The impact of Covid-19 on our loneliness, loss and depressive slide
by Jim Fitzgibbon
In this lockdown, I find myself waving to cars that have only one occupant, projecting my loneliness onto the sole occupant. Other cars, not. I am also grieving the loss of the part of me that comes to life meeting others and is unacknowledged and dies. If this lull goes on, I’m afraid I’ll be lost; after a while more I’ll give up, maybe become depressive and maybe slide into symptoms of clinical depression.
Here’s a two-part exercise to resolve depressive symptoms following a loss. It could be a sense of loss caused for example by death of a loved one, loss of well-being due to an accident, a trauma, or loss of how things used to be in relation to your environment. It could be the difference between how life was before Covid-19, and life now.
My thesis is that there’s a relationship with a part of myself that is not dead but which hasn’t been used for a while, and which is painfully forgotten. It seems to me that I act as if that part of me is dead. This exercise brings back to awareness that part of me that I thought had died with the ‘one who left me’.
Below is an experiential two-part technique that I learned while in a group facilitated by Gianni Francesetti, in his workshop entitled: “The psychopathology of depression seen through a Gestalt lens”. Francesetti writes: “In a relational horizon, mourning can be understood as a process of assimilation not only of the loss event, but also of the relational experience with the person who is no longer with us” (2015: 140).
Here I am adapting it for use in, and post, Covid-19 lockdown. It can be used in Zoom sessions, on the telephone and even alone, if the person has enough ground in themselves.
Collaborate, allow yourself to be held emotionally by another. If you are alone, collaborate between parts of yourself: one part keeps the time and holds the space for the other part that might be overwhelmed, confused, or feeling low.
Here are the two essential tasks:
- Write to the part of the ‘former’ self that left you, or the other person that left, telling them all that has happened to you (life) since they left. Take about ten minutes to write this. This task isn’t over until you process your writing by telling and verbalising, while being listened to. If you are alone, take a reflective break here for 15 minutes. Only after this break go on to the second task.
- Now write about the part of your relationship with them … (the one that left you, that you have lost) … that is still alive in you now.
The first task is designed to bring me into contact, thinking, telling of that which I would have said to them (meaning that part of me I have lost or the other person who is gone). As Francesetti (2015: 140) writes:
Mourning serves to establish a double loyalty – to the relationship which has been lost and to life that goes on. This double loyalty constitutes the work of mourning; once double loyalty is established the mourning period comes to an end (at least for that specific period of life).
In the 15-minute break, processing reflectively, I realise all the telling that is in me that wants to come out, that I have not told anyone.
When the above experience is followed by the second task (but only after the break), I experience the part of me that loved reaching out the way I did to them (the part or person that I have lost). Crucially I realise that this part of me that yearns to reach out and be met the way it used to be met, is still alive in me and that maybe it is I who have stopped reaching out.
I have stopped reaching out, thus feeling dead (mortified as in shame) myself. My narrative that ‘I should be over this’ is loud and pestering me. My tenderness and enthusiasm in telling all this script is something I thought had died back then.
Jim FitzGibbon (MIAHIP) is a Gestalt psychotherapist. It was while on CPD with the Gestalt Institute of Ireland that he worked with internationally renowned psychotherapist and psychiatrist Gianni Francesetti of HCC Italy. Jim experienced lockdown while behind enemy lines in the war in Bosnia in 1995. He feels happy that this experience, and his suffering while being held captive by Bosnian Serb rebels there, informs his practice educatively.
Francesetti G. (2015). Absence is the bridge between us: Gestalt therapy perspective on depressive experiences. Siracusa, Italy: Istitituto di Gestalt HCC Italy, srl.