Tag Archives: emotions

The Ring

There is one stainless steel ring I keep wearing all the time in this last period. Not because it has any particular material or sentimental value, but simply because I like the design of small flowers it features, flowers that manage to make some difference and let my thoughts drift away from this strange reality that is currently suffocation my mind, body and soul. It has also one pretty good practical advantage – if it gets wet or in contact with disinfectants, it doesn’t darken. Steel is tough and it doesn’t care what you do to it, precious metals do. Precious metals and gems need care, cleaning and pampering – it’s the treatment all special and rare things require in order to shine. But steel almost dare them all, it defies cold, dirt, liquids, it renounces fancy and expensive jewelry stores because they don’t let it sit on their precious shelves. It proudly stands in front of you, almost whispering: I’m not expensive, but I can be just as much beautiful as they are, those I’ll never belong to.

Last Friday I lost it, for the third time. I took my mother to eat ice cream in a shopping mall not so far away from our place. There was one of those usual offers: 2 ice creams for the price of one, so we took advantage of it. We sat and ate our chocolate and strawberry flavored ice creams in the middle of a huge crowd of those who came to eat their small portion of fast food and dwell around fancy stores, usually without buying anything that isn’t on sale. From time to time you would see those with hands full of colorful bags coming out of the hypermarket or cheaper stores, pale, with big dark circles under their eyes, victims to the modern slavery of corporate societies and their own families who expect them to exchange their exhaustion and lack of freedom during the week for material things on weekends, for an instant gratification and small endorphin surge that in many cases vanishes completely by the time they get home and realize that the hard earned money is gone and that they got themselves a ton of not so necessary or good things after all.

I finished my ice cream and left them immersed in their quest for material happiness, heading towards restrooms. I did the usual mistake of taking the ring off before washing my hands, even though water and soap can’t harm it. But it’s one thing when you take it off and forget it in your own bathroom, and something completely different to leave it on a sink of a super crowded shopping mall on a Friday night. It takes us two buses to get home from there and it was only by the time that we reached the bus stop of our second bus that I touched my finger and felt for the ring as I usually do by reflex. It wasn’t there.

I got an immediate flashback of the moment when I took it off and placed it in the corner of the dark sink – the memory of so many dark and metallic shades in that restroom gave me some completely vague hope that it could have gone unnoticed, small, insignificant and totally inexpensive ring hidden in a corner of a big, fancy and ultra modern shopping mall restroom. Yet the hope was vague and almost nonexistent – this is a country in which everybody is lacking something, many people even that totally basic stuff. In such a situation you can definitely expect everybody to collect any single thing that they spot unattended.

I can appear a pessimist or even a coward to many, but I have one quite strange personality trait for somebody with panic disorder – I almost never give up, and it is one of those few rare things in which I don’t resemble my father. He fought to be on the realistic side of things, but he inclined to pessimism. It was impossible to watch tennis matches with him – if you like tennis, you know how the situation can change all the time from one extreme to the other over the entire length of the match. It’s always about the change, but one thing is certain – it is not over until it’s really over. Until you hit the final point, you still stand some chance even though all the odds of the world might be against you. We haven’t witnessed once the situation in which the players crawled back from the bottom of the pit of what seemed long lost match to even the score and even triumph in the end. I believed in my father even when everybody said that he wouldn’t make it, when everybody gave up on him, when he gave up on himself and just begged to die. I believed to the last beat of his heart recorded by ECG brought by the ambulance doctors and even in minutes and hours after it. It just couldn’t seem real that we lost his battle. Maybe this is some kind of foolish idealism, but that’s me and I don’t think it is such a negative trait after all – if we want to live this life, we have to fight, and the only way to just try to win a fight is to believe that you can do it.

I suppose that many people would simply assume with disappointment that the ring was lost forever, go home and eventually stop thinking about it. In my case, things are not over until they’re really over – I had to go back and cast that final look on that sink and assure myself that it was really gone. I don’t know if I truly hoped to find it on my way back to the mall, it was just that my anxious and impatient nature wanted to rush the bus as much as possible to get back there in no time. Just one look, that was all I needed. The bus finally reached the right stop and I jumped out of it and started running fast towards the mall’s entrance – I had no idea that I could even just get back to this huge place at the end of a terribly busy day, let alone run that fast. Two flights of moving staircases, one final run around the corner and there I was, in front of the entrance door of the restroom. I hesitated to enter, as if there could be more than one of two solutions – it was going either to be there or not, it’s not a rocket science. But I stood frozen for God knows how many seconds, almost as if I could materialize it inside if it happened that somebody had taken it away.

