Nothing ever stays the same

I’ve had a PC in my home for exactly 14 years. It was the summer of 2000 when I more than willingly traded my usual summertime trip to the seaside for a big plastic box full of metal, strange boards and interesting wires, something my parents couldn’t understand at all. I had already had some computer knowledge of course, if you take into consideration that I absolutely adored my little ZX Spectrum and loved playing on my cousin’s Commodore, moving on to TIM computers of domestic production installed at my mom’s office and connected to a server that took a whole room to function, requiring carefully maintained dust-free environment. After that, a whole new world opened in front of me when I could use those very first 286 and 386 computers bought exclusively for my high school, which was followed by a certain digital delay in my life due to horrible economic sanctions my country had to endure in 1990s, but I still used computers wherever I could – in libraries, offices, internet cafes… until that day when I finally got hold on my first very own, precious and perfect little desktop configuration. I felt like Golum in the Lord of the Rings, no question about it. πŸ™‚ I remember how I personally chose each part of that configuration to be assembled and surprisingly enough, I did an excellent job. My father said that it was probably a totally useless expensive purchase as the “thing”, screen included, would probably serve just to gather dust in my room as I would grow out of it in no time. To his complete astonishment, there wasn’t a single day without that box any more and he couldn’t understand what happened, nor he has ever understood it to this very day. He simply hates computers and can hardly realize how many different areas of human life they essentially deal with in today’s world. Nevertheless, I was and still am very grateful to him for that first configuration that now lives only in my memory, apart from its box case which is the only thing I preserved from those distant and much happier days.

My peaceful digital days abruptly ended with one unusual power outage a couple of years later. Even though the computer wasn’t turned on at that moment, it was still plugged in and when the power came back, something simply “popped” out loud in quite a disturbing way. The power surge was much stronger than allowed and my shock was indeed tremendous, I just sat on the floor and stared for a long time at the box that wouldn’t turn on any more. My warranty had expired and the store where I had bought it didn’t exist any more, so I didn’t know what to do. I desperately wanted my programs and my data back, and the solution arrived as usual from my mother – sometimes I do wonder what would have become of me if it wasn’t for her in my life. I distantly recall that she knew somebody important from the IT sector in our Telecom, so we took the box with us to that at the time big and fancy Telecom building to be “cured”. We sat in a separate room drinking some juice and waiting for the “verdict”. It’s just power supply, we’ll fix it in no time, no worries. Wonderful, I sighed with relief. The box was supposed to arrive back to the room where we sat in any minute and we could go home. Instead, there was this guy who fearfully appeared at the door, rambling something about my desktop icons that for some strange reason got enlarged 10-fold and couldn’t be opened any more, all this after 15-20 minutes of completely normal work. He was hushed up by another guy who confirmed that the problem was very serious, but avoided any discussion on who or what caused the problem. Judging from their faces, it was them who did something, but didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t push things any further, the damage was done and there was no way back. The second guy said that there was this man – and he wrote his name and address on a piece of paper – who could help with such a problem. I will never forget what he said – if there is anybody in this town who can fix it and preserve your data, it’s him. I was skeptical about the whole thing, but I simply had to give it a try. It was just a piece of paper, but it made an enormous difference.

That was how I met my PC handyman and his family, which changed my digital life for the better in million ways. He sat with that computer for 3 straight days and nights and simply didn’t let it die. Everybody else would have given up much sooner, but he was persistent to some incredible point, which is one of his traits that I admire with astonishment to this very day. He saved all my data, refreshed my configuration, supplied me with surge arrest power cords and UPS, all at really modest costs. This humble and modest man would have made a fortune in a different country with his IT knowledge, yet he struggled and still struggles to secure a decent living for his family because of his decision to remain in Serbia. We met on several more occasions, either to upgrade the system or the configuration because there were times in my life when I foolishly aspired to become a successful graphic designer and wanted the best computer I could afford, or simply because of some minor conflicts I couldn’t solve on my own. We stayed in touch and exchanged all sorts of season’s greetings for quite some time, but eventually this ended just like everything else ended in my life, it vanished in the darkness and silence with the arrival of the worst PD episode I experienced so far. I remotely remember that I needed some sort of his assistance at some point less than 5 years ago, but it was my parents who took the box the box to him and brought it back as I couldn’t go anywhere. And that was it.

