Tag Archives: panic disorder

About American Express and “cross it out” demons

As November 15th was getting closer and closer, I had to get myself ready for paying the share of bills my dad used to cover. If I get the money for the job I occasionally do, this is my obligation. If not, then me and my mom have to come up with some incredible idea how to make the ends meet as her retirement money can’t cover all our bills and at the same time also sustain our food for 30 days. I got some money this month, but in addition to regular bills I also had to cover the last quarter of the annual tax for the apartment we live in, which is over the limit of the budget I receive. As I was making calculations and borrowing the additional necessary sum of money from the limit the bank allows on the only credit card I hold, I suddenly found myself in the middle of some kind of commercial for the American Express credit card the bank clerk was giving her best to make me take. As I was laughing out of misery over her shiny counter while trying to explain to that fancy woman that she was knocking too hard on the wrong door, she went on to elaborate on the wonders of what the travel health insurance that comes with the American Express can do. It virtually provides you with the health insurance that covers the trips all over the world, as opposed to MasterCard’s insurance which is valid for Europe and Turkey only. She continued with praises as to how this is wonderful if I travel a lot, especially if I have a family of my own. Another involuntary stab into my back from her part because obviously she thinks that if she works in a bank for a great salary, has good health and a husband and two kids, that everybody else is like her. Maybe “normal” people are, maybe that’s how things usually work or should work. And as they don’t work that way in my case, maybe that simply means that I’m not “normal”. Whatever.

When she asked if I travel, I replied – No, very rarely at the moment. What I should have said was – No, I don’t travel at all.
A) I have no money.
B) I’m an agoraphobic, I can barely stand an hour drive from home to the cottage house. You don’t need the American Express health insurance for the village at the outskirts of Belgrade.
C) I might as well die without bothering the health services – it’s just my mom who would notice the difference, the world couldn’t care less.

When she asked if I’m married, I said – no, I’m not. She replied – oh that’s not a problem, when you get married, all the members of your family will be insured as well. She said this as if getting married were some sort of undebatable truth, almost an axiom: you’ll get married, period.
What I should have said was – No, I’m not married and I’ll probably never marry.
A) I’m 39 and living in Serbia, people are already married at that age here if they marry at all.
B) I’m 39 and female, it’s getting highly unlikely that I’ll have kids if I ever marry. Serbian men usually run away from women like me.
C) I have panic disorder complicated with episodes of extremely severe agoraphobia. It’s not a flu and it won’t go away. Men in Serbia have many much younger women without mental health issues at their disposal.
D) My father died of cancer and I resemble him so drastically that I can almost bet that what I witnessed will be exactly how the end of my days will look like. Panic disorder runs in families and is inherited in 86% of cases. The type of cancer my dad had is also very often inherited, and I can’t go and have my pancreas and the rest of endocrine glands taken out as a preventive measure to secure myself a long and healthy life. I still need to somehow digest the food that I eat. The ethical question is whether or not should I create another human being and leave it on this planet with extremely high probability of being condemned to this terrible fate… life is hard even on its own.

So, where were we – basically yep, no thank you, I don’t need an American Express card. The commercial was great and the offer tempting, but you picked up a wrong target. Thank you again, but NO thank you. I think that the bank clerk would be amazed what kind of life baggage could be hidden under a credit card commercial carpet.

While I just wanted to get rid of my November bills, I actually managed to get my self-esteem deflated to zero and below by the time I was pushing that expensive double door to run away to the street and get some bank-free air. I left aside barely enough money to buy a dental floss. It’s my life savior, as without it my dental pockets would require the hideous emergency pocket cleaning and eventually degenerate into paradentosis. More money. More pain. I used to visit my dentist regularly, now I can’t any more. I entered a DM store, heaven for every Belgrade woman in love with makeup and style. High quality German brand in combination with every other world’s best cosmetic brand you can think of, and on the top of everything tasty organic products. Almost perfect, if it didn’t require a lot of money. I grabbed the floss and as I was walking towards the cashier, I spotted a winter scarf. Lovely colors, stripes in all shades of violet from the darkest to the lightest. That’s me, my color, the one I like the best. I didn’t like the price though. Seven dollars. In America, that can probably be defined as cheap by many people. In Africa, that’s a whole world for a poor person whose village is miles away from food and water. In Serbia, it’s somewhere in between if you belong to what used to be defined as middle class. I don’t any more. So I paid for my floss and went out making sure that I arrive home as soon as possible. Not so much because of agoraphobia, more because of the fact that from the terrace of my apartment you can’t see any banks or shiny department store windows. There are just trees, little wood that can never remind me so harshly that I am a failure. Nothing to buy, nothing to sell, no credit cards, insurances or scarves. Just nature. Thank God for that. I just need a constant reminder that I should stay here as much as possible because going out there among all that “normal” people strongly aggravates my depression. Also, I have to remember not to make shopping lists. Instead of writing things down I need some sort of mental pencil to cross out every single item that comes into my mind. I can do without things, as long as I’m not hungry and capable of covering the basic needs. That’s for now. What will happen tomorrow? I simply can’t think about it. I don’t make plans, I have no means for that. It has nothing to do with panic, laziness or depression, I sent out dozens of job applications willing to push over all my limits, but with no success. Qualifications are not a problem, but age is. 39 seems to be way too old for any Serbian employer, plus the country is in quite severe recession. Life in Serbia is very hard, even without my issues.

I’ll leave this post as a reminder that I absolutely must block all shopping desires that come into my head because it still won’t come naturally, I’m doing my best to adjust to this new life I have to live. It’s livable, it surely still is life. And all that stuff we tend to consider important or even essential at any given point of time can be done without. People matter, not things.