Then the door opened and an old lady came out. I held the door with my hand and headed towards the remote corner of that sink. With hope. Hope dies last, but it still dies from time to time. It wasn’t there.

Two young girls were washing their hands and gave me odd looks as I stared at that empty place where I left my ring, flooded with disappointment and betrayed by hope. It was just a small, insignificant ring that I bought for myself four years ago on the street, in the pedestrian zone. The only sentimental value that it could have was the link with those moments in which I had a job with meaning, I was teaching Italian, that language that I studied and that I still love and miss so much these days, as nobody seems to want to study it any more here where I live. I parted ways with English many years ago and it got revenge on me – I have no longer the fluency and vocabulary I used to have, and paradoxically the only two foreign languages that seem useful in Serbia nowadays are English and German. I taught Italian and my father was alive, it was spring of 2013. I had no idea what 2014 had in store for me. I went out of the restroom and as I was moving away, I noticed the cleaning lady leaned over some boxes in the room for the staff. I don’t think that I had some true intention to stop to talk with her, but remember – things are not over until they are really over. I asked her if by some remote crazy insane chance she spotted a ring on the sink, expecting no for an answer. Instead, she smiled and reached for her pocket. She opened her hand in front of me and there it was, back one more time, as if it were cat with nine lives. I kissed this thin, simple woman with dark circles around her eyes who obviously has a really rough life. She said she wanted to give it to the security staff later when she finished her work but that she was happy that I found her – she could have been on either of several levels of the mall, but something brought us together in the same place at that very same moment. I think she thought the ring was a gift from somebody really special, and as it was hard to explain to her that this wasn’t the case and that I was simply overwhelmed with joy because of winning one more battle against all odds and recovering my only companion in my utterly silent days at work. I don’t think she would understand that a piece of steel could be a lot friendlier than people, so I decided to leave out this embarrassing part of my life story. I left my backpack in my mother’s arms who returned home alone, so I had no money to buy something for her and it felt bad. I do hope that I’ll see her again when I manage to return there and brighten up her day somehow, in the same way that she brightened mine with her honesty and friendly attitude.

She’s my hero of the day, the person who managed to prove that kind and dear people with human traits still exist. I will remember her every time I cast a look at my tiny steel ring with floral pattern. Psy, you were right, such people still exist – just don’t look for them among computers, they are hidden in humble masses like rare remnants of some totally different times.

 

 

Honesty is not (always) the best policy

You-should

I learned quite some time ago that two (or even more) conflicting emotions cannot coexist at the same time; I didn’t just read it somewhere, I felt it on my own skin. This proved to be true once again in my last ordeal with the upper part of my GI tract – I was horrified of what I was feeling, horrified of the exam necessary to detect any possible problems, and eventually horrified of the worst possible outcome. Essentially, it was even worse than that – I was totally petrified. When you experience such an intense degree of fear, you can’t be either sad or happy or angry at the same time, all else vanishes from your focus. Once the fear subsidies, other emotions can resurface again and take that fear’s front row place. That’s a very powerful tactic for dealing with panic disorder – whenever any other emotion overpowers you, fear retreats and panic is kept at much safer distance.

In my present reality, as soon as I got my biopsy results and figured out that there are some tissue changes, but nothing that much alarming, I felt a tremendous relief. It seemed such a positive thing at that moment, it felt wonderful, even though I still can’t get rid of my stomach issues. It wasn’t long before the relief was replaced by the sensations of grief that come and go, alternate constantly like ebb and flow. Suddenly, it’s something I do or something I say, an item that I hold… memories of my dad keep coming back and sorrow and tears overcome me. Then it gets better, I get distracted, but not for long.

As if it weren’t enough, I have lots of financial issues as well in this truly post-traumatic life, as there is no longer any of the dad’s income. I do receive a very small amount of money for some occasional jobs I do from home, but that’s hardly enough to make things better. This month I worked a lot, as a matter of fact I worked for hours even on the day when I received anesthesia, in spite of the recommendations to relax for the rest of that day. Today I merely asked if there would be any payments in my favor because February came and almost completely went without any income for me at all.

I was just wondering you know, I have bills to pay, it’s quite hard, I said. The reply was – Well, if it’s hard, then go and politely ask the boss to find you some other PROPER (for this woman that means office, not home based) job, because you’re not doing much for the company, you know. No payments this month for you. That’s not fair, I said, I did work a lot this month in spite of having health issues. Health issues? Your health issues are nobody’s concern, we all have issues – so what?

WOW.