The box worked, slower and slower as the time passed, but it never failed on me, till that previously mentioned “the end of the world” that occurred 2 weeks ago. I should have known better and I should have worked on preventing that thing from happening, but I simply got lost in the vicious circles dominated by my own demons, that I failed to see the reality around me. When I was rightfully punished for yet another neglected job in my life, one more time I simply didn’t know what to do. I was all caught up in my photo-blogging routine and now all of a sudden I was facing this system32 fatal error… all I could think of was the true realm of data that system used to control and how indeed fatal such loss could be in many ways.

Surprisingly enough, I forced myself to visualize the worst case scenario and I didn’t fall apart. I did cry a bit when I was alone, but not for a long time. I felt some numb acceptance of my fate, convinced that if something should have vanished from my life, it was good that it should be only that box. I couldn’t recognize myself, that’s not how I would have normally reacted to a digital disaster in previous years. I still can’t name exactly what changed me in the course of these last several years, but I know for sure that it must be a combination of things.

I’ve dealt with so many vital losses in my life so far that I think that this trained me how to behave in case of another one. So many things in life are about practice, I don’t see why it should be any different when dealing with a loss – the more you practice surviving it, the better you get at it. Apart from losing entirely my freedom, all my friends, boyfriend, any possibility of having a family and children of my own some day, jobs, income, I also survived a cancer threat 2 years ago when my newly discovered thyroid nodule was eventually diagnosed as benign – such things make you reevaluate your whole life and reset you system of values, making you form totally new priorities. My nodule was and maybe still is benign, but it’s still in my neck. It can always turn malign for some reason as long as it’s there, and that’s something I’m aware of every single day. My parents are both in their seventies and I deeply fear being left completely alone in this world, being the way I am. I take care of two precious dogs and I know that in spite of whatever I do, something can happen to them which would be indeed a devastating blow, because I have no friends or children, they are like two babies who apart from my parents are the only beings that greet me with sheer happiness every single day. I went through some very deep PD pits and climbed some small way back up, but it can surely worsen just about any time – once before I made the error of thinking that I had seen the worst of PD and that it surely couldn’t get any worse, but I was brutally shown that oh yes it could get MUCH worse, so I’m quite aware that I must be thankful even for the moments when things are bad but at least without changes for worse. Or simply – maybe it was none of this that changed my attitude, maybe it’s simply time that passed, maturity I gained, life experience I collected… maybe it’s just depression resurfacing and I just don’t care any more… or maybe after all those horrific flood events I realized that I had no right to complain as I still have a bed where to sleep and a good ceiling above my head.

Taking all this into consideration, losing some “box” simply should have to fall off the list of life priorities for good. Yet, we’re not talking about just any box. This box still contained my precious data from as far back as that famous year 2000, it carried on its disks so many moments from my dear long gone and lost past, files that flash in my mind so many people, places and memories so dear to my heart which was an excellent reason for me not to erase them. There were tons of e-mails, tons of valuable business related data, tons of creative files I made while I attended the Academy of Arts, tons of photos, special songs, video clips, valuable manuals, language courses, translations, books, installed programs – killing it in an instant would definitely equal killing a 14 year old brain that gathered so many information and connections in its lifetime. OK, somebody will definitely say – oh stop the rant, weirdo – have you ever heard of the magic word BACKUP??? Yes I did, but up to a little while ago I didn’t have enough space to save so much information, I had two not very large flash discs and I burnt some DVDs, but that was hardly enough. I recently got a quite large external disc and wanted to start this massive backup, but things rarely turn out the way you planned, at least it’s that way in my life.

On the other hand, losing something for a mentally stable person is one thing, while such loss for somebody like me is something entirely different. If you’re healthy and well and have means, you’ll go on from the point of the loss and build yourself a life again. In my case, I’ll probably never be able to function the way I used to ever again and I have to live with it, but at least when took a look at my data I could have a sense of dignity, knowing that I could document with something tangible that I was not always the useless person I became due to my illness. I could open a file and motivate myself by saying – there, I made this – if I could do it back then, maybe I could try again. Fourteen years are quite a long time, there were so many people who left marks on my computer but are not present in my life any more – nevertheless, by just looking at those marks I could bring them back to my life in my memory, the same way as when you take a look at an old photo and travel back in time.

Among the last things but not the least by any means, that computer had on it my full size photos of things I published here, and those weren’t simply blog posts and nothing more. I took up my camera after a very long time, and it took a certain courage to do it and believe in myself. There were people here who liked my photos and inspired me to go on, making me believe that I was doing it well. I was building some creative meaning into my days after so much time and it was a step further up from the bottom of the pit I fell in. Taking that dignity away from me would be quite painful to say the least.