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Bad vs. good news

I was always inclined to first perceive the bad picture when I summarized the event of the day, month or year. Quite sadly for a long time that was actually the only picture I perceived, unable to confront it with its opposite counterpart which always exists, no matter how dark is the darkness we sometimes found ourselves in. Flaw of the character or simply the consequence of my mental health issues which colored my days with the gray filter of depression even long before the tragic loss of my father, that was who I was and still am to a certain point. It just took a completely new shape in this last year or so because even when things are funny or I begin to smile, it is never again that relaxed bubbly laughter I used to enjoy in the past. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how independent you are at the time when you lose your parents, it’s only then that you truly become that mature grown up adult, one of all those other adults at that given moment world has now to rely on. Those who shaped that world before slowly leave the scene and you find yourself more and more alone in front of the big audience to show all you can and cannot do. Till then you always had somebody who could in case of necessity watch your back, give you advice, replace you for a moment or two. Perhaps you didn’t use that backup option at all, but still you knew it was there, like a comforting emergency button you could push at any given instant, a person or persons who would never betray you and always be there at least to give you warm two cents of their own. When you lose that, again no matter at what age, you lose the unconditional ground under your feet and your time comes to shape some tiny piece of this planet in your own way. It was easy to criticize or watch from a safe distance the previous generation at every possible work you could imagine and say that you would do it better if only they let you – when your time comes you see how hard that task is. How easy it is to make mistakes. How many insecurities and unknown things lie even in some seemingly simple everyday tasks you weren’t involved in. You realize that it’s not easy at all to shape the world. That this is new time frame but that people are still people, that your generation isn’t much better or worse than all the previous generations. That you missed so many important lessons, but that you have to do something, without creative and not so creative blocks inside that just serve as an excuse for – oh that’s too difficult, strenuous or tiresome, I’ll leave it for tomorrow. You can’t leave it, because there are not so many tomorrows out there any more. It’s scary and requires responsibility. But that’s how it is. This realization leaves you with some sort of mature scar on your soul, a scar that makes adults adults and alienates them from the carefree strength of a happy childhood.

I used to be extremely sad in this past year, now life is somewhat more frozen in several shades of gray the mature realization that I’m alone to fight now consists of. Life is hard. Literally. Things around you weigh a whole ton when you try to lift them and there is nobody else to do it for you any more. I have 57-58 kilos now and I probably shouldn’t lift anything heavier that 10-15 kilos but I have to. Nobody asks if I can. And anyhow I was never used to transferring the weight from my shoulders to other people’s backs. This heaviness of life serves as a burning fuel for depression which in turn continues to force me to see mainly just the negativity in the world around me. I’m aware of that. I see that others are aware of that too – people don’t like simple reality, they strive for inspirational heroes even if they are just a myth because people in general are much less brave than they pretend to be in front of others. What counts is what you think and how you feel when you stay alone with yourself in front of your bathroom mirror and honestly face your true reality, and there are not many of those who would sincerely share such moments with others. Nevertheless, if you’re honest, people flee. They run away from you, they don’t call you, they leave you on your own to “pull yourself together”. They can’t listen to negativism, they search for inspiration. People are just – people.

When I used to actively fight against panic disorder I read all sorts of psychological texts from the field of self-help and I tried out all sorts of techniques to simply survive a day. One of them which was dedicated more to the fight against depression than with panic was to write down your negative thoughts, at least several a day and then find as many good things in that day to confront the negativism with. At first that is extremely challenging because you simply can’t see anything good in horrible days. They you do somehow squeeze out good moments onto that paper, but they seem totally insignificant. With time and practice it gets easier, actually they say that if you practice this long enough it can become your second nature to first see the good and only later the bad in your days. I was never patient enough to give it a decent try so I don’t know if it works on the long run to improve the thinking patterns, but I know that it was a helpful tool on some pretty rainy days.

Today my soul is pretty heavy, as if somebody were sitting on my chest. Let’s try to chase some fog away by a short bad vs. good list:

1. Remember kitten Maconi from the photo post? Well, it’s not at the cottage house any more nor it will ever be. There are two people who live there in the immediate surroundings all the time, but they both refused to take care of it during the winter by saying that they don’t have the food for a cat??! My uncle wants to spend a carefree wonderful winter abroad so he won’t be here for at least 3 months. For that reason the kitten was sent away to some distant yard, it’s quite unclear if it will be taken care of or abandoned to search for food by itself during winter.

2. The first neighbor at the cottage house who was ill this last year and a half died today. My father would be very sad if he were here to hear the news, I remember their adventures when they walked for miles in good and bad weather when the buses would break down and there was no other means for them to reach their cottage houses in the past when the village wasn’t well connected with the town.

3. I have strong back and muscle pains due to heavy duty work at the cottage house yesterday – the place doesn’t look small at all when you have to collect leaves and heavy rotten apples to carry them away, there were 100 kilos of rotten apples to be collected in order to prevent trees to catch illnesses. Then I went up and down the ladder for like 50 times, quinces are finally ripe – the wind was blowing like crazy, branches were hitting me in the face and I was losing balance and almost falling down from some crazy heights.

4. I was following this year the life of one very special Serbian female writer, Isidora Bjelica. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 3 years ago and went into two remissions, but the disease stroke back again in April-May this year for the third time. She tried vast number of expensive therapies, there were big humanitarian concerts as people gathered to collect money so that she could be treated in Switzerland, she promised to fight the best she could with lots of love for her fans and every single person who gave her a friendly word of support on her Facebook page. She posted that the imaging tests done today showed that her cancer spread very much and very aggressively. I felt the blow of heavy sorrow and those same mixed emotions I wrote about that haunt me for a very long time now.

The list could go on for quite a while, but I want to stop here with the negativism. Let’s search for the positive face of things:

1.In spite of pains I managed to bake a bread. And it turned out really excellent and tasty, I hope that I finally nailed the recipe that I should stick to.

2. Quinces are hard to collect and they have very unique taste, but they are also such a pretty site to look at, plus their smell is amazing. There are beautiful songs about quinces on cupboards during winter in our tradition.

3. It is hard for me to go to the cottage house, but I’m giving my best to convince myself that it is nothing and that I can do that. I’m fighting agoraphobia the best I can.

4. It is hard, but I’m somehow managing to post 2-3 times a week. I always say to myself – it won’t take long, I’ll write a shorter post this time… then I end up writing a “novel” as always. Maybe I should put a word limit and see what I manage to come up with that way. 🙂

Have a nice weekend!

