NOTE (from the Project Director): As Michael Schreiner points out in his own blog, "Perfectionism is difficult to treat... while most people are poignantly aware that the attitude causes them undue suffering & distress, they’re also secretly proud of their life orientation & deeply afraid that if they were to let go of the compulsion to do everything perfectly, their performance would suffer & their lives would fall apart... This makes narrative therapy an excellent treatment option, since by separating the person from the problem it’s possible to view the situation more objectively." By way of the letter that follows, the Dear Diagnosis project takes on a new leaf. Conversations hosted with any sort of externalized problem, are now welcomed here.
Let me just start by saying postpartum is rough, let alone when you creep in. Hormones and lack of sleep aside, my body is fighting and still healing from an infection. I want to say it doesn’t matter how my baby entered the world, but I would be lying. Although, you know that. You’re the one that told me it does matter, and it has to be a certain way! Look, I pass no judgment on how anybody else's baby entered the world... but I find myself ashamed and frustrated by how my baby entered the world. Thanks a lot, Perfectionism. Everyone told me to prepare for my birth plan to go out the window, but you convinced me our plan was perfect. The plan really only consisted of ‘get baby out of my vagina’ and, instead, what I got was a C-section.
OK, rewind, I should give you a little gratitude here. Thanks to you, I was really good at being pregnant. Sure I missed the soft cheeses, turkey sandwiches and wine, but I genuinely enjoyed my growing bump and the feeling of having this ever-present sidekick. You were in control of our schedule and we knew all of the Do’s and Don’ts—that gave me confidence in being pregnant. I was terrified of giving birth but felt this weird sense of pride that I would get to experience labor & delivery. I was surprised when I went into labor a few days shy of my due date but, because I had you at my side and my birth plan in place, I was ready for our plan to take flight. Thing is, I was only prepared for our plan. The contractions started around 5 AM and got progressively stronger throughout the morning. I got things ready around the house, checked and re-checked my hospital bag and pulled out all of my postpartum care, which we had carefully prepped. You were proud that morning, Perfection, really proud of all the work I’d done on your behalf. Upon arrival in triage, the nurse told us “baby is breach and we'll have to perform an emergency C-section.”
Fuck you, Perfectionism.
The C-section video was optional at the end of our labor & delivery class. Optional! As in, if you’re planning on a vaginal birth - you don’t have to stay to watch it. We stayed, but I still don’t know what the hell happened when they opened me up and yanked out my baby! Perfectionism, why did you have me focusing on just vaginal birth? Why didn’t you ask the questions and allow me do the research? I’d have known that a woman is more likely to deliver your baby C-section if your mother did. You make me feel jealousy every time I read someone else’s “amazing birth story.” You make me feel robbed of an experience to be otherwise proud of.
Cue the arrival of baby boy. You’ve continued to tell me our story was wrong. You’ve made me second-guess everything I do as a new mother. You even made me ask my husband if I would love him more if our birth plan had gone as expected. How did I let you influence me like that? You may forever be a part of me and this birth story of mine, but I won’t let you question my love for my son ever again. Do you know how amazing he is? Do you see how my body is finally healing? Do you get that I nourish him, bathe him, clothe him and cuddle him? I bet if we asked him how I was doing, he would say something along the lines of, “Fucking awesome, Mom!”
Female, Age 31
5 Months Postpartum
NOTA (Scritto da Francesca Fontanella): Valorizziamo qui l'autenticità di questa lettrice che parla apertamente delle sue esperienze come vittima di abuso sessuale e rispetto al tema del suicidio. Se sei o sei stato/a anche tu vittima di abuso e questa lettera ti ha colpito/a, cerca aiuto senza attendere. Puoi contattare 02 2327 2327 o mail@mica TAI. Ci auguriamo che i contributi di persone coraggiose che scrivono le loro storie possano, tra le altre cose, costruire la strada per la salute di tutti.
Oggi ti parlo Depresione. Sono un poco scomoda perche ti devo parlare in una lingua che non domino propio e mi sara difficile raccontarti tante cose.
La prima volta che mi hanno parlato di te avevo dicianove anni. Ho voluto finire con la mia vita dopo di vivere una tristezza che non finiva mai. Il psichiatra ha detto che ero depressa e che mi sono fatta male perche avevo bisogno di piu attenzione. Ricordo che pensavo che il dottore era insoportabile, che era pieno di se stesso e che non aveva nessuna conessione con me o con quello che vorrei aver detto. Ma non potevo dire che sonó stata stuprata per anni per mio fratello e I suoi amici.