I was sitting on the floor once again, staring at the box. I needed badly my handyman again. To save my computer. To save my dignity and my nerves. To save that large portion of my lost life. To make everything the way it used to be. To make that familiar dolphin reappear on my desktop and convince me that everything stayed the same. To take away the tears and the pain. To restore the system, to restore hope. Hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel even just one more time before I die. To give me a second chance to motivate myself to give my life a meaning. To help me regain the illusion that I didn’t fall as low as I actually fell. People sometimes really have no idea what can be hiding behind simple “things”, just like they have no idea that PC handymen can sometimes heal human souls as well.

I had to find his phone number and his address again. It’s been almost 5 years. Where is he? Is he working? Is he well? How is his family? The words from the beginning of this story – if anybody can fix it in this town, it’s him – resonated in my head over and over again. I didn’t know what exactly to say to him if I found him after such a long time. Will he remember me? He lives way out of my comfort zone, and even though I’m doing better, that’s not something I can handle well. How will I do it? Who will help me? And… is there hope? His mobile phone rang and there was some weird operator’s automatic machine voice talking in some incomprehensible way till I got a word or two. He wasn’t available, but the phone was – in Greece, that much I figured out. Many Serbian people go to the Greek seaside during summer, nothing strange about it, I was convinced in my heart that it was just a vacation. His home phone was changed and I didn’t remember the address any more. I forced my brain till it came up with the street, but I couldn’t squeeze out the home number. Fortunately even just a street name was enough to locate him, and I dialed the phone number. A female voice informed me that he was on vacation in Greece and that he was coming back – the following day! I think that I shouted something like OH GREAT, leaving the girl totally puzzled. It must have been his daughter, but I was too anxious to realize that I didn’t even realize who I was talking with.

I left him two days to recover from the trip and time zone change, then I pulled together my anxious mind and dialed his number. Right there something happened, something that goes far beyond this whole situation, something perhaps small but immensely precious for me – I said who I was and he shouted – ohhhhhhhh it’s youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…… in such an incredibly happy way, as if he heard again from a long lost, but very dear old friend, it virtually brought tears to my eyes. It’s been literally ages that somebody was happy to hear me, let alone – that happy. And he said a strange thing, that he and his wife were talking about me a couple of days prior to leaving for Greece, wandering what had happened with me – telepathy? πŸ™‚ He asked what computer I had now, and I said – the same as the last time you saw it. He replied – no way, no way, impossible… I would never believe that that PC was still alive, it outlived at least two times its own generation! He added that so many things had happened to him and his family since we spoke the last time and we agreed to meet at his place.

Deja vu continued, it was again me and my mom, one more time together, we put the box into a bag and dragged it to a taxi. The trip was more than unpleasant for me even though I was sedated for the occasion, but we made it. And there we were, in front of his building and images started coming back at full force – all the moments when we were there, what we did, how we did it… the building looked the same, the playground in front of it as well and it was comforting, as though I didn’t miss out that much of life in these last 7 years… but then the illusion inevitably vanished when I pressed his doorbell. There was that man, the face looked the same, but he gained a lot of weight, he smiled much more than he used to, he let me in and there was that room I remembered, only drastically changed. New, modern and stylish furniture, new TV set, new working point. “Waking up from a coma after a long time” effect started choking me again, then I saw his wife – at least she looks exactly the same, I thought with relief. We sat and started talking, and his wife confirmed that many things changed. Then she added in some automatic, seemingly careless and ironical way – among other things, we had cancer as well… I was like – wait, wait, what did you say?? Cancer, she repeated. Who had cancer? I did, she said. Breast cancer. What in the name… Yes, she added – I had the operation, radiations and chemotherapy, full pack. I took another better look at her and there was that face that I remember from before, not changed in any possible way, yet the woman went straight to hell and back again. Her mom died of stroke shortly after the end of her treatments. My handyman had bad issues as well with some huge blood vessels that burst somewhere in his respiratory tract which resulted in heavy bleedings which led to hospitalizations and all sorts of procedures. But I didn’t see any of that, I saw two positive and smiling beings, appearing strong and cheerful and really happy to see me and my mom again. I simply had to mention to my handyman that he seemed to me much more cheerful than I remember him, to which he said something that struck me deeply and still does – I am more cheerful, I have to be, I realized that life is very short.

I can’t define exactly how I felt after these words – humbled, ashamed, sad, angry with life, ready to pick up the box and dump it to trash outside…
Life indeed is very short, life is about us, people, about what we carry in our heads and souls and not about files on some discs that can vanish at any time. Suddenly it all lost weight and meaning, and I was just happy that we were all still sitting there, alive, talking, feeling more or less well at this moment in time. Me and my mom left the box at his place and wandered away in the night, burdened with many thoughts and questions without answers, yet I was for some reason convinced that it would all be well. I had a panic attack on the way back home because I wanted to be “brave” and use the public transport, I had to get off the bus and get back onto another one, but that was by far the furthest I went somewhere with the bus in the last 7 years, especially at night.