Daddy, your peaches blossomed again

peach tree blossoms
peach tree blossoms

Many things happened since I could last come actively here. I did try to blog from the phone, but that proved very challenging due to troubles with touch screen displacing and erasing things I wrote. It somehow didn’t seem meant to be, me and the WordPress. My mom was severely bitten by probably some spiders and developed a horrific reaction, we had a totally crazy tour of the clinics which would make a great story by itself. Now, almost 4 weeks later her leg seems a bit better, but it will obviously take a very long time to heal completely. My dog got bitten by two very mean dogs, the second time this year. My mom overdid with Easter preparations, but she wanted to do it as if dad were still here. It was somehow solemnly good, yummy and special, yet extremely sad. And on the top of it, tired like hell, I managed to cover half of the road to my dad’s garden by bus. Yep, I actually ENTERED the out of the city bus somehow. I don’t think I would have dared if my uncle who was spending Easter in the area didn’t mention that he would go half the way towards the city to by some fertilizers and that we could get of the bus and cut the road much shorter by his car. Having that as a chance to “escape” in case I panicked, I agreed – under sedation, there is no question about it. Every time I get there, my mind badly needs to pull my dad out of somewhere – out of his little wooden house, garden, from behind the trees… I watch and watch, but he’s nowhere to be found. Getting on the bus was hard also because my heart sinks when I see those little half broken buses, because in the last years my dad gave his best to use exclusively them to get to the garden and not the car in order to save. It was hard and strenuous, it is even for a much younger person, and I was nowhere to be found to help. And he had cancer, who knows for how long in these last years previous to the diagnose. Now I’m punished, he’s nowhere to be found. I constantly live in pain and have nightmares. I wouldn’t ask for any sort of help from him, just for his mere presence, to see him glad that I’m in the garden. That won’t happen, ever again, I’m punished for life. It’s been 7 months, and now I know – it will never stop hurting, as long as I live. It will just take many faces, that bundle of grief, some days will be a bit better, some much worse, but I will never be the person I was even just last July. We all change I know, even when nothing so extremely bad happens and we can never be who we used to be before, but my change is drastic. It affected so many areas of my life that I feel that I literally became somebody else, that I don’t belong to any of the places or among the people I once knew. I keep going in circles in the dark, searching for an answer who I am today and where and how to go from here. I so desperately want to understand, as if I could do something nobody alive ever managed to do – understand death.

There are many hurdles along this road and one of them is that nobody in my immediate surroundings want to talk about the dad or even just mention him. They feel that it is a wrong thing to do and that “distracting” me and my mom completely will help. Well, it doesn’t. It takes just one look in the mirror to remember, I am the infallible living proof that he existed. I want to talk, talking about him helps, it is all the part of the grieving process. Maybe some people feel better if they pretend nothing happened, keep it all inside and just go on minding their business when someone dies, but that’s not me. I need to verbalize emotions, to bring back old times, to remember things he said and did. People resist, I still say what is on my mind. Maybe they mean well after all, but they just don’t know how to talk about this kind of things. I know that they want an affirmative answer when they ask how I’m doing, but I’m not ok. Not even close. It’s all problems and pain. Saying that I’m ok won’t change that, but that’s all people accept to hear.

My aunt and uncle preferred to focus on the digital disaster part of the disastrous story, and as I explained that everything failed on me – computer, printer, scanner, phone charger etc. they remembered that they have an old laptop nobody uses which should still be in working state.

So we got this old, long asleep device going again, which caused many mixed emotions. I got used to not having a computer any more, so it both made me happy and sad somehow. It’s very old and half broken, but still it’s one of the nicest gestures towards me in months. I should have been happy when I got it going because that meant that I could blog again among other things and I accumulated ideas to talk about over time, but I was just blocked. Almost didn’t feel like coming back. Didn’t know what to say. If anybody would be interested. Also so much happens that I never have time for myself to properly concentrate on verbalizing thoughts. Then I came here and let the words flow, that was the best I could do. Also, I’m still getting used to this laptop, I can’t explain it, but things don’t seem the same from here, everything feels awkward, typing included. It has quite a bad screen, colors are very unreal which is not photo-friendly thing at all, but I still hung up a picture. Feels like having some form of color and contrast blindness, but who knows, maybe somebody out there will like it. It’s one of my dad’s peaches, I cried when I saw the bloom. He would love it. I wish I could know if he can see it.

Dad, they blossomed again, see how beautiful they are. It’s spring again, nature goes on as usual. Everything’s as it used to be, everything’s there where you left it, we just can’t find you… and we miss you so much, we would have so much to tell you. I hope you’re well, I wish I could just know you are. Love, Tanja

There is time

I wish somebody told me long ago that there wasn’t and isn’t time to waste in this life. I know that all the people I was surrounded by meant the best for me and wanted to protect me, creating the illusion that I have “whole life” in front of me, that if I fail or miss an opportunity I’ll make up for it tomorrow, or next week, month or even a year. I believed in that illusion and “took it easy”, procrastinated, searched and researched mainly the things I liked and that appealed to me, without considering if they had any true practical application in this world. When panic disorder did its best to halt me in every possible way, so many times I retreated in order to suffer less, exchanging freedom for tiny insignificant moments of instant relief. I thought that I was still young and had time to recover to a certain extent and do something more in life.

There is time, I repeated over and over again, till my world tumbled down full force onto my obviously pretty immature head last September when my dad died. I started realizing how many life trains I missed and how many important skills I didn’t learn, foolishly assuming that “dad would do that” or that some things would somehow resolve on their own with time. I subconsciously trusted that opportunities would find me when I need them, and that I wouldn’t have to go searching for them instead. I stopped counting mistakes as their astonishing number fills my soul with tremendous pain.

There wasn’t time, I just didn’t realize it. Now that I do realize it, it completely elapsed. It’s too late. I should have chosen a completely different profession and focused on making some living and something of my life. I should have searched better for a soulmate and created some sort of home of my own on my own or with somebody else. I should have led a better fight against my demons and at least accomplished last spring what I can do today. I should have continued driving after I got the licence almost 15 years ago. What did I do instead? I closed myself in my room, waiting most of the time for panic disorder to pass. Unfortunately, it’s not a virus and it doesn’t last 7 days. My dad passed away sad and disappointed with me. I’m not very sure that he loved me much towards the end the way he used to years ago, and if I’m right I can’t blame him. I’m supposed to know myself best, and even I can’t define myself well any more. I mean well, I would like to help and do some good, but nobody is willing to hire me at 38 for some extra work, I’m “too old”. I can’t help mom much with the bills or drive her somewhere. Procrastion led me to the point at which I don’t only mourn my dad’s death, but also question the sense of my existence. The more time passes, the more I am convinced that it would have been much more fair and just if I died and my dad stayed to live. I feel completely useless, I’m just a burden with all my incompetence and health issues. I can’t even afford to fix the computer that broke down again, so I can’t be consistent even with just blogging. Everything seems to be against me, yet I still defy it – I’m blogging from the phone. Hopefully it won’t break down as well.

