This project is still ongoing and is supported by @InsideNatGeo's Emergency Fund for Journalists.
* Images and reportage was published in Duży Format Wirus lęku
I am afraid of people who are not afraid.
Kasia: - The grain of fear was sown and grew in the pandemic.
My life is limited to the nearest toilet. Each travel or trip to another city district involves an analysis where I can use the bathroom. For twenty years I have been suffering from Crohn's disease - so steroids, chemo, biological treatment are not strangers to me. Stomachaches and diarrhoea is my everyday life. In my bag, I carry with me trousers and panties for a change, sanitary towels, wet wipes and toilet paper. This is my must have kit. Sometimes I sit at home for half a day and it's fine, and as soon as I leave, it cuts me off and I can't reach the nearest shop. I have learned to live with that. Next to the flat I have a large toilet base - cafes, restaurants, shops, sometimes banks. I have educated the neighbourhood. This disease affects the shameful areas of life, but the poop affects us all. It follows us all our lives. People gets tense to the extremes that going on holiday means having trouble, because it is impossible to do it in a foreign place, or at work in an office building. They are afraid to use the toilets, because they are ashamed to fart when someone is the next cabin. I no longer have such fears, and I poop several times a day. When it gets me, I defecate in the city toilets with the door open, holding a trolley with a child in front of me. In my neighbourhood, when I have a seizure, I just put aside my bags on the pavement, run into cafés or restaurants, I say nothing, because everyone knows what is going on. The first fear came when the government announced a national quarantine. Everything was closed, there were only pharmacies open and stores where you can get things through the window. For me that meant shopping without having toilets nearby. I was afraid to go out. When the restrictions were loosened up and you could enter some service points, people started to be afraid to let me at the back. And once everything was opened, I started to be afraid of public toilets and that fear remained inside me. Something that I had worked out for years had stopped working. But I am most afraid of people who are not afraid. My in-laws, who are doctors, live in France and they are just waiting to visit their grandchildren. I tell them that maybe after the holidays. I gave up wearing cotton masks, because taking a medicine preventing collapse has made part of my lung malfunction and I start to suffocate in the mask. When I leave home, I avoid people, I walk in the backyards, I cover myself with a cotton handkerchief. All I can do is hope that nothing will happen to me. I understand in-laws want to be close to us, my husband died five years ago and they have been coming to us every month ever since. They have a strong need to look after me and I explain to them that currently they will show their care by not coming. But what hurts me most is that I am afraid to see my own mother. She is a nurse in the hospital. At this worst time, when everybody had to be at home, she felt a strong need to be with us. Without letting me know on her way out of work she brought shopping. With tears in my eyes, I did not let her enter the flat. My son went downstairs to her, and I saw that he was scared too. He put on his jacket, hat, gloves, took the shopping from her and repacked everything in our bags in the staircase. He went into the flat, put the shopping down, stretched his hands out in front of him, saying - And what now, Mom?
I pretend to be rapping badgers.
Agata: - I am more afraid. A person close to me is after a bone marrow transplant and has lung disease. If I behave irresponsibly, or anyone in the family, we can kill him. I am very worried about him. Meanwhile, my oldest ten-year-old son worries about me. He started when my husband left me. The son took over the responsibility. I try to release him out of it, but it is very difficult. After I parted with my husband, I started going to therapy, and I realised that I have an excessive tendency to take responsibility and that my son is probably the same. He gets up at night and checks if I am breathing, because sometimes my pressure drops rapidlly, and fainting occurs. I fainted once. We were on holiday in a rented flat, he called 112, but he did not know what address we were at, the dispatcher asked him to run outside and check the number on the block and he did. He ran out in his pyjamas barefoot in the snow, slammed the door behind him, had no key and I was lying on the bathroom floor. Fortunately, a second four-year-old son let him in. An ambulance arrived, they connected me to a drip, I woke up, and the first thing he did was serving tea to all the rescuers, and then telling them to lift their legs so that he could wash the floor as they brought snow with their shoes. He is terribly trying to gain control of the situation, but it does not correspond with his age. We are working on this with his therapist. In class, he was given the task of drawing a picture with a tree and with his family. He drew a huge oak, everyone is sitting in the meadow, only me under the tree. He is that oak. Therapists keep giving me pieces of advice, sometimes contradictory, that I should talk to him about my feelings and explain that he is not my responsibility, that I can be sad in front of him so that he has space for his own weakness. Others say that I have to be cheerful with him, to make him feel like a child. In a pandemic, I try not to panic in front of him, I make sure that he does not watch news, that he does not get stressed out, that I am stressed by the situation and the illness in the family and his emotions. I am now working remotely from home, the children do not go to school, we spend a lot of time together and the pandemic has made me realise how brave my son is. When I enter the room, he gets up and says: Can I help you? He is in constant readiness for care. After I separated from my husband, I expect myself to handle the situation, because I am a strong woman, I have a job, passion, family, friends and a lot of support from them. In March I felt good and strong in therapy, I thought that in six months it will be over. A week later, a pandemic came. So did insomnia and weight loss. This shows that the strength you develop depends on other factors. Then I came up with a fairy tales. Every day at 7 p.m., for twenty minutes, I tell improvised stories to children on the Internet. Sometimes I force myself to be in a good mood because I must pretend rapping badgers or an ice cube that dissolves in lemonade. When I play silly for twenty minutes, I stay in a good mood and I know that someone is waiting for me to tell another fairy tale.