If somebody can fix it, he can…

It took him two days at his place and at work and another day at my place, it took us several additional phone calls during which he instructed me what to do, but we did it. Files are alive and kicking, Windows was repaired without re-installation which means that all my programs are still here, the dolphin is looking at me from the background… but most importantly, I got another huge lesson in life priorities. It makes me think again that everything happens with a reason, maybe that digital disaster was necessary because I had to realize something important and be pushed to the limits to see how much I can do.

I don’t think that my handyman will ever realize how much all this meant to me and how much he has helped me in all these years that we’ve known each other. I thank him and thank him and keep saying that he did a lot for me, but the story is way much deeper that he’ll even imagine. The only point is that as long as we’re all alive, computers will live as well, in one way or another. If we’re no longer here, the box will be nothing more than that mass of metal, boards and wires from the beginning of this story, useless object somebody will dump to trash without thinking twice about it. I don’t blame that person who will come after me and do it, life indeed is short and he or she will never have time or interest to go through all the bits and pieces my life consisted of, his or her time will inevitably come as well.

I got a second chance to go through my data and travel back in time with my programs, and even if it doesn’t last, I will at least hopefully have some more time at my disposal to come to better terms with those days behind me, which account for almost half of my entire life so far.

Agoraphobics hate leaving their comfort zone, but they loath change even more. However, no matter how much you try to run away from change, no matter how long your life remains frozen in time, that big life out there still goes on with or without you, it simply doesn’t care. And nothing ever stays the same. So take good care of precious people, beings and things in your life, because you never know how long you’ll have them by your side.

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10 thoughts on “Nothing ever stays the same

  1. It sounds like that darned old computer helped remind you of a very valuable, basic lesson. Great! I hope you can build on the positve things in that lesson. Be well. πŸ™‚

    1. Exactly! It is quite strange what an avalanche of things that digitally ancient box started… there is a saying here that you never know in what way something that happens (bad things included) can actually turn out to be good in the end. There are some bad patterns in my anxious mind – if they weren’t there I wouldn’t be the way I am – but when things like this happen that make me reflect and realize important stuff, I’m at least able to modify for better some instinctive reactions, things like when I get too fearful that something bad will happen, I manage to say to myself what is that really matters in life and calm myself down. You too be well and enjoy your summer days in your wonderful garden! πŸ™‚

  2. I really got absorbed in this — amazing! I had a laptop die on me once and I spent a number of sleepness nights trying to save my data. I got most of it off in the end with the help of Linux (the basic recovery disks were no use). It’s so true that life is short and people matter, but if you’ve put a lot of time into something (like artwork and writing as well as photos), that matters too. Mind you, sometimes I think “I’ve got all these pictures but how often do I look at them?” Not all that often. πŸ™‚

    Best wishes, Delilah.

    1. Thank you so much, your words are a true motivation to continue writing more, sometimes I really worry if I am able to write decently enough, especially in English, but I’m doing my best. I know so well those sleepless nights because of computer issues, they drained me so much both in the past and now – I’m glad that you saved all your data! My handyman did various things, he even had to repair manually some .dll files, it was totally crazy. I was quite happy till yesterday when it crashed again, making a huge memory dump… perhaps the re-installation will be the only way to handle this, but at least the data are safe now. I did put so much effort in what I have in terms of my files, but there is also that other thing, I’m not sure if I can explain it well – all things on the computer are linked to who I was once when I was well and productive, it is some sort of my lost identity. If someone for example should ask me today what I do, I would probably say that I’m a teacher, translator, interpreter, amateur photographer, aspiring artist etc… but all that was true up to 7 years ago, and there are tons of evidences about it in those files. It’s not who I am today, it’s not valid any more and that is hard to swallow. The only truth is that as of today, I wouldn’t have much to say on what I do in life. If I have the evidence that I did something special once, I somehow value a little bit more in my own eyes at least. That’s why all this was so hard on me, harder that it would normally be. And yes, I know well those moments – why in the heaven’s name should I keep this (thing, file, whatever) as well??! Well, just in case, I might need it… πŸ™‚ in reality I probably won’t need like 80% of things I guard, it is just somehow comforting to have them around. The sense of drastic change seems less strong that way, it just eases the pain a bit. Thank you so much for stopping by, reading the post and for all your kind words and wishes! πŸ™‚ Best wishes to you too, Tanja

      1. Your writing has passion and energy, so don’t give up!

        I know what you mean about not being able to identify yourself as certain things any more — my ‘about’ page probably needs to be changed, but to what? I need to read it again.