La prima volta avevo 8 anni, non ho capito niente, soltanto sapevo di aver sentito tanto dolore che mi sono fatta adosso e cuando arrivai a casa mi hanno sgridato perche ero una sporca che non era neanche capace di andare al bagno. L’ironia piu grande e che tutto e sucesso nel pavimento di un bagno cosí piccolo che appena se potevo muovermi. Non ho capito il stupro cuando avevo 8 anni, neanche dopo cuando continuo per due o tre anni piu, incominciai a capire cuando avevo 12 o 13 anni. Cuando sono arrivata a 19 e ho avuto il primo fidanzato e stato cuando ho capito veramente quello che mi e sucesso e mi sentivo sporca e mi odiavo a me stessa, non volevo uscire del letto, sentivo che tutti potevano guardarmi con schifo, non volevo incontrarmi con mio fratello perche l’odiavo cosi tanto che avrei potuto anche svelare il segreto.
Ma cosa sei deppresione? Credo che non esisti veramente, non sei idee nella mía testa, non sei paura di vivere, non sei neanche la tristezza, non sei il vuoto che sei stata cualche volta. Non sei. Non so nemmeno cosa sei, sei questa fatica di vivere? sei questa difficolta di lavorare, di alzarmi del letto, di parlare? sei questa solitudine? sei questa colpa perche sono nella mía stanza invece di stare con le mie maravigliose figlie, invece di alzarmi a lavorare per procuraré I soldi? Al meno prima avevo la scusa di avere troppo lavoro, ma, da cuando incominciai la cuarentina non ho ancora potuto lavorare neanche un giorno.
I farmaci non mi hanno fatto mai niente, l’efetto e ancora peggio perche perdo anche quella piccola parte di me che e ancora lucida e sa ridere, parlare, piangere, incazzarsi, amare. I farmaci mi levano tutto e divento una cosa che cammina senza sentire niente. Ho provate tutti I farmaci e anche me li hanno levato tutti in tanti anni di raccontare lo stesso a psicoanalisti, humanisti, condottisti e cualche altra terapia in gruppo.
Veramente mi ha fatto been la terapia, stavo molto molto meglio, ma non so cosa e accaduto in cuarentina che sono arrivata di nuevo in fondo.
Anche ce qualcosa che voglio ringraziarti deppresione, per te ho conosciuto la morte, ho tentato di arrivare li 3 volte, fino che sono arrivata all’ospedale senza polso, avevo 23 anni. Non mi e piaciuta la morte, ero ancora viva e sentivo tutto anche se il mío cuore non sbatteva piu, mi hanno fatto male per poter ritornare e li ringrazio. Non mi e piaciuta la morte e non sono andata mai piu. Qualche giorno dovro ritornare e ho la speranza che questa sia una morte diversa di quella che ho vissuto prima. Tante volte ci ho pensato sopra e credo che non si puo morire apposta, devi morire cuando devi morire, non prima, non dopo. Forse cosi la morte sia diversa. Anche Devi vivere, la vita e la morte sono una stessa cosa che sono io, qualche volta morta in vita, qualche volta vita nella morte.
Ho molto da fare e voglio alzarmi dal letto.
Fémina, Età 54
I had no idea as to the impact you would have at this transition point in my life. Prior to your arrival, I had already sold my house and private practice, making a conscious decision to leave my home of 41 years and to retire to a new city and state. I had done this only one other time in my life - when I moved away from my family of origin at the age of 26 to settle in an unknown city in Florida. At that time, though, I was young, newly graduated and in search of change and new beginnings.
I had been thinking about retirement for years; so when the opportunity to help care for my first grandchild was offered, I jumped at the chance. I had waited a long time to be “Nonna” and felt certain that I would have opportunities to meet people with volunteer and recreational activities available in the large, exciting city where my son had elected to grow a family. Although I recognized that the transition would be a difficult one, I knew that I could manage. After all, I would have the support of my son and his wife, a new life that I could help to develop, and the blessings of my other two adult children. Not to mention, my new home was only five hours from my old one; so the option to return to familiarity wasn’t off of the table entirely.