So to whomever reads this – don’t procrastinate. Whatever needs to be done, do it now. It’s ok to be sorry when you lose someone, but you don’t need to be sorry for all the wrong choices and missed opportunities as well at those sad moments. No matter what fairytales or other say, don’t believe them – there is no time. No time to lose.

The importance of books

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photo source: Ljiljana Habjanovic Djurovic by Hello! magazine

“It’s important to read also because you see you’re not the one who is worst off in the world and also because you can become a better person.”
– Ljiljana Habjanovic Djurovic, famous Serbian novelist – Official website – English version

I read this a couple of days ago and couldn’t help but ponder over the multitude of thoughts these words stirred in my mind. I don’t think I ever really thought that I’m the one worst off in this whole great world either in my current or in certain past situations, nor do I think that something like that could be true, but in spite of all realistic realizations I feel pretty desperate most of the time. Sentences like these do come as a helpful reminder to put things back into perspective. This extraordinary and very special woman who sold and sells thousands of copies of her best selling titles used to have very limited means to purchase what she has always loved the most – books. When her maid of honor asked her what she wanted as a gift for her wedding, she didn’t ask for any home or kitchen appliances or other valuable items – her request was to get the novel “A Time of Death” by Dobrica Cosic, a novelist whose fame she managed to reach in the years that were to come. Quite a strange choice of title for the occasion, maybe quite a strange choice of a wedding gift for many people out there, but that’s Ljiljana, spiritual woman, devoted to her beloved literary world.

Back to that quote from the beginning of this post – her words reminded me as well of the importance of reading and took me back to my childhood – at the age of 3 I could already read and write, both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet (Serbian is written in both ways). There are still precious little papers from that distant 1979 with my a bit unsteady all capital letters handwriting, but that was handwriting all right. I have some flashback memories of how I used to amuse and even scare our guests when I would approach them with newspapers in my tiny hands and start reading something out loud. At first they would stare in disbelief and then they would decide that I must have learned the text by heart in some way, yet even such an achievment was considered challenging for a child of my age. Then I would go around and just plainly read whatever was written everywhere around me, up until the bewildered guest would usually advise my dad that he as a doctor should do something about it, because it couldn’t be normal. He would laugh and reply – What do you want me to do, erase her memory?” 🙂 After that, when my granny took care of me in preschool years, we would always go for a walk and enter a store where I was allowed to pick out one little book for children – she was worried that I would grow out of the quantity of material fast and she needed to make sure that I really made some good use of what was purchased, so she allowed one book at a time. The strategy failed very soon because she couldn’t believe that I would finish such a book in less than half an hour and then ask for more, perfectly capable of retelling what I read in details. When I was 6, almost 7, I was already reading novels, 500-600 pages in two days and I utterly enjoyed it. I remember going places to visit relatives and family friends and a distinct feeling of delusion and boredom if I found no books in their houses. On the contrary, if houses had any sort of small personal library “the strange kid” would pick out a book and amuse herself leaving the adults speak undisturbed. 🙂 I always loved libraries, bookstores, book fairs… my mom says that if anything is true about me, then it’s true that I was always bringing books home from all the places I visited. Other people brought souvenirs from their travels abroad, I always brought at least a couple of books and all sorts of printed materials in different languages.

I’ll never forget the “incident” when I went to Italy to spend a summer in Rome prior to my last exam in Italian literature – that exam was so difficult because teachers could literally ask you anything from the beginning of the literature in Italian language to the works of present days, it takes many months to get ready for such an interrogation. I packed all the books I needed in a bag that weighed exactly 20 kilos 😀 I had to study a lot and I was to spend more than two months away from home. My other piece of luggage weighed 20 kilos as well, and in economy class you’re not allowed to embark more than at most 25 kilos of weight without paying quite dearly for every kilo of excess weight. The book bag wasn’t that big, so I embarked only my suitcase and dragged with my both hands the book bag into the cabin. I got the place near the emergency exit so the flight attendant warned me that the bag had to go up into the luggage compartment. Okkk… now it’s one thing to drag 20 kilos over the flat ground, something entirely different to lift that same weight way above your head and place it safely into any of those plastic compartments. Another female attendant approached me and said she would help. I gave her a look, she was so thin, practically skinny, on high heels and with no muscles, but she didn’t want to leave me alone. 🙂 She made a couple of tries to just barely lift the bag and said – “God in heavens, what the hell is inside this bag???” :)) Books, I said. Yeah right, sure. Now tell me the truth. Books, I repeated, look inside if you think I’m not telling the truth. She looked and said – “Jesus, who would carry so many books around?? One can’t read that many books in one’s lifetime.” Oh yes, one can do that and much more, no worries. 🙂 Three attendants took care of the bag together and managed to place it in one of the compartments. Some 45 minutes later we entered some heavy turbulence and sometimes in such conditions it can happen that those plastic lids flip open no matter how well they’re closed. Mine flipped open all right. At that moment I thought – what if (we panic disorder people LOVE what if statements) the bag slips out and falls down… on somebody? That would be – horrific. 😀 Nothing happened, thanks God, and as soon as I could unbuckle myself and get on my feet again I closed the compartment. On the way out of the plane, there was no other way, when people weren’t around any more I just pulled the bag with my both arms and it tumbled down full force on the floor of the plain. That was one of the loudest goodbyes in the history of flying I’m sure.

I passed my exam some 3-4 months later with flying colors and got my diploma. Needless to say, I continued hanging out with books, especially because I was now teaching others from the books similar to those I studied from.