        I say “I have interest in” rather than “I am,” so you can talk about art and photography in terms of “this is what I enjoy.” While on the subject of identifying ourselves, I was wondering about the word ‘writer’, especially after reading a short story about someone who described herself as one. It was a cautionary tale, as the natural assumption by others is that a writer has published something, whereas the writer may not have, but still spends a lot of time writing, honing and polishing… on the one hand I believe the writer is still a writer, published or not, but on the other hand it can lead to difficulties and embarrassment if people wrongly assume the person has published.

        I don’t know if the word ‘artist’ has the same difficulties attached, perhaps because artists have a reputation of working in a garret and never selling anything till after they’ve passed on. πŸ™‚ What does happen is that people argue about what is art and what isn’t. Some can be quite narrow-minded about it, but I feel it’s a very broad term that shouldn’t be haggled over too much, because otherwise we’d get caught up in arguments like ‘did this person draw exactly as he visualized in his head, or did he just set pen to paper and hope for the best?’ Who knows, really!

        When I read my old diaries I often feel as though I’m reading someone else’s words, especially when I’ve written about things I don’t remember at all. On the other hand, sometimes I remember things I didn’t say, and think “I sound remarkably cheerful about that, though I know I wasn’t!” (The collapse of my laptop is a case in point). I reckon we’ve all been someone that we’re not now, but I’m often glad those old experiences are over and done with. Phew!

        There are still good things ahead… never forget that. πŸ™‚

      2. Thank you so much for all the wonderful things you said – I’ll do my best not to give up, it’s just that sometimes it’s very hard for people like me to do even simple things in a day, let alone create and publish some really interesting post, but I must be satisfied with whatever pace I can follow. I liked your ‘about’ page, I’ve never been to UK / Scotland – I had one opportunity to visit London many years ago but as it happened with many other things, I thought I had more time to do it and it never came true. I started learning English when I was 5, nobody speaks English in my family so this is all school English that I learnt here in Serbia – along with language classes, we always covered many other aspects of English speaking countries and I always thought that some day I would spend at least a part of my life abroad… needless to say, never happened. I did manage to go once to the States and twice to Canada on relatively short trips while I was doing better years ago, and I’m glad I have these memories in my head. It is great that you can work from home, I wish I could do the same at least translating as I used to, but in this period of Serbian crisis everything is reduced, people are fine even with bad translation as long as they don’t have to pay anything to anybody. I was sorry to hear about your hearing issues, in my case I hear well but my world is almost purely visual. I have computer speakers for example, but they are almost always turned off, I rarely listen to music at all… people who knew me found this very unusual, so somehow throughout my life I always forced myself to squeeze some music into my weeks, but honestly if it weren’t a conscious effort, I would never do it on my own. πŸ™‚ I adore images, colors, I remember in visual terms… I could draw for hours in silence and even before PD issues, I was never comfortable in too loud places with too many people around. As for agoraphobia, the best advice an ex room-bound agoraphobic can give is to force yourself to go out every single day, even if you don’t need anything outside, even if it rains, snows, even if it feels a no-no option… because once you begin to retreat, it’s quite easy to spiral down and the way back is way worse than I could ever imagine. My worst period is quite a blur, but I think that I actually couldn’t leave my room for like 6 months, and I didn’t manage to leave my neighborhood (300-400 meters around my building) for 18 months… I had to reconquer everything – my front door, stairs, building front door, the street outside… and even though I managed, it was the hardest thing I had to do so far. Practice and pushing yourself is simply a must, because a day comes when we must be out there far away from our comfort zone, and if we can’t, things sometimes get very ugly and rough. I was really sorry to read about Sharky, but I’m happy to know that you have other little animal friends to keep you company. Life’s tough… but as you say, there are still some good things ahead.

