Since the beginning of the lockdown in March, it was obvious to me how many people turned to their creative selves to cope and navigate through the challenges of the pandemic. Left to our own devices within the confinement of our homes, we’ve had to adapt and adjust the way we live to match the reality of our public health circumstances. From a psychoanalytic perspective, quarantine presents a particular challenge for the human by eliminating distractions from the outside and tuning people in with their inner selves and their unconscious. Fears tend to intensify, emotions and difficulties from prior to the pandemic are magnified. If you were already working in analysis or therapy, maybe you noticed some of the work deepening and allowing you access to places within yourself you didn’t know existed. Many people have made their first phone call to search for help in these challenging times and many of the therapists and analysts I know find themselves busier than ever.
Leaving the fact that your mental health is of utmost importance while navigating the pandemic aside, I wanted to turn our attention to one way that I personally have been coping with the pandemic – creative writing. Anticipating that social interactions will be limited to work and immediate family this summer, combined with the fact that I have always wanted to write fiction, I decided to take advantage of my access to classes in the university where I teach graduate students and take a course in Creative Writing. In a way, writing has served as a distraction for me but also as a place to process experiences, thoughts and feelings in a creative form. Below is a very short story that I wrote, which although has been inspired by real events is entirely fictional. What is real is the power that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy have to change lives and the importance of creativity in navigating difficult life events.
“A Change of Heart” by Mihaela Bernard
When she opened her eyes, Samantha was lying in a hospital bed in the ER of the nearest Children’s Hospital. Faint music from a radio tickled her ears, Lady Gaga, “Million Reasons,” interrupted by a beep…beep… beep… and the huffing of the air conditioner. She was alone in the room, hooked up to an IV, the sound of nurses talking and people shuffling outside the door. Her body felt achy and weak as if she had just run up several flights of stairs. Her mouth was dry, thirst burning the back of her throat. The door opened and her mother walked in.
“Hey, baby. You are awake,” she said concerned and sat on the chair next to Samantha’s bed.
“I’m thirsty,” Sam whispered, pushing herself up on her elbows, trying to sit up. She felt heavy and sore, her head pulsating in pain.
“Here, honey,” her mom propped her chin up, helping her drink from a white, plastic cup. The icy cold water went down her throat, awakening her mind, her head still throbbing.
She sat back after a few sips, a hundred questions running through her mind. She remembered the basketball court, the sound of sneakers rubbing against the glassy wood floor, screams of cheer from the audience, her running for the ball and then pain in her chest, sharp pain, deep breaths…, dizzy…then black…She faintly remembered the faces of people cluttered over her in worry, the sound of the ambulance whaling frantically on the way to the hospital, the smell of antiseptic and rubbing alcohol around her, a needle pinch, then another, then… nausea.
“What happened?”, Samantha asked, feeling disoriented.
“You fainted during the game. The doctors are trying to figure out what’s wrong,” her mom replied and took Sam’s hand in hers, stroking her arm.
“I feel really tired. And my head hurts.” Sam said, rubbing her temples with her pointer and middle finger, trying to find some relief from the pain. She looked down and noticed for the first time the electrodes on her chest, monitoring her heart beat. “What’s this?” she asked confused.
“We don’t know yet, honey, but… “ her mom replied hesitantly with sadness in her voice, “the doctors are concerned about your heart.”
“My heart? What about it?” Samantha asked worried.
“I am not sure yet. They did an echo of your heart and are doing an EKG right now. They also asked me if there were any family members with heart issues,” her mom continued softly, “There aren’t any on my side of the family so…” she hesitated, “…uh.. I’ve reached out to your dad to ask him.”
Snippets of memories and images from her early childhood flashed in front of Samantha’s eyes – a picture of a man, she never knew with dark beard and glasses tucked away in a white box her mother used for important documents, the name Tom written on the back in cursive. Herself, 6-years-old, sitting on a table at the Rainbow Cafe with her mother and her boyfriend, celebrating her adoption over a giant rainbow pancake; moving into a new house that felt too big and too foreign with two other kids she had to call step-brother and step-sister now.
“Sam…” her mom’s voice brought her back to the present. “The doctor is here.”
“Hi Samantha, I am Dr. Chan,” he began looking serious, “The results from your electrocardiogram show some abnormalities in the electrical activity of your heart,” he paused, making sure they were taking at all in, “I am afraid that the results from the echocardiogram confirmed that you have a genetic heart condition, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.”
“What does that mean?” her mom asked worried, her eyebrow scrunched together.
“It is a genetic condition in which part of the heart thickens and may cause issues like feeling tired, shortness of breath and in your case, fainting. You are lucky that we found it, some people never show any symptoms and die from sudden cardiac death.”
“Is it treatable?” Samantha uttered, trying to comprehend what was happening.
“In your case,” the doctor pulled up a chair and sat down in between Samantha and her mother, “we will need to consider an implantable pacemaker to prevent any sudden cardiac death. That’s going to require surgery.” He paused to give them a minute to digest the news.
Samantha thought for a minute, quietly blaming her father for this condition. Not only did he abandon her and her mother when she was a baby but he also gifted her with his deadly heart condition to remember him forever. Asshole. Hope he lives a long, miserable life without me, she thought. Then she remembered basketball.
“Will I be able to play basketball again?” Samantha asked rhetorically, already knowing the answer, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Let’s not worry about that right now, honey,” her mother chimed in, stroking her arm gently. She kept talking to the doctor, asking more questions and looking for answers but Samantha wasn’t listening anymore. She was preoccupied with thoughts about her friends from basketball, her coach and sadly reminiscing over countless after-school practices and weekend meets. She couldn’t believe her basketball life might be over, just like that…
…Two years later
Samantha leaves her therapist’s office ten minutes early than usual. The senior talent show is about to begin in forty minutes and she has a solo in the choir. All her friends and her whole family is going to be there, her step-brother, her step-sister, her parents and Tom. She feels nervous and excited at the same time, jumps in her white jeep convertible and shuffles through the songs on her IPhone, looking for the one she is about to perform. There. Lady Gaga, “Million Reasons.” No one really knows why she chose that song. She didn’t even know why until about 30 minutes ago.
Samantha clicks play, the engine roars and she drives off, the wind blowing in her hair, and her heart singing with glee:
“You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go
You’re giving me a million reasons to quit the show
You’re givin’ me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
If I had a highway, I would run for the hills
If you could find a dry way, I’d forever be still
But you’re giving me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons
Baby I’m bleedin’, bleedin’
Can’t you give me what I’m needin’, needin’
Every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith
But baby, I just need one good one to stay.”