Have we lived happily ever after, me and the books? Well, no – this is unfortunately real world. Ljiljana never betrayed her potentials and she fulfilled all her childhood dreams, while unfortunately I never did. Panic disorder ruined even what used to be one my main interests and passions. When anxious and that is pretty much all the time, I can’t have that calm focus any more I used to boast of. “Fight or flight” instinct accelerated everything in my life, as my body desperately tries to save itself from the indefinite disasters. I spot things in a split second, my reflexes are very accelerated, I jump even at not so very loud noises, and I constantly think of bad outcomes and how to evade them. My attention is very scattered all over the place, I can focus on 10 pages at most, my eyes just keep running over texts unable to settle down on what’s important. My world has become a series of flash images, rather than a steady flow of verbalized thoughts. I take up books and put them down again. I don’t read anymore. It’s as if I spent all my quality life so early on and that now I’m just running on quite senseless extra time. As if I were 150 years old, waiting to pass away, because all good has already happened and none is left for me.

That’s where Ljiljana helped reminding me that there are stories out there much worse than mine. I believe her when she says that books make us better in many different ways. Maybe I should just pick one and persevere, no matter how much attention deficit disorder limits me. Her last book which is now in stores is called “Our father”. Just a coincidence or symbolism, I don’t know, but I’m sure that my dad would be happy if I could mend at least some of the broken ties of my mind. If only he were still alive, to see me try and maybe, just maybe succeed one day.

Thank you for reading. And pick out a book. Read. There is a very special world out there waiting for you, something that can’t be replaced by internet texts, newspapers, magazines, television. If nothing else, vocabulary, expressions and descriptions differ significantly.

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.

Upper GI endoscopy

Coming back here wasn’t an easy thing to do. It’s been 3 months since my last post, which is not such a long time from the usual perspective, although it may seem like ages in certain life situations. It wasn’t grief that kept me away, grief was and is still here like some dark shadow hanging over me, and you know what – it’s not improving with time. It’s quite a sad and tough job to be still here living this post traumatic life and trying to make all those loose ends meet in any meaningful way, it’s very hard even without all the complications I had to face lately. My mom hurt her hand very badly and wore a plaster for the first time in her life. Brother of my dad’s best friend was diagnosed with cancer and endured two operations so far. My uncle and my aunt’s best friend both suffered strokes. Two good people I’ve known for quite a long time passed away. And on the top of all that, I started having some very weird upper GI problems myself. Pains in the middle of the chest stabbing backwards through the spine, heart skipping beats, tons of air in the stomach and burping. The only moments of peace were when I avoided food completely, but I still burped, even in the bed. Things got from bad to worse, I had some constant feeling of “there is something stuck in the middle of my esophagus…”, so it began to seem pretty plausible to prepare myself for joining dad some time soon.

Everybody was prone to say that it was “stress related” (stress is pretty much overrated if you ask me, perfect excuse for “I don’t have a clue what is going on with you” situation), even though I have very rich 20 years long “dealing with stress” experience, and even in my worst panic periods I never burped like hell with heart skipping beats, but it just HAD to be stress. So I went to the lab and ordered a Helicobacter pylori blood test – Serbia is a fascinating country, any ordinary citizen can enter a private lab and ask for any analysis in the world as long as you can pay it, it functions like a supermarket. It came back positive. Ok, next logical step, I found a good GI doctor who put me on that horrible Helicobacter pylori eradication treatment, plus I had to eradicate Candida albicans as well. It worked like magic, I was totally exhausted but completely symptom free. Happiness lasted for about three weeks, and then it all tumbled down on my stomach even worse than before. I was at the end of my nerves with “now what”, staring at my gastroenterologist in bewilderment in his office. Well, it could be stress in the end you know… Not again, not with the stress story, please. Potent stomach acid inhibitors and some drugs to calm me down at dosages so mild that I knew couldn’t make any difference in my case. Try this for two months, he said. Two months?? No way. I was already only sitting or lying down and barely eating, so you wanted me to go on like that for two more months? I would die or turn into skeleton for sure. Well, either that or upper GI endoscopy in two weeks. Even the name of that procedure makes my nerves dance in a very hellish way.

GASTROESOPHAGODUODENOSCOPY.

No wonder they prefer to call it Upper GI endoscopy.

Firstly, I have panic disorder. Panic disorder is all about feelings of imminent dread, choking, heart beating like crazy, feeling that you’ll either go mad or die for sure… and now you want to stick something very similar to a garden hose all the way down my esophagus, stomach and duodenum and make me endure that and pretend as if nothing is happening? In Serbia it is pretty much a custom to do this to say the least pretty uncomfortable invasive procedure without sedation. So I am supposed to choke and gag (I could hear the sounds and didn’t like them at all) while you wander up and down inside me for several minutes, and you also want me to keep calm at the same time, without moving, jumping of the table, hurting myself etc… VERY BAD JOKE. I run out of buses after two stops without hoses inserted into my intestines, you know.

Secondly, my dad died of gastrointestinal cancer. One of the last procedures he endured was precisely upper GI endoscopy, without sedation. I still remember his red face and eyes that were almost popping out of the face distorted in some horror like grimace.

Ok, in that case we can do it with sedation… that’s not free. That sounded better, minus the cost. But I was never given an anesthetic before. What’s the feeling? Will I wake up? Will he damage my stomach with his “hose”? And the most important thing, will he find something… something bad…? I couldn’t decide. On one hand, living in ignorance with these cancer like symptoms is pure hell. Enduring the procedure is pure hell as well. As the days went on, the ignorance hell grew worse and worse, I had to do something to end it. Whatever. Eradicate fear with more fear. There was no other way.

I thought I was the craziest person on planet up until I met different people in the endoscopy department. That place is all about fear, uncertainty and hope. But mostly fear. Some of them were more scared than I was. When you go for an endoscopy, you have to fast. Hunger makes things worse, because your ability to tolerate anxiety grows significantly lower. There was one guy with a women there who didn’t utter a word. Judging by the looks on their faces, I was convinced that she had to do the procedure. I did my paranoid google self-training very well beforehand, so I tried to calm everybody down… but deep down there, I knew – up until I lie on that table and have my own experience, nothing that another person says can explain how that feels. Those are feelings, not words.