        I totally agree with “I have interest in” vs. “I am”… what we do never defines who we really are. My biggest problem is that I still don’t know how to fully accept the fact that of all the illnesses in this world I had to end up with mental issues, and to the point where only less than 2% of world population get… I just wish I had more time to do some things I wanted, now it’s as if I’m at the end of my life looking nostalgically back on my youth, with many regrets. I think that any person who spends time on writing and enjoys it, regardless of being published or not is a writer, because that is something that this person does, always at least secretly hoping to get published some day… so even in the case of wrong assumptions, it can always be said that it’s a work in progress, which it actually is. πŸ™‚

        Art is a veeery broad category and successful artists tend to function in the circles of their own, and it’s very hard to break that barrier. My relationship with art is quite unusual, because I approached it in a wrong way from the beginning, but I didn’t know better at the time. When I was in what we call primary school (age 7-15, total of 8 grades) we had art lessons and my teacher was very fond of my work. She did all to make me produce more, try different media… I had my works exhibited in school and town halls, to the point that I did a whole cartoon board in ink which ended up in an exhibition in the National museum. I had no idea what high school I should choose as I was excellent in all subjects (sports excluded πŸ™‚ ), but I figured out that if I won national prizes in language competitions, I should stick to philology. My art teacher was mad at me, she even proposed to supply me with material to do some oil paintings in order to get ready for the design high school for talented kids. Languages won, I enrolled at our special high school for language talents being the first on the list and my art teacher never forgave me. πŸ™‚ I continued my education, finished university in spite of the slow but definite onset of PD in my life, I worked… but there was always something missing in my life, it was like a curse. I have nothing to do with those uniform clerks, discreet make up high heels corporate world, I am all for unusual outfits and color combinations, so my soul suffered in such environments. I just HAD to reconnect with my soul, which was a good decision, but done in a completely wrong way 10 years ago. I enrolled in a private Academy of Arts because I wanted to bring together computers and art, and only this place was offering such a program. I ended up among rich kids, 10 years younger than me, some of them already great at working with computer graphics on one side, and among teachers of my age or a bit older who’s primary interest was to take our money and give little in return. I’m not rich nor I ever was, which meant that I had to both work and take a bank loan to support this silly adventure while I was rushing to attend classes and complete yearly portfolios – a sensible person could already foresee the PD going wild some time later in such prolific circumstances. It could all be fine though, but there was one major disadvantage here – nothing I did ever seemed right. I got such harsh and bad critiques that I couldn’t understand what was going on – up to that point in time, I had always been praised, supported, accepted, my work considered close to the top standards… Above all I couldn’t understand one thing – there was an entrance exam, why did they accept me if my work was without any value??! I could have rebelled, walked away, talked back… but I just shut myself down. My confidence went below zero. I would sit with my mouth shut, admiring the works of others while I silently suffered. At the end of the third year, PD split my mind in two so to speak and ended the agony that I should have ended myself a lot earlier. In the years that came after this, I realized something – I just wasn’t a teacher’s favorite any more, I was simply unfit in terms of age and surroundings, it had nothing to do with what I really did. I foolishly built my artistic confidence on opinions of several people, putting my own opinion and my desires to a side. They said I had no idea what art is, so I stopped “messing” with art. They said, and I obeyed. And all that in spite of some strange things that occurred – after our first college year, they “let” me bring my work as well at the last minute, because some more important students failed to appear with their prints. There was quite a big audience, and one of the things we did for practice was the design of the Academy’s catalog. Less than an hour after the reception started, my catalog was nowhere to be found, it was last seen on the table with all other works that people were allowed to pick up and examine closely. It was stolen by somebody. I guess this sort of theft is the only one that makes somebody happy πŸ™‚ – people don’t usually steal what they don’t like, somebody must have liked it pretty much to steal from that table. Later I saw a woman stand for a long time beside the calendar that I made, asking one of the hosts if she could buy it, but selling was not an option that evening. Two years later we made design for T-shirt prints, and I went on with the idea, designing sleeves and the logo as well. Never got a single praise for that, but the shirt was exhibited. I got 4 orders for that shirt that evening, but could never complete them as I got very ill and everything was hand made. Something was clearly very wrong in all that story, but I didn’t get one thing – some things are art for somebody, for others they’re not. Some people like certain styles or even they don’t, but go after what’s popular. My teachers liked works of some students but not mine, and I automatically got that as if I was doomed in the artistic world. More so, I could even be doomed all right, but why did I have to give up on what I used to love, to the point that I developed some sort of “design phobia”??! For example there I was, years later, trying to open any designer application on the computer to scribble a simple line and it would make me so anxious that I had to shut the whole thing down and leave the room… Ok, enough with my VERY ambivalent relationship with art. πŸ™‚ As for drawing, from my own experience even if you have a perfect visualization in your head and try to put it on a paper, hand always does something that shifts you to a not planned direction and you follow it, even if it’s just a bit of the picture, hoping for the best… πŸ™‚ so it’s never just black or white, the truth is always in between.