I am escaping from the silence.
Zuzanna: - For years I’ve been telling myself that I was strong, in my childhood I took mental care of my mother, I made her not cry at night after her father left us. It was only in therapy that I realised that I had not developed a high self-esteem in my childhood, when my father left, and I switched roles with my mother. My family does not know that I am treated for depression. I have a good therapist, she makes me feel better, I learn to discover nice things about myself. A pandemic is a regression. I have a paralysing fear of being fired. The fear increases and decreases depending on what the bosses say. I work more than before a pandemic, I try to make them happy. A friend told me recently - You will never hear what you want to hear from them - and she is right. I would like to be appreciated. Work is a sense of my existence, looking for meaning and purpose in life. Why am I so afraid of sense of loss? Because I hate sitting at home even though I like my flat. After work, I filled every evening with the company of another person. I run away from silence. From my thoughts. From the inner critic. In a pandemic, I felt emptiness, that no one can come to me, no one speaks or writes back too slowly. I panicked that nobody cares about me anymore, and the loss of any relationship is always painful because I feel that someone has given up on me. The biggest loss was my father. When he left me and my mother, supporting her was my goal. Now I have a very cool boyfriend who supports me strongly. We were connected by therapy.
I got myself into a prison of fear.
Arek: - Every day I started with a two-hour press release from around the world. It didn't do much good for the mood and atmosphere at home. My wife and I decided that in the morning we would only spend a moment on the news from BBC - statistics from the world and Poland, and that was it. We went through a process of shock, disbelief, letting fear into our heads. We introduced an online shopping system, but the couriers couldn't do it, I was after eye surgery, I can't wear anything over three kilos, and they left us things on the ground floor, we live on the fifth floor. The neighbours do not believe in Covid, for them it is rubbish, they have not followed any rules since the beginning of the pandemic. My fear mixed with fury as I saw that fewer and fewer people keep their distance and fewer and fewer wear masks. Once I went with my wife to a furniture shop and had a panic attack. Everyone was too close to me, I felt they were looking at me like an alien. I barricaded myself with a pram, my wife saw my reaction and took me home. At my ophthalmologist's, who looked like Sigma from the „Matplanet's Invaders", because she approached me in a protective outfit designed for infectious wards, I felt the safest. She took care of my fear. I did not feel crazy. Fear and anxiety come back like a yoyo. Today I went to get my wife to work, I call her, she does not answer the phone. The first emotion that came to me was the fear that something had happened to her and it turned later into a explosion. When she finally answered the phone, I burst out like a bomb. Recently I keep humming a fragment of the chorus of Dezerter's song - Freedom begins where fear ends. I feel like I've gotten into a prison of fear. I recall conversations with my therapist and the whole process that he has spent on making me accept what I feel. I try to give myself the right to accept that I accept that I am afraid. I liked the time when I came inside a shop and s manager stood at the entrance, controlled the number of people inside, did not allow to enter without a mask. If there comes a second wave of pandemics and restrictions, I will breathe. I will be less afraid.