It is the last day of an, admittedly, gloomy week. I woke up to an email from an older friend in a city, where they now have a covid crisis with not enough hospital beds for covid cases and death looming in everybody’s thoughts. She tells me that her life for the last few months feels like a permanent lockdown. She lives alone, but I know her as someone who has previously enjoyed her solitude. Now, she says, she has lost count of what day it is in the week and cannot even dare to dream of a time where she may be reunited with friends and family. Similar gloominess has dominated many of my clients’ narratives this week. Such times in my practice it is striking how pervasive certain moods and states of mind are, as though they are shared by everybody. On weeks like this, I tend to think that we are all like water, fluid and connected more than we can ever imagine, swimming all together in oceanic tides.In one of my recent dreams, I am crossing the Atlantic on an inflatable. The waves are big and threatening. I make it to New York, only to realise that the city is deserted. A serial killer is on the loose. He creeps into women’s bedrooms when they are asleep. The police are after him. Is this an image of Covid’s effect on our lives? A deserted NYC with a serial killer running havoc?
Lockdowns of course, can also be life affirming and have been in some ways for many people during the last year. For some of us, they have reminded us of the cosiness of close relationships and family life, not having to run on the treadmill every day, talking more to our friends and, like with any crisis, rediscovering whatmatters in life. These few weeks before Christmas though are always, in my experience, tough for mental health. Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of love and family ties, yet, for most people, it becomes reminiscent of losses and past and present deprivations, the people who have departed from their lives through death or relationship endings, that extended family Christmas dinner, where they have been asked once again if they are still single. For some people, spending Christmas with their families means that rather than feeling pleasantly nourished, they are reminded painfully of the mothering they have not received or of some bleak Christmas days in their childhood, when their parents were struggling and the elephant in the room could never be named. These lockdowns in memory are darker and more threatening, as at times, it can feel like there is no way out. At least, this year the dread of Christmas seems to be a universal topic of discussion rather than the elephant that gets shoved under the carpet. ‘We need to talk about Christmas’ was a repeated request in my sessions with patients. And sometimes, talking about what we fear the most, may not make it go away, but it may help us notice a tiny glimpse of a sun ray at the end of the long tunnel that 2020 has been. Sometimes, talking about difficult things will surprisingly mean that we can enjoy the lighter side of life too, like feeling excited about the beginning of another day after a particularly dark night.
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