My thoughts wandered back to that bed in the GI department and to the moment when the anesthetic was injected. I could have died right there, many things could have gone wrong, I signed the consent. Yet I woke up seemingly undamaged and rushed home to do some important things that could have created serious problems in case I hadn’t waken up. Nobody else has the access to that information, nobody else knows the e-mails and passwords. Nobody there speaks English at this level, which is necessary for dealing with their important papers. Oh yes my dear, you would have had tons of serious concerns if I hadn’t waken up. On the other hand, thinking of how easily the movie of my life was interrupted by that anesthetic and how peaceful and calm that darkness I slipped into was, maybe it would have been much better if I hadn’t waken up at all. This way, I got right back to that same sea of fears, panic, uncertainties, sorrow, pain, not eating, not sleeping, not truly living, having no idea how I will go on from here.

PD is an expensive illness among other things, as I once said. That anesthesia cost what is for me lots of money, but without it I would have never completed the exam and the GI team would have had to deal with stopping a panic attack instead of inspecting my intestines. I worked precisely to earn so that I could prevent the attack, so that I could “bribe” my illness to spare me from its ugliest pits. How wrong I was.

I am used to people being rude and I do know there’s a harsh world out there, but in these circumstances I’m more vulnerable than usual. Also, these poisonous words came from a person who knows me for many years and knows all about my loss. I didn’t ask for pity, sympathy or empathy and I never would, I just wanted some retribution for my work that I duly deserved in my opinion.

It was also recommended to me by her to take some “calming” pills as it’s not normal to be sad that long (5 months is so abnormally long?), and she added that I SHOULD pull myself together and not go around visiting doctors whenever I feel an ache or two.

Calming pills for depression? She has obviously never hard that such medication depress your nervous system even more. Secondly, it’s a very bad choice of words to say to someone who has anxiety to pull oneself together – we so desperately want to, but how do you do that? Shake your head to left and right, button up your shirt and go out to the big bright world magically cured? What are those pieces of me that are scattered away and that have to be reassembled again, pulled together? Has anyone invented a glue for sealing back together the pieces of a “broken” mind? But people still love to pass on psychiatric advice, even without any firsthand or circumstantial knowledge about such issues.

What she doesn’t know is that those as she calls them calming pills have been my companions and life saviors for two long decades even at the best of times, let alone when I held with my both arms a person who was terribly choking and fainting and eventually dying right there in front of me in my arms, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. An ache or two? I hardly eat for more than three months, I lost even more weight, I live with constant arrhythmias because my swollen stomach irritates my heart, and I have 4 different gastric diagnoses after the endoscopy. It took me one hell of a courage to go back to the GI department, I postponed it as much as I could, because my dad was counting his last pre-palliative days surrounded precisely by such doctors. I went there 3 times, endoscopy included, so much for constant visits… who on Earth would want to go visit their worst nightmare every other day or so?

Conclusion: I shouldn’t have asked for the payment because it wasn’t coming anyway, the only thing I managed was to ruin my day and end up sadly pondering about the future.

I made one resolution – not to discuss ever again how I feel physically or emotionally with any person in my real life (apart from my mother). They will inevitably ask questions, but “fine, thanks” even in the worst of times will do just fine. I’m well aware that such a decision can isolate me even further from my immediate surroundings, but at least it will spare me from any newly inflicted pains or judgements.

What people in situations like mine dislike the most are surely statements beginning with YOU SHOULD…

You should overcome your loss.
You should get better, it’s high time.
You should take pills to calm yourself down and move on… i.e. pop up a benzo and chill out, somebody died, so what? (it’s important that they’re still alive and kicking, why should they care about others?)
You should do something about your life, you know. (Really? I’d never guess…)
You should earn more money immediately.
You should marry, a husband would take care of you.
You should take your father’s place in all the chores he was involved in… etc. etc.

i.e. :

Tanja, you should do something entirely different from what you’re doing right now. You’re wrong about everything you do. YOU SHOULD CHANGE. COMPLETELY.

My message to all of them – Guys, I “appreciate” your constant reminders of my “faults” and I know those shoulds very well myself – but I have my own pace at which I can or cannot do something. I should probably do many things, but sorry guys, I’m unable to at the moment. RESPECT IT. I can’t change to be someone else. I don’t want to be someone else. Maybe I don’t even want to change everything in my life. Maybe I’m just trying to survive and doing my best, that didn’t cross your minds?

If someone thinks that he or she can live my life better than I do, I’m very willing to exchange places. To put that someone temporarily in position to suffer from panic disorder the way I do (happens only to 2% of world population at most), lose one of two closest persons in life to cancer after taking full personal palliative care of that person at home with no real medical means at all, eat just a bite or two here and there, sleep just a couple of hours at night being constantly awaken by burping and arrhythmias, suffer from hypothyroidism with almost inevitable surgery of the thyroid, have very limited means for basic needs in life, work without sense and have no friends in real life, mainly due to PD.