I walked in very hesitantly, I gave all my data, I was warned about the procedure… and I signed that I accept. That is stressful, signing that you’re completely aware of possible complications and that you still accept the procedure. I climbed onto the bed and the guy who was about to place the IV line started the small talk. I knew what that was, merely a way to engage my mind in a conversation and keep it away from the procedure, I used the distraction technique so many times to get myself out of PD pits. It was helpful, yet not really necessary, because once I lay on that bed some strange peace came over me. I knew that nothing any more depended on me. I gave up on the control, just like you do it when you jump into the water for the first time. When you’re in the middle of the jump, there is no turning back. And it’s your own jump, nobody can truly help you or do it for you. You can have a whole crowd out there cheering for you, but you’re alone in your own battle. Now what exactly happened that turned a control freak like me into a pretty calm person I still don’t know, as the guy was still only applying the IV line, nothing was yet injected. Then the “medicine man” came in. I just asked if I would be totally knocked out. Yes, he said, is that a problem? No, no problem at all, that is precisely what I want, to be miles away from all the fears, hells, problems, procedures, uncertainties. I was so so tired. They turned the main lights off, and I remember closing my eyes on purpose. I so badly wanted to sleep. Several more instants with closed eyes and my own thoughts, and that’s where the movie stopped. The next thing was the anesthesiologist asking me why I was sleeping. 🙂 Well you injected something, and you’re asking me why I was sleeping…crazy. I saw the nurse and she was smiling. I asked her when we would start. Start what, she asked. Well, the damn thing, the endoscopy. Endoscopy? We finished it, darling. I automatically did my best to check if I could feel something in my mouth, on my lips, in my throat. Zero. Nothing. Nada. This woman is joking, I thought. We took some biopsies, too, you know, she added. I was like… aaaaa? and said “Seriously???” She started giggling and everything became funny. The anesthesiologist wanted me to try to get up and then all the stuff started moving around in little flashes, in some strange funny vertigo. No way, man, I’ll fall, I said. He told me to look at the nurse and asked if I see her. Yep, but she is SOOOOOO strange, I said and laughed. The nurse laughed back, but he froze completely. What do you mean strange? How strange? AAA, I thought, this one here is checking for a possible brain damage. Well, if I look right at her, she’s fine. But if I move my eyes to the left or right, she spins and dilutes :)) She laughed like crazy at that point. He said, oh good, that’s ok :))They moved me to a bed for recovery and told me not to rise my head. No nausea, no pain, no acid, no saliva, no nothing. These people kid me for sure, I can swear and sign that they didn’t do anything. Within 2 more minutes, I sat and nothing was spinning any more. I was totally fine, not feeling crazy, not feeling tired, not feeling drunk. I felt myself, just a bit happier – weird. And very relieved that I did the wretched procedure and endured it so well. They told me to continue lying there, but I wanted to go to the waiting room and sit there. I wanted to tell all that people that there was nothing to fear. Nothing at all. I wanted to help – them. So I went out and they were amazed how ok and normal I looked. The couple was still pretty quiet, I said it was great and that I didn’t feel or remember a thing. Going to the dentist’s is FAR FAR worse, yet I like going to my dentist’s office. I sat there and talked with an old guy who unfortunately had gastric cancer, then he recovered, but things didn’t seem so well again. I cheered him up a bit and that was really good. Then an older woman came out and her daughter told me – you’re great in comparison to my mom… why, I asked? Then I saw the women, she seemed pretty drunk and cranky. 😀 It seemed that she was always cranky when drunk, so that’s how her system reacts. She was angry with the technician because they had to keep her there some more time, she wanted to go lie on her couch and have a beer or two :))

Then the couple went in. I continued chatting with the man next to me and after some time something totally weird happened. The couple came back and the IV line was – in his hand. With the other hand he grabbed my free hand and held it in such a strong and emotional way. Thank you SO MUCH, he said. It resulted that he wanted to run away and that he decided to give up. But when I said what I said about my procedure, he changed his mind. And did it. He said, I managed, but only because of you. That felt so good. He thanked and thanked me up until I was allowed to go, and that wonderful feeling will be always there in my heart. The feeling that I helped somebody, that I dissipated his fear, that I helped him “jump”.

But I’m still wondering about my own feeling when I could sit without vertigo. Something was pushing me out into the waiting room to tell the people that it was nothing. It wasn’t about me any more. I just had to do it, as if I knew it would help somebody. 🙂 I’m still waiting for the biopsy results, till Monday. There are some inflammation points, hiatal hernia, swelling… so yes, it’s not really stress. And it wasn’t just in my head. I’m pretty happy and calm now knowing that I did what I should, yet I still have indigestion and burping.

So if I can help anybody else out there, if you need an upper GI endoscopy, opt for sedation. Find a good – that means experienced doctor with a good team who did the same procedure many times and have no fears. Literally, leave your fear in his / her hands. You won’t remember the procedure at all and it may save your health or even your life, don’t postpone it if it is necessary because there is truly no reason for that.

Just to add one more thing, I read about an initiative to post blogs about compassion on February 20th using the hashtag #1000Speak spreading the kindness towards others in the blogosphere. May this be my little contribution to make this world at least somewhat kinder and friendlier place.

If you’re interested, check out this link:
1000 speak for compassion

Lonely, yet not alone

There are always people around me. This is a pretty big town, it’s been that way for as long as I remember it – busy traffic, busy streets, everybody running somewhere and pushing you aside if you fail to keep up their pace. I was part of that pace once, running every day to fulfill that self-destructive personal mission of overachieving in every possible way. I surely pushed aside somebody myself being completely oblivious of that, with my mind obscured by the image of goals I was constantly setting up in front of me. Then I stopped running and started hiding, taken by that false primordial belief that my home is my shelter and that as long as I don’t leave it, nothing bad can happen. Conscious realization is one thing, instincts are something completely different. Unfortunately enough in my case, instincts always won because that’s how nature works. Fighting those instincts is one of the toughest tasks life can impose on you, but it’s not something you can give up on, because giving up on it would mean giving up on yourself. If you choose to live in these conditions, you have to be ready for a rough fight. So I started running once again, this time from all those anxiety provoking situations which is just about everything real life out there away from home consists of. I probably pushed some more people aside in those mad rushes to save myself from the invisible enemy, but those are moments that I surely don’t remember. Runs turned into fast walking and that’s pretty much where the progress stopped, until I had to live the tragic loss of my father. Maybe you thought that all that happened with him made me run again, but that’s not the case. Grief, just like any somewhat more serious body illness slows you down, tames you pace, makes you drag yourself, stop or even sit down and ponder, watching powerlessly the world around you. I guess it’s body’s way of protecting you from losing even those last tiny resources of energy left in your stores. Tears wash out tons of anger and anxiety related chemicals and give you that much needed natural sedation for a moment or two. When you walk slowly like that in the middle of the previously mentioned mad crowd, it’s only then that you really see how much those around don’t even notice your presence, let alone your problems. They push you, hurry you, walk past you, sometimes even address you a couple of bad words if you’re standing in their important way. They are around you, you’re not alone, but somehow you feel lonelier than ever.

