“My name is Paweł, I work in a government office in eastern Poland. I remember that day exactly, it was Thursday, March 12th. I was at work for the last time before the lockdown. The boss decided that I would be the first one sent home. We had 50 people with coronavirus in Poland then. Today, there are over 10,000 cases in total and we still work as usual. I am a man with a disability. People like me are often only active for the warmer half of the year. Many of us spend the winter indoors because of the flu season (disabled people are often at risk) and less favourable conditions for moving around (rain, freezing snow, low temperatures). The epidemic broke out precisely when we were hoping for several months of more active life after the six-month closure.
I know people who, due to the epidemic this year, have not yet gone out and probably will not leave their homes. They won't meet anyone, they won't see anything. 2020 will be a hole in their lives. I really wanted to avoid such a hole, so I promised myself that I would use the lockdown to implement the plans I have always been putting off. The to-do list included reading all the acts and regulations I need for my work, starting my own book ‘How wheelchair boys love’ and a blog for which I bought a domain already a year ago. I wanted to finally put my love life in order, read books I've been wanting to read and watch some series. My plans didn't seem big at all. But maybe it was just too much?
I only read one act, and that was only after I locked myself in my office, locked my wheelchair and turned off all my computer applications. When I started working in the government office, I promised myself that I would be a diligent worker, industrious in learning the clerical profession. I managed to do this for the first two months. After the lockdown, everything collapsed. I lost all the momentum. I don't want to blame it all on the pandemic, I've procrastinated before. But the closure period was very demotivating. Suddenly, from the daily routine of meeting clients, providing and searching information for them, I was transferred to remote work where no one was interested in my services. Now I am gradually returning to pre-epidemic activity, but I'm still not where I was.
You probably figured out that nothing came of running a blog and writing a book. When I got a job in the government office, I decided that the blog would be one of my tools for communicating with the disabled, for the benefit of which I am trying to work. But I still lack self-discipline. The sense of uncertainty as to what will happen tomorrow also does not help. I reflect on the transience of life more often now. It's probably trivial, but I wonder if, even if we manage to defeat the coronavirus, we will not face a huge economic crisis, war or other terrible things. I think it is because of this instability that I have not yet fulfilled my resolutions.
I have to tell you one thing: if it weren't for the pandemic and this sense of fleetingness, I probably wouldn't have spoken to my loved one with whom I broke off four years ago. I tried to forget, because thinking about what we could have had only deepened my suffering. I told myself that she didn't want me. When the pandemic started, it felt like it was the beginning of a war. The world is ending, so you have to sort out unfinished business. I wrote to her. I'm glad that we are in touch again, although we still haven't figured things out. She just apologised for not responding to my confession and disappearing. But I know her feelings have not changed. I try not to get my hopes up, though it's hard. Honestly, women just aren't looking for a guy like me. I still feel a void in this area. I was hoping the pandemic would bring my plans to fruition and reset my life, giving me a chance for a fresh start in many things. Maybe it's still too early? Or maybe I want too much too fast?”
“Two months before the epidemic, my fiancé died in a hospice after a long and serious illness. I was exhausted by the burden of the last months and the fight for his health we put up together. I was deeply affected by this loss. When I faced an emotional crisis and several depressive states, I contacted a therapist and my relatives. I found relief in hours of conversations, as well as in activities for which I did not have time before – reading, yoga, making plans for when it's all over” says Alicja, a 35-year-old teacher at a maritime technical high school, a doctoral student in literature and a co-creator of amateur theatre in her city.
“Let's be honest, you can't make big plans when you don't feel safe. I was afraid of crime, riots, strikes, that the stock market would crash and the banks would cease to function. The media was fuelling this panic. So I cut down on watching the news to 15 minutes a day, and it did me good. Arek's death made it easier for me to deal with the lockdown, fear of illness and loneliness. The previous hard months exhausted me, but also made me tougher, emotionally stronger.
In April, our theatre was about to premiere a play I directed. It was not going to happen any more. I felt regret and great disappointment. At the same time, I knew that I had no influence on the situation. And that human life is more important than my unfulfilled ambitions. Together with my colleagues from the theatre, we decided that since we cannot stage traditional plays, we will make a mini-series based on “The Drunken Ones”, a tragicomedy by Ivan Vyrypaev.
