt my body fighting.
I still want to believe it was a normal flu, but I know not everybody develops the full spectrum of symptoms.
I put myself in total physical isolation and contacted my doctor via email, asking to be tested, but my symptoms don’t seem to be severe enough.
I guess we don’t have enough swabs.
Thank god I already feel much better, but I still don’t know if I’m positive and a potential danger for putting others, like my eighty-year-old mother, at life risk. So, as advised, I keep staying physically isolated.
Twice a day, I get food from my family living in the flat next door. They come over to put it in front of my door. This picture looks to me like being in prison, but I’m a lucky prisoner; I get really good Italian food, and my prison is stocked with great books. I have Wi-Fi, a TV, and Netflix.
I’m thinking about moving my quarantine to my main domicile, keeping isolated, but what if a family member gets ill, and I’m not allowed by the government to move and will never see them again?
It feels weird and anguishing.
Watching videos of Italians, even my favorite singers, cheering each other up and sustaining us all with songs from their balconies make my eyes get wet. I need to swallow, and I feel as if my heart would be the softest place on earth.
Seeing pictures of Chinese doctors being flown to Italy to support our health system with planes full of medical equipment, and photographs of the Italian flag proudly shown in several countries of the world fills me up with wonder, emotion, and a deep sense of gratitude.
Never in my life have I felt such a deep sense of global support, of solidarity, and of sharing humanity together! And my eyes get wet again.
The same support and solidarity I want to send out to ALL OF YOU!
I feel deep empathy and sorrow for all the people touched by this tragic epidemic, for the lonesome elderly being quarantined, and for all those who lost or are going to lose a dear one, robbed of the chance to say goodbye due to the risk of infection.
We had 475 deaths just yesterday. The churches of Bergamo are full with coffins arranged in double rows. Funerals are carried out 24/7 in half-hour rhythms, and since yesterday, military trucks bring the bodies to other cities for cremation. This leaves me speechless.
While I was writing this post, a good friend of mine called me. He’s tested positive and asked me not to tell anybody. I feel frozen and very vulnerable.
We are in the midst of a real and no longer deniable collective trauma.
In our narratives, we will speak about “before and after the epidemic.”
What can we do to implement our agency, to handle this tsunami emotionally and practically, as humans and as therapists?
I think that now we really need to “make sense together,” between us and also with our patients, sharing common humanity, vulnerability, and hope, maybe like never before.
Take care and be safe.
With love from Italy,
March 19, 2020. 8:23 a.m.
New York, New York, USA
You are not alone in having our all-too-human grandiosity smashed by being taken down by reality of this enemy. You are surviving, and I am sending a hand out to you, someone who I know only through your picture and willingness to write to us. So far, no one in my family has been taken down by COVID-19, but one of my wonderful patients has, someone who was a caregiver too. But as I write, I await test results for four or more people whose paths cross mine, as they are loved ones of my people, those whom I work closely with here in New York City. Psychoanalysis is not merely a discipline, a therapy, an intellectual, emotional endeavor—it is the language of soul for many of us.
Sending a virtual hug and wishes for full and speedy recovery,
Manuela Tosti, PsyD, lives in Bolzano, Italy, studied psychology at the Leopold Franzens Universitàt Innsbruck (Austria), works as a psychotherapist in private practice, and is currently being trained as a psychoanalyst at the Training Institute of Self Psychology and Relational Psychoanalysis (ISIPSé) in Milano.
Elizabeth Goren, PhD, is on the faculty of New York University’s postdoctoral program in Psychotherapy & Psychoanalysis.
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