Then you came along, CO-VID, and imposed a whole new reality for me to navigate. Initially, you created conflict over when and how I was going to get from point A to point B. I worried whether my house would close in sale, as all businesses were slowing down or being shuttered all together. I worried whether I would be able to mobilize a truck to move me across state lines, as state officials issued orders to shelter in place. I went about packing my home - alone -as “social distancing” was emphasized and with this reality coming into play, I worried about bringing together friends to help me load the truck. Saying goodbye to my community happened virtually, because of you, as most did not want to leave their homes for fear of coming into contact with you directly. My youngest son drove to and from to move me, but I worried throughout about his safety. How best to get him back to his home, after the mission was made.
It has been a month, now, since I arrived in this new city and to a reality very different from the one that I had envisioned. Under your rule, my son is expected to work 15-hour days, 6-7 days a week. My daughter-in-law will not be going back to work in the foreseeable future, and therefore has limited need for my assistance. The opportunity to meet new people has seemingly disappeared due to the closure of all spaces that allowed for gatherings and the harsh judgments surrounding the sharing space for social interactions. Although I am healthy, I am now also considered ‘high risk’ given my age alone. The opportunity to go shopping for essentials brings with it increased risk, so even a quick trip to the store has been taken from my table…
So, there you have it, CO-VID. I am now in a new state and city with very limited supports, a lack of opportunity to interact in real time with people, and very little meaningful work (e.g. being a caregiver to my granddaughter or a volunteer to youth and animals). All of this when only one month ago, I was a valued community professional helping children and families; I had an extensive support system of friends; and a vast knowledge of local resources. I have none of that now, thanks to you!
I cannot lie. While I have always been an optimist and fiercely independent, I find myself crying whenever I allow myself to think too long of what had been my past reality and what is to be my new reality. For you see, CO-VID, there is no return to what had been for the anticipated future. Experts now tell us that reopening society will be a long process, as your nature is to linger - to stick around, while continuing to make some of us sick if we fail to maintain some form of social distance. The opportunity for new, meaningful live-interaction and for my life’s work will continue to be limited.
With all of this in mind, I am trying to open-up to new opportunities in the virtual world, but it’s particularly difficult for someone like me, who likes to connect with others in real time and in the context of community. But, I will continue to try. I take joy in visiting with my granddaughter each day. I am cultivating my health and wellness by walking daily, eating healthier, and celebrating unexpected weight-loss, which had eluded me in my past. I am engaging in positive self-talk whenever I think to, which includes thinking gratefully about all I have compared to countless others. All of this is purposeful, but hard.
CO-VID, I will not let you defeat me, but I have to admit your arrival has been one of the biggest challenges in my life to date. I can only hope, now, that for me, for those I care about, and for the sake of our collective culture, your interruption results in positive growth. But then again, I’m just a single senior-lady trying to adjust to a new and very different reality…
Female, Age 66
‘High Risk’ per ‘Old Age’, but otherwise ‘Healthy’ pending Quarantine
Can I write to you if I don’t believe to have contracted you? Like the overwhelming majority of folks – I think – I’m without your diagnosis but still living under your rule. I’m social, and I’m impatient – two rough traits to have at the moment when we’ve been asked to isolate for an undetermined period of time. I feel like a fraud - writing to complain about how a sickness that I don’t have and no one I know has, is hurting me; when everyone is living under a lot of the same circumstances. Some - even worse off than I. And yet, being isolated really hurts! Especially when you live alone… I feel like the only person who doesn’t have anyone to go home to. I feel so alone!
I barely see my parents - only from a distance, now, and only with a mask and gloves on. It feels sterile and weird and off-putting. I’d almost rather not go to see them at all this way... I haven’t really seen my partner, who has a ‘high risk’ condition; nor have I seen much of my friends, who have quarantined with their small family units. I haven’t seen those I feel closest to in almost a month, now, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still barely there.