The rest of the resolutions and plans concerned small matters, developing new everyday habits and making room in my head for important things. I decided that I would read a minimum of 50 pages of a book a day, talk to someone close to me on the phone several times a week, and when the borders are open, go abroad with a polyglot friend. I began to observe myself more closely and ask myself what I really want, what I like and what I don't like. For example, I quickly noticed how many things I already had and that I didn't have to buy that much. Or that I like being alone with myself and I don't have to be surrounded by people all the time. I didn't regret losing a few small-talk friends. I focused on deeper conversations that bring something to my life.
The only bigger plan that remained, because we had it together with my fiancé, was to move to another, larger city. My hometown is lovely, but cramped and stuffy in the long run, you know everybody there and their long tongues can reach anyone. I could live in Gdańsk, Warsaw or Koszalin, but for now I'm still here. Why? My mother lives here and, for the time being, moving without Arek seems very difficult to me.”
“‘What do you have in mind after you graduate?’ What I always thought I had in mind was getting some big scholarship to graduate school or a grant to study all over Europe, and then I thought I'd be a professor and write books of poemsand be an editor of some sort. Usually I had these plans on the tip of my tongue. ‘I don't really know,’ I heard myself say. I felt a deep shock hearing myself say that, because the minute I said it, I knew it was true”, wrote the poet Sylvia Plath in her autobiographical novel “The Bell Jar”. Its heroine gradually becomes more and more apathetic. Not only her plans, but also everyday activities seem unnecessary and meaningless to her. She stops washing and styling her hair, she is tormented by obsessive suicidal thoughts and falls deeper and deeper into madness.
Losing mental health is the greatest fear of Krzysztof, an employee of a real estate magazine and the father of baby Julian.
“Mental illness would be worse for me than losing a limb. Because it makes you lose your head and heart, that is, all of yourself. The pandemic has caused this fear to come back in a more overwhelming way. First, I started to fear that I would lose my job – mind you, I have a small child. I was also afraid of isolation from people. It made it impossible for me to plan anything bigger. Anyway, less than a month before the pandemic, Julian, my firstborn, came into the world. Life changed 180 degrees. Together with my partner, a small child, a cat and remote work, we found ourselves in a completely new situation on 30 square metres. I had roughly two options: run away or take full responsibility for it all. I had to learn how to take care of a small child and work in a modified mode at the same time. Due to remote work, the border between work and private life has become blurred. I don't know when I started and when I finished work. Sometimes I replied to emails after 10 pm. I was under a lot of mental strain. And being with my child and partner 24 hours a day on top of that. I love them, but I couldn't wait to meet and talk to other people as I used to. Actually, that's why I wrote to you – to chat. Sometimes Aśka and I were close to killing each other. As a preventative measure, we figured out that we would take a break from time to time. Sometimes I take my partner and the child to her family in the Zamość region or to Tarnów. Asia has more time for herself there because her grandparents, aunts and uncles take over Julek, and I rest at home.
The epidemic disrupted my boxing training that was very important to me. You know, it was not only about practising punches but also the ritual of leaving home and meeting buddies with whom you can talk, be yourself and joke around. It was like male tribe gatherings. They allowed me to clear my head. After 60 minutes I was exhausted, but happy. In fact, my only plan after the pandemic was to go back to this training and regain some time for myself. It has not worked out yet. Why? Partly due to laziness and partly because boxing is a messy sport. You touch another person's sweaty gloves and then your body, face. I cannot expose my loved ones to infection.”
Paweł: “I have always been aware that you may plan things all you like, but life has its own course anyway. Why do I think so? Probably due to disability and family experiences.”
Alicja: “I like to dream and make plans, but only ones that I am able to make come true, nothing too grandiose. Life has taught me this. You have to get rid of childish and naive belief that you will realise your every plan.”
Krzysztof: “‘The only certainty in life is that nothing is certain’, says Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk whose lectures I have been listening to for a year now. It may be a banal thought, but it's not that easy to start living by. During my childhood and later, I had a difficult relationship with my father. I went through several courses of therapy and I'm learning to just let go. This is my goal now.”
“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.
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