        I don’t have many “word” diaries from the past – back in my high school I was with very gifted kids and some of them wrote in an incredible way, I felt ashamed to present my works to our teacher in their presence. πŸ™‚ I convinced myself long ago that if I couldn’t live up to those standards I shouldn’t write at all, even though I was right there in the middle of a purely linguistic world :)) I limited myself to producing good translations and linguistic / grammar analyses, which is more about logic and mathematics, languages have very scientific bases πŸ™‚ Then again in the solitude of the PD world, I realized how much I love to articulate my thoughts. I sabotaged myself quite a lot as you can see, and 38 is quite a sad age to be still searching for yourself, but as you people say, better late then never. I know well those moments when I did or said things opposite to what I meant or simply felt, and I’m glad that they stayed in the past, it is just that right now my life is so stupid and confined that even some silly things from before if done with relaxed nerves in open space, with friends around seem so precious. My life is very lonely, small and repetitive, and I have so little to hope for. To tell you the honest truth, I am very scared of my future. Petrified.

        There is always hope I know… I cling to that. There are two places in Belgrade I used to love visiting, Kalemegdan park and artificial lake, Ada Ciganlija. It’s been 7 years that I haven’t seen them. If I could just walk one more time there alone without fear, that would be awesome. And there is my father’s garden, out of the town. When he and my mom come from there and talk about it, I do a lot of imagining, just like when a long-term prisoner receives a visit from the outside world. I miss that world so much. I would be immensely grateful if I could be part of it ever again.

  3. That’s interesting (and depressing) about the art course; it sounds as though they had a set idea of what all art should be like, and weren’t interested in different styles. It reminds me how I had something stolen in primary school; my class made Christmas decorations and put them up on the wall for our parents to admire, then at the end of the night they were given back to us… but when I got there, all that was left on the wall was a badly done piece of work which didn’t belong to me! I think one of the boys had taken mine, saying it was his. I really wanted to show mine to my parents, so was very miffed. πŸ™‚

    I’m lucky because I live in quite a small place so am reasonably comfortable going around, but I still have bad times when I go somewhere crowded or formal, or have to go to another town. The way I see it, it’s not something we can cure; it has to be managed and worked around. Like you find, there are certain things that are out of the question. For example, just a few nights ago I dreamed I applied to be in a huge televised game show, but at the last minute I backed out, because I though I wanted to be able to do it, I knew it would be a disaster! πŸ™‚

    It helps to take a shopping trolley round with me — it’s a barrier between me and the rest of the world. πŸ™‚ I thought shops wouldn’t be happy about me wheeling it around, but the only time I’m asked to leave my trolley at the door is when I go to see an exhibition by a small local art club.

    Another thing that helps (when pulling yourself out of a bad spell) is ‘baby steps’. Just go out and look around at first; then go to local shop at a quiet time but just get a couple of things so you don’t have to stand for ages in the queue. I could tell you stories about the times I’ve had, but I’m not sure I remember them all that clearly now. πŸ™‚

    1. Yes, I think so too that they decided in advance that everything that’s not art in their eyes is not even valid at all… plus they had their favorite students who could draw even just a line and get praised. Well, it’s a quite distant chapter in my life now, PD prevented me from going back there and finishing those studies but maybe it’s better that way, that would squeeze out too much additional money I don’t have, time and effort and would leave me with just some degree that doesn’t really matter in the crazy country I’m living in. When your work is stolen and you didn’t even have a chance to show it to somebody, or when it is very dear to you, that can be bad really, especially for a child – I’m sorry that happened. In my case, it was a simple print of a catalog all worked out in design programs with final InDesign package, all I had to do was to print it again, together with the cover and spiral, but that actually never happened. πŸ™‚ The file is still alive though if I decide to reprint it some day.