If someone can live such life better than I do (and I think I fight very much every day), I’d truly congratulate them.

No problem anyhow, I’m very used to being alone in what I do and how I feel, it’s nothing new to an only child like me. If that’s a price to pay to be calm, to avoid being honest about what happens to me and how that feels, then for me in this case honesty is definitely not the best policy.

Childhood memories

As I was going to let the dogs out this evening, I discovered a little girl’s hair ornament imitating a string of multicolored pearls with Hello Kitty decoration lying in the corner of the corridor between our and the neighboring apartment. It must have been the neighbor’s little daughter who lost it, so I picked it up and secured it on the wall right in front of their door so that they could see it first thing tomorrow morning.

Maybe she has already forgotten about it, or maybe she was complaining all evening how she lost it and how much she missed it, children get attached to things which you would never believe they could care for that much. Then when they grow up and search for some favorite special memory from the old days, it often happens that if they find it they end up being disappointed with it, because they remembered it as something extra beautiful or very extra special and charming, only to discover that that long sought charm vanished for good.

This hair ornament triggered one similar memory from my childhood – it was a sunny day and I was playing with a tennis ball on our terrace while my dad and my grandmother took care of me. You surely know how nasty tennis balls are when they bounce really high and mine was no exception – it hit the terrace ceiling and jumped all the way down into the terrace of the neighbors living at the ground floor. I stared in disbelief and some strange misery possessed me as I saw the old lady come into her terrace, take the ball, say something bad about how my intention was to throw things at her head after which she came back inside, slamming the door and shouting that I wouldn’t see that ball ever again. Ok, one simple tennis ball, that should be something easily replaceable, right? That wasn’t the case back then in my country, tennis had been the sport of the noble and rich and it only started having its first appearances in front of the massive audience with the success of few older sportsmen, Monica Seles being the most famous among them in the times when I was growing up. We had only that one tennis ball in the house, and I received it as a present, along with one of those ancient wooden heavy racquets I literally adored. First my grandma and then my dad went down there to ask for the ball and to explain that I was just a little child who surely didn’t mean any harm to anybody, but she insisted that this small ball could have meant the end of her days. I sadly pondered over my little loss for several days and I was promised to receive another ball soon, when the old lady for some reason changed her mind. She sad she felt pity for me, but that she was still suspicious that the dad or granny could drop down something much heavier and more dangerous on purpose… 🙂 I could have never imagined the two of them being capable of anything similar, but the neighbor trusted no one.

I was out of my mind with happiness when the ball returned and I never used it on the terrace ever again, scared that she could definitely not return it any more. Later I got or bought those nice three ball packs of all sorts of famous brands, there was even one period in which I very happily tried to play tennis almost every day and it made me contented even though I never had any sort of true talent for it, but I always remember that one particular ball from my childhood. On one of those little “training” sessions I was hitting balls right next to the court where a tennis coach held a proper class for some young couple, and I noticed that she had dozens and dozens of balls that she intended to leave behind and dispose of. I approached her and saw that all the balls had the “US open” print on them, so I asked her about them. She said that she coached some juniors who participated even in Grand slams and that these balls were definitely from New York – balls get replaced quite often during matches, especially because they “break” or simply soften from hard hits, so when the event ends they should all end up in waste, but coaches often collect them for the first beginners’ practices. The softer the ball is, the easier it gets to make it bounce over the net – you surely can’t get the precision out of those shots, but you can practice the technique. What I saw in those balls was primarily US open souvenirs, so I asked her if I could have some, knowing that it was highly improbable that I’ll even attend any Grand slam tennis match. She packed an entire bag of balls and handed it over to me, telling me that she really liked my determination and love for the game.

That bag is still in one corner of the living room, behind the door. There is an open space there left after the big wall closet occupied the place intended for it, so what was left served us for many years to keep there bulky memories of various sorts. I don’t know what happened to that first, precious ball. It could be easily there in that bag of Grand slam memories, balls hit maybe even by some old important players as well. If I find it, no matter how long it remained there temporarily forgotten, it will still carry the weight of the past times and bring back the memories of that afternoon and voices of those three people who are no longer among us. The neighbor passed away several years ago, my granny and my dad are together now at that far away cemetery out of the town.

The old lady wanted to destroy that yellow-greenish object, failing to see anything good or important in it. Yes it was just a ball, but that ball makes her as well live even today in my thoughts and in these lines. It also reminds me how much my granny and my dad cared for me and tried to make me happy by helping out to restore happiness in my life in any possible way.

I wish I could talk to them both, even just only one more time. I miss you guys so very much.