I haven’t been to the gym in just as long – I feel as though a physical part of me is slipping-away, which terrifies me in turn. I know I’m considered “lucky” because I’ve got access to a bicycle - a great way to move my body in this new age of social distancing! The weather isn’t cooperating consistently, though, and on my rides I see families’ interacting on a close physical basis and it reminds me of what I miss most. I miss physical touch. I miss physical proximity! I miss feeling connected and a part of some sort of tribe…
I am able to interact with others to some extent and in relatively close proximity. I see the people I work with, because I’m considered ‘essential’. I guess that means I should count myself – again - as “lucky”. Many people have found themselves without jobs because of you... I’m a tenuous part of the medical supply chain – it seems silly that I show-up in person during this pandemic, but I don’t have much of a choice and would certainly be worse off without some place to be and something to do on a routine basis. Even if my days are being cut short and my task list – barely there… These days, I spend more time with my dog than I ever have before; and I’m thrilled to have a companion in him, even if he doesn’t understand what’s happening and barely responds to the conversations I strike-up. If only my job felt more productive and my dog - able to talk back…
I’m told now that I’m supposed to “look at the positives”, but that doesn’t feel right because it requires that I ignore the very elements that make me feel human and are very much gone. I’m not sure there’s anything good in this, even though I’d like there to be. I have had some realizations. The isolation highlights in my mind what I miss the most and what I’m grateful to still have: Routine and structure, purpose and function, physical connection to those I love... Being able to spontaneously go out is important to me, too. I know that eventually, things will go back to some sense of normality. I can’t wait to travel a bit when they do – to reconnect with people that matter to me and with a sense of personal freedom, as I do. Maybe reminding myself of what I do have in normal times (before you, COVID-19, turned the world on its head); is key. Perhaps I can hold that which I took for granted initially - out in front of me now, like a light. Maybe that’s what I need to do to keep myself moving along this lonely, obscure tunnel…
But, right now, life under your rule just sucks.
Male, Age 38
Healthy but Under Quarantine…
No doubt, you are one powerful creature. You managed to cage an entire country in only a few weeks time! You are a force to be reckoned with & yet, I've been wrestling with this letter to you for weeks.... I have so much to say to you - & about you - it literally hurts! But, this project really isn't about me. It's about a bridge. About bridging the gaps that prevent us from reaching our greatest potential - as individuals AND as pack mates.
Talking to you, COVID-19, helps. It helps me to peel back the layers, so as to maintain perspective; but I’m stuck - too many questions unanswered! Tell me: Have you come for a reason? A force of nature - here & now - to remind us of our place on this planet? Of natural order, itself?? Are you as dangerous as you seem? To what degree shall we work to prevent your transmission & to what end shall our lives remain on hold??
Trying to make sense of the uncertainty & the unknown, I wonder: Is this a test? A trap, maybe? Are you asking that we look closer at our very own (perhaps faulty) neurological wiring? FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE; pull TOGETHER or fall APART – do you know it's in our DNA?? To what degree must we scramble to ensure, now, that we have ‘enough’? Have done ‘enough’?? Asked to keep a safe “social distance” & to evaluate our own risk factors, many worry along a similar thread: What is it that I truly need, now? Who is it that I can earnestly trust? Am I to care for others? Will others care for me??
Perhaps this is – instead – a wish granted. Is this a long sought-after opportunity for respite? The ultimate opportunity for self- & community-care?? With space & time to consider, what is it that I truly long for now that so many things have been placed on hold? Have I managed any sort of newfound appreciation in life? Newfound respect?? Am I called to tie up ‘loose ends’? To repair discord in my relationships?? When the day is done - & if you come for me – will I still wonder about my worth? Am I ‘enough’…?!?
In moments like this, as a counselor & a coach, I am reminded of the gift that is: shared humanity. I am also reminded of our perfectly imperfect human condition, which predisposes each & every one of us to a lifetime of patterned responses triggered by stress: automatic thinking, emotional reactivity & ‘negative’ habits as coping. Brené Brown, PhD. LMSW (another social worker) says, "We can do hard things." We can & will experience suffering, illness, death, & uncertainty; but we can also "rise strong" & "dare greatly." We can do hard things, but first we've got to "show-up" & "be seen". From this, I know: Ruminating in isolation is not enough.
To bridge the gaps that prevent us from knowing our true potential, we’ve got to speak-up & speak-out about our own perfectly imperfect experiences. We’ve got to show courage by disclosing the contents of our minds & of our hearts, so that we can receive empathy & gain perspective in turn. If the aim is to rise strong in your wake, we have to connect with ourselves & with each other – now – while we're in it: caught in your tide & current.s of change. After all, courage is contagious; & (as Brown says) “Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better & the world – a little braver.”
May this letter serve as an invitation – a call for courage, for authentic relation & for connection in turn; despite quarantine.! Just write. No length or content requirements. No expectations for grandiosity, critical insight or knowledge display. No signature required. Just write. From your heart & about your experience as it unfolds – this is a call for submissions. A call for contribution to this shared blog. Because together, we too are a force to be reckoned with. #Stongertogether #Neveralone. Now, let’s build bridges!
In Service & Sisterhood,
This Blog’s Manager