It’s not much more different with acquaintances or those considered real life friends. I remember reading somewhere some time ago that the more time passes from the loss you experienced, the less and less frequently people will contact you. At first, your phone usually rings all the time, this person wants to know how it happened, than that person calls who heard from this person, then you inform somebody who cries and informs dozens of others and so on. You repeat the story over and over again, slowly ending up totally exhausted. In the coming days phone still rings, people check up on you. They usually offer help in general, but you usually never ask for anything. By the time you reach approximately two months from the tragic event, you realize that something is not right, that life is dominated by even more silence than usual. You look at the phone and that’s when you get it, it has virtually stopped ringing. Other people had just about enough of all that already old story and turned to other different life battles. They don’t call you, but you end up finding out about what’s going on in their lives – standing on a no man’s land of your own life, you observe other people’s weddings, birthdays, promotions, smiles, gestures of love, expressions of happiness. You can’t participate in all this, nor they need you around if you’re numbed by grief. Sometimes it seems to me that grief is considered a dangerous contagious disease, the further you go away from it or the less you talk about it, the stronger is the illusion that you’ll never catch it. I was walking the other day down the street and the woman who knows me was approaching me, holding her little son by the hand. The moment our eyes met, she gave me some strange look which was a mixture of pity and dislike and moved to the other side of the street, pushing her son to her right, away from me. I overheard her mother asking her why she did it, and she replied that it was because she didn’t know what to say to me. Hello would be just fine, there is no need for anything extra special. A bit more than a week ago there was a wedding we all should have attended as a family. When the word about my dad’s passing away was spread, we didn’t even receive the invitation any more, attending weddings is improper in my circumstances. My mom and me still mustered the strength to prepare and deliver the present all the same because we consider that person important, only to discover today that the present is still lying where we placed it, untouched and unopened. There were around 400 shiny happy people on that wedding, so indeed why should a present from two grief stricken women be taken into consideration on such a crowded event. The same happened with a birthday present I traditionally give every year to a friend – this person didn’t have time even for a small talk with me and didn’t even look at what I brought. I waited all evening with my cell phone in my hand for at least a short text message to know if the gift was liked, but there was none. I’ve always loved giving out presents to people especially when I nail what they truly like, but I guess that right now it’s all about my inability to spread happiness around me. There is this one line from our quite good TV show where a woman begs for love and the man replies: “How can you Sophia make me or anybody else happy, when you are so unhappy yourself?” Whatever the case is, the fact is that I feel lonelier and lonelier every day, sitting alone in my black clothes and with that black sorrow in my heart. Maybe it’s still too soon, the day after tomorrow it will be two months without dad. Or maybe I’ll never truly get used to it. Just like when Dr. Brennan talks with agent Booth at the end of one episode of Bones and asks him – How do you overcome a loss? He replies – You never really overcome it, you just survive.

Technically speaking, I survived. For now. But it feels like standing in the middle of the field, after the war ended. You’re free to do whatever you want, but you have no idea how to live that new life. And you’re very much alone in all that, no matter how many people move around you in that reality.

Battles are inside

It’s not the first time that I feel this strange distinction between the storm going on in my inner world and the serenity of the reality that surrounds me. Things in life are very plain if you manage to see them for what they really are, objectively, detaching yourself from the emotions you attribute to them. No matter how hard we try to run, fight, push, pull, squeeze, beg, drive ourselves crazy in some desperate attempt to change the course of imminent things,life blankly follows its own rules. And life’s rules are much bigger and stronger than that small dose of electrical energy that’s pulsating in our bodies while we’re still technically alive. Substantially speaking, life is simple. Life doesn’t divide things in good and bad, it doesn’t judge or analyze, it never gets happy or sad over its own actions. There are processes that have to be carried out from the beginning to the end, and life infallibly fulfills that mission. It does the work, but it doesn’t care about it. It’s us people who care, not life. This realization is one of crucial moments in dealing with panic disorder, that split second when you realize that you’re having all sorts of scary thoughts, panicking, drowning in a glass of water… over actually nothing. Nothing is going on that makes you feel that way, it’s just how you feel about something you want to do or situations ahead of you. Plainly put, it’s not life, it’s you. Understanding this can make the difference between suffering a full blown panic attack and halting it when it made only half of the damage. After some hard practice, it can truly work.