      Living in a small town is surely an advantage when you have anxiety issues, I was born and raised in the Serbian’s capital Belgrade, we have almost 2,5 million people here and for almost anything you need, life is all about distances or not very developed home delivery services. To make things worse, Belgrade lies on two huge rivers, the Danube and the Sava, and quite a big, important portion of it is called New Belgrade – as I live in the old part of the town, getting to New Belgrade absolutely requires going over one of several bridges, and bridges are among the worst agoraphobic nightmares, like getting stuck on a bridge because of works or some traffic accident or traffic jam…yikesss… πŸ™‚ Crowded places are horrible as well for me, formalities surprisingly not so much. However, there is definitely one thing about this hellish disorder I have to say that can give people hope – it can confine you to a room, but it can also get into remission. Even a total one. If it happened to me, then others have hope as well. I had two remissions in these almost 20 years I’m dealing with this horror, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have accomplished almost anything in life. My PD story is a very long one, I guess it would take a book to share it all πŸ™‚ but I want to tell you something about my second remission – I was in a horrible place in the autumn / winter 2004, I woke up in sheer terror of the worst panic attack I ever had that happened while I was sleeping – I was convinced that I was waking up from a grave or dying in some worst possible way, just it wouldn’t stop and let me die, I was conscious of every second of it. This was followed by 3 weeks of such anxiety and terror and occasional attacks and that conviction that I would irreversibly go crazy, I never went out in those 3 weeks and I was mostly only lying down and being afraid. Huge benzo doses weren’t helping much, and I was literally made to get into the car and go see the psychiatrist. I choked so much on the way there and I thought I was having some really prolonged heart attack that I couldn’t focus at all, I was described as “very badly disoriented”. I went out of that office with 6 different prescriptions and I remember the pharmacist asking me – geee… is this all for ONE person?? πŸ™‚ I never took all those 6 meds at once, I thought the man was out of his mind, but I did give the antidepressant a try. Now was it the AD/benzo combo, or was it something else, I starting getting slightly better. Baby steps. But I had to be taken everywhere by someone, even round the corner. Then I was driven further away, then I got back to my activities but always by car… I think is was April of 2005 that I managed to come back home by bus from the city center entirely on my own, God it was a good feeling. πŸ™‚ In July I was almost totally ok with moving everywhere round Belgrade, so I tried a trip to another town, 3-4 hours by car. Now that brought on some anxiety especially halfway down the road, but I managed to shake it off and I was ok away from home for 2 weeks, got back normally. For the rest of 2005 I was ok, when I say ok, I totally mean it. No problems going places, no attacks, no abnormal anxiety… in 2006 I traveled all by myself to Canada, then later spent 2 weeks in Greece and a month in Italy. Yes, me, that badly disoriented totally hard case did all that and more. It went on fine till April 2007, but in the meantime I was draining myself to the point of no return with works, studies, duties… Belgrade is big and I was jumping in and out of buses at least 7-8 times a day, traveling in all directions, always under stress, eating badly, not sleeping enough, thinking about everybody and everything minus myself. Then it hit, in the middle of the street. As if somebody split my head and time in two, before and after that moment. Derealization, depersonalization, like a total nervous breakdown. I almost got killed trying to get back home, as I was attempting to cross the street at least 6 times. I fought for another 3 months like crazy to continue with my duties as before, but then I really collapsed and turned into a roombound agoraphobic. The same AD/benzo combo wasn’t working any more, so I weaned off it after 4 months. I tried many meds since then, but they were just worsening the condition. Going to a little, tiny shop round the corner, 30 steps at most?? Out of each and every question. It took me years to crawl back out of that pit, to reconquer some freedom bit by bit (wow this rhymes πŸ˜€ ) Now I can go some distances around town but the trip there has to be in taxi, getting back can be on a bus, I’m fighting a lot. Shop round the corner is something I don’t even think twice about any more. Televised game show would be something I could do only with an IV sedation, but I fear I wouldn’t be alert enough then to reply to questions! :)) My mom threatens though that she would apply me for one very popular quiz here because I’m very good at answering things when we watch it, but hey, if she even just dares to do it… πŸ™‚

      As for the barrier, I don’t feel that much that I need it to help me go around, I’m more like oh I don’t want to be far from where I am safe, I want to run away etc… I noticed though that in these last 7 years that I spent mostly far away from people I tend to back off all the time, I don’t like having people coming close to me, I’m not so much used to human touch any more. I like having trolley when I go shopping (which is rare) even if I don’t need it, because I have something relatively big to manage around, it helps me feel “grounded” – when I am panicky outside I’m dizzy, lose balance, feel constant need to cling to something or some urge to sit down or lye down to stop that undesired motion… imagine though that public embarrassment of lying down on a city pavement to calm myself down! πŸ™‚ I can’t even dream of doing it…

      If I think back on my past 2 decades, it’s been one hard battle with two bigger pauses, I could never believe I could have made it and still be here. Yet I’m here, and if you met me withing boundaries of my safe zone I’m sure you wouldn’t notice anything strange if I didn’t tell you about my condition. I didn’t go crazy, didn’t have a heart attack in spite of horrific palpitations, I’m not in too bad physical shape – it’s incredible what human body and mind can endure. Practice, pushing forwards slowly but constantly, lots of patience with everything and most of all with yourself, working on full self-acceptance… is about the best advice I can give. Take care, all the best! Tanja

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