It seems like a long time since we last posted a blog. This is the third time in the last couple of weeks that I have come to my laptop with an idea and thoughts that I wanted to share with you. But I haven’t got beyond the first paragraph or so. I am aware of a looming presence – an elephant of such size and heaviness in the room of my head that everything else there seems dwarfed and trivial. I am talking about the war in Ukraine – the butchery that we are reading and hearing about – and seeing on our screens. It is this indiscriminate killing of civilians with no regard for the impact on our individual or universal humanity that sucks out the oxygen of my mind and leaves an empty shell where any creative thought is left dying. The disposable values peddled by our politicians are exposed as never before – though I see Johnson still practising his Churchillian rhetoric, honed for the crisis; but isn’t it all meaningless, since the bombing hasn’t stopped and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are still fleeing across their country’s borders?
I read a research report published earlier in the week in The Journal of Neuroscience that outlined findings that there was a correlation between fond memories – such as might be triggered by a family photo of a seaside holiday – and the areas of the brain that perceive and register pain. They had showed ‘nostalgic images’ to a group of young adults and then applied ‘a source of pain’ (unspecified!) while doing a functional MRI scan of their brains. Their conclusion was that there was a direct link between nostalgia and low-level pain relief. And because I had just been listening to the news on the radio I reflected that this source of pain relief was going to be denied to many Ukrainian children – just as it is to the children who come into care as a result of chronic maltreatment or neglect in their birth families. Children who have suffered such overwhelming terror – thinking that they are not going to survive – are unlikely to be able to indulge in the luxury of nostalgia, unless there are magicians in their lives who can conjure up memories of pre-war times – or new parental figures who can patiently work to fill the arid reservoir of their memories with snapshots of better times in the present.
At the end of the last century I was doing some post-graduate psychotherapy training in London and I had a brief placement in a refugee centre. I worked with a teenager who had escaped the civil war in Sierra Leone – but had witnessed horrific atrocities in the village where he lived. He was the only survivor in his extended family. The hate and the helplessness engendered by those experiences left him struggling to function in any social way – and certainly unable to access the learning that was on offer to him in the refugee centre. That is likely to be the legacy that Putin leaves in Ukraine. We ignore it at our peril – it is our humanity that is being attacked here.
Martha and Rachel