When it comes to real life events, it’s a lot harder, even though the principles are almost exactly the same. My dad got sick at some point in time. When exactly and how, we’ll never know. His cells grew and divided for many long years without particular problems. Or if there were problems, his body had ways or means to fix these mistakes. And on he went this way till some day when some big, irreparable mistake happened. Cells continued to grow and divide, healthy ones in their usual way, unhealthy ones in some fast, vicious, mistaken way. This process continued as he was living his life calmly and peacefully, oblivious of what was going on inside. When he got the symptoms, it was already too late. What we witnessed was only the last phase of that for a good reason called malignant process. Bad cells grew right through the most important clusters of good cells and ended my dad’s life, dying instantly in the battle they so triumphantly won. And then there was silence. Simple, bad, dead silence. It happened, it had its course and then it was finished, life did its job. All the rest – all my physical and mental struggle, all the images that still come back in horrific flashbacks day and night, all the tears, all the sorrow, all the questions (why this, why him, why us…), all that denial, anger, bargaining, depression and occasional painful acceptance, those are all just human created extensions of this story. The story ended more than a month ago and I’m still shaken inside and it’s still shaking every thing in my life, I’m still struggling and drowning in that small glass of water… but there is nothing in my reality OF TODAY that’s provoking this. The only difference between this situation and a panic attack situation is that I have a reason for my feelings, while panic has no foundations in reality. There surely is a reason, but it’s already sealed as a past event. I can’t change a thing about that reason. I can’t travel back in time and change things that haunt me as being something that I could have perhaps done differently. I can’t escape to future either to run away from the intensity of this recent loss. The only thing I have is now, this present moment. And as nothing bad is going on right now (at least nothing I’m aware of), it turns out that I shouldn’t be so shaken. People who manage to put this truth into action are on a good road to mastering that Zen’s full embracing of the reality in the present moment. There is nothing bad about holding onto this truth, it can only spare you from all that pain that actually serves no other purpose than to harm the person experiencing it. Yet it’s so hard to make this detachment. Is it guilt, the feeling that you’ll forget the person you loved very much if you no longer experience pain? Or perhaps the failure to put this into action is some sign of emotional immaturity or instability? I don’t know the answer. What I know though is that I’m still very much battling with myself, paradoxically still fighting against a finished illness, worrying constantly, reliving the details and painfully looking for the exact thing that went wrong in the first place. I do the chores of the day, I suffer, I live, I suffer, I sleep, I wake up and I suffer again. And none of this ongoing agony is real now, there is stillness of an autumn night outside, occasionally interrupted by rain and blows of wind against the windows. There are no battles out there, not any more, battles are all inside. But there is a huge step between understanding and implementing this.

One very special photo

mom-and-dad

I don’t think I’ll be taking any new photos any time soon. I don’t feel up to it, I’m very sad and disappointed in my abilities and life in general I suppose. Maybe it’s just that I need this period in which my head does nothing but ruminates with all sorts of memories connected with the person that has been by my side for as long as I remember and is now gone, or maybe I’ve just had enough of useless battles that I can’t possibly win. Sometimes it took me all the energy in the day to produce several photos that I considered good, which in turn ended up being more than average in comparison to what I could see in numerous blogs here and places elsewhere which discourages me in no time. Sometimes in turn I think that the only things I know how to do somewhat well or I actually want to do is write about something, take photos, draw, grow flowers… but I’m not great at any of these things nor they can secure me some living. Yet without them I don’t know who I am at all, now more than ever I feel extremely lost in this life.

On the day my father died, I ran out of paper to copy some documentation Mr. very efficient undertaker required for the funeral. I was totally lost and confused as where to look for paper in such a situation, and my mom opened the right drawer and said “Here you are”. No, not that paper, those are some old photos wrapped up in an old office paper cover, I replied. Oh I am sorry, she said and brought me the right pack I needed. When the undertaker left, I wanted to put the photos back into the drawer but instead I sat on my bed and took them out to see what was inside that cover. Those were the photos I took while still attending an unsuccessful life episode at an art college where I had among other things one semester of black and white photography. I used my dad’s old camera and another one of that old generation that we bought together at a photo fair, I loaded them with films for black and white photos and later personally developed those films and produced photos in a dark chamber at the college. For the end of year’s exhibition I had two collection of photos – Belgrade – buildings vs. nature and Belgrade cemeteries’ tombstones. They had some success, but in the end it all ended up covered with dust together with everything else in my life. I knew more or less what I was to find in that cover and it disturbed me, yet I put my hand inside and pulled out the first photo. Strangely enough, it was a photo of Jesus from one of the tombstones. It made me shiver and cry all right. The second photo after Jesus was this one – mom and dad sitting together in one of Belgrade’s beautiful memorial parks, dad smiling and passing a bottle of water to mom. There is some very positive special atmosphere trapped in that photo taken 9-10 years ago, yet it seems that decades have passed since those very special times in which we were a much happier family. This photo is special also because it was taken after my quite impressive recovery from the second violent PD outburst, while my dad still had both nerves and strength to drive me out everywhere to conquer agoraphobia. At first it was quite hard to go to these lessons, but he would drive me and even wait for me, I think that he was glad that I grew more and more interested in photography. It was one hell of a job for me to prepare those films for developing, because that is something that must be done in a room without even a single shadow of light. You have to open the camera in total, absolute darkness, take the film out relying only on your touch to guide you and insert it into a developing vessel so that you don’t miss its guides that separate layers and layers of film from one another without seeing a thing. When the film is properly inserted into the vessel and properly guided in concentric circles, the vessel has to be tightly fastened with a lid and only then you can come out into the light again. Should I mention that this procedure is among the worst anxiety sufferers’ nightmares? You’re trapped until the end of the procedure in total darkness. You don’t see a thing, no matter how hard you try to open your eyes. Trapped plus temporarily blind plus scared of destroying a precious film, equals panicccc… usually, in other situations you can run away and retreat even if it means to embarrass yourself. Running away from such a situation would mean opening the door and exposing the film to the light, which in turn means… bang! and all your work vanishes into thin air. I remember tons of panic and I remember how it subsided, slowly but definitely with each new film I took out of those cameras. The joy of seeing good shots that I captured would eventually overcome the pains that were needed to get me to that place.

So, all in all… this photo is in memory of my dad, but it’s not only that I took that shot, I carried out the full process to it’s end – developed the film, bought the paper, worked in the dark chamber to expose the paper to the necessary light to get this picture, put it into developing and fixing solutions and left it in the dryer till it was ready for others to be seen. Now it was scanned and turned into pixels, I’m just sorry that I don’t have a better scanner. I shouldn’t complain, because how things are right now it is highly improbable that I’ll see another one in a very long time.

I hope dad is happy somewhere there where he is now, smiling like this. And I hope he’s less lonely than mom and me. His favorite gardening magazine arrived today, it was very late this month. Too late as it turned out. We were at the cemetery today and we carried it with us. Unfortunately, there is nobody to read it any more. It was the 4th time that I went to that grave in 10 days, but it still doesn’t seem real. I still think with some corner of my mind that he’ll appear from somewhere and wake me up from this nightmare, even though he died on my very hands. Then another morning comes and my stomach that turns into a painful knot reminds me that there is no waking up from this reality. It’s too damn hard… dear God, help me find some way out please.

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