Tag Archives: psychology

Never stop dreaming

never-stop-dreaming

Is everything in life a coincidence or do we attract certain things into our lives with a reason? While I’m certain that I won’t find an exact answer to this question during my existence, I also know that less than 24 hours after my birthday post I found myself staring at this T-shirt in a shop window. I asked for guidance, for a way to fill my days with some meaning that goes further than those simple repetitive actions I perform over and over again. I was getting ready to give up on my dreams and force myself to “grow up”, as it started sounding kinda ridiculous to continue being childish at… 41?! (am I really that much old? 🙂 )

I started getting tired of defying those rules the majority of people follow without many complaints, but someone / something sent this message to me on that date I was born many long years ago. NEVER STOP DREAMING. I entered the store and took a closer look at the shirt. I liked the color and there was something extra special about the mandala pattern that surrounds the significant words, it seemed as if it stood there waiting for me to come by and take it home. On the way back I realized that even if I tried really hard to stick to that boring yet realistic way of living only, I would stay a dreamer all the same — that’s not something you choose in life, that’s the way you’re either born or not.

Even if it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever get back to Italy again, I’ll still imagine myself sitting in the middle of Piazza Navona with a cup of good old Italian espresso in my hands on a sunny day, without a watch on my hand and without a care in the world, calm and completely composed, ignorant of those big important questions I ask myself every day, ignorant of death, passage of time and universal change.

I’ll still dream of writing a book or two and having people actually like my prose well enough to want to buy their personal copy and read it in their precious free moments.

I’ll still imagine some of my photos on a big billboard downtown, having the power of making somebody’s day or change somebody’s life for the better.

Even though it is highly probable that none of this will ever happen, I will still hope. Maybe it’s crazy, but I’m sure that there are others out there like me, fragile souls who need encouragement in order to believe that they have something valuable to offer to the world. I won’t stop dreaming, that’s impossible.

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Missing the old times

Yes, I miss them. A lot. Times when I was writing while lying on my bed with a notebook and pen, creating words on the paper and not by typing and making them appear on a screen. I miss times when you actually had some time to sleep, stop and think twice what to do and how to do it in a better way. When something you managed to create or write lasted for more than several hours or a day before becoming an old and unnecessary string of words. But above all, I miss times when people actually cared about other people. At least I’m fortunate enough to have certain number of years that permit me to remember those days.

I watched an episode of an old Serbian TV series tonight, “The Policeman from Petlovo Brdo”. There is this moment when the police inspector is threatened by his superior that his absences due to the needs of his 5 kids would not be tolerated any more and that if he continued to “behave” that way that he would either loose his job, or had to go back to work on the streets again for much lower salary which wouldn’t permit him to sustain the needs of his large family. He turns to one of his ex-wives, successful manager in a big company to help him find a job and she asks him:
– Well… anyhow what kind of job are you actually able to do? Are you good with computers?
– No, he replies. I’m good with people.
– Well, in that case nothing, there is no need for people like you any more.

This was 24 years ago. In Serbia, country that was by no means as technologically advanced as the rest of the world at that moment.

Today, 24 years later I found some completely undefined job that absolutely requires the use of computers. I have no idea how long I will have this job because jobs in Serbia last much much shorter than people, but I’m not really sure that when it finishes that I’ll regret it. 24 years ago you had to be good with computers, but people’s feelings still counted. Today, you can’t avoid computers any more, but people don’t speak among themselves. They all stare at their own computer, lost in their own world, totally disregarding those around them. When they make a pause to eat, nothing changes. They go to the “dining room” and eat together in silence, staring at their smartphones or tablets. When the time comes to go home, they walk in a crowd in the same direction without speaking to each other. At most you can get one dull, mechanical hello from them during the first and last daily encounter. The worst thing is that they don’t care about themselves either, about tomorrow, about consequences of their actions. The only thing they care about is the paycheck day. And some of them are only 24 years old.

Oh yes, I miss the old days so much.

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!

Friendship

keep in touch

Friends are people who are there by your side in both good and bad times – they keep you company, listen to you when you share either happy events or long rants on rainy days and give you the necessary feedback, they watch your back, give support and offer help in every sense of that word when needed. True friends are rare gems, they are hard to be found and require effort and care to be kept. Studies say that friends come and exit our lives at 7-10 year time increments, which means that with each new decade new people are bound to become a new and essential part of our world, while many if not almost all people we once knew get lost somewhere along the way. Rare ones that don’t are like gold, cherish them the best you can because these long-lasting unconditional friendships are among the most precious gifts life will ever serve you.

I wish this were a story about one such friend of mine. Unfortunately for some reason destiny made sure that I don’t earn such blessings, my friends all got chased away either by the passage of time or my health issues, or they simply vanished somewhere in the vast space of our planet far away from my country. For that reason this is a story about one of many lost friends, this one lost primarily because I didn’t put enough effort in keeping that bond alive. The bond was broken many years ago and while I don’t remember very well any more when exactly and how, I also can’t really explain why I didn’t take better care of this friendship in the first place.

My American friend I met almost 20 years ago kept in touch with me for several years after we got to know each other here in Serbia – we used to write long letters to each other and exchanged them mainly by fax, fast and easy way of sharing information and thoughts at long distances at the time. I would have tons of things to say about this special person and the place that friendship had in my days, but it would take thousands of words and cover too many different topics. This time I want to contemplate on just one of his phrases from the letter I still conserve: “Tanja – keep notes, keep a journal, keep in touch.”

I always loved to contemplate, which is already somewhere halfway between the idea in your mind and its materialization on paper, and my friend knew that. I was always very good at classes of writing in Serbian, but I had both luck and misfortune to attend those classes with the most talented people of my generation, as I went to high school for linguistic talents. It was luck because I could get the best education in the best possible conditions, misfortune because it’s extremely hard to outsmart the smartest people around. What I mean is that my writing was good, maybe even very good from time to time, but never excellent or extraordinary. No matter what I did or how much I tried, I could never top 2-3 my best friends who could just sit down and produce a masterpiece on any given subject in merely hour and a half given for the test. Someone else would see such a situation as a challenge and push further and further to go higher and higher. Someone else, not me. I was scared away by their brilliant literary achievements to the point that I stopped writing, convinced that if I can’t do that like they do, then I shouldn’t do it at all because it was pointless. Extremely black and white thinking – if you can’t be exceptional, don’t do anything. From today’s point of view really crazy philosophy and completely counterproductive, but that wasn’t exactly the worst conclusion I reached in life, worse was still to come. I went on downhill to spend almost half of average human life searching for something else I could do best, something that would come easy and naturally as an integral part of my personality and then turn it into profession I’d pursue till the end of my days. I generalized the notion of being untalented for writing by believing that I shouldn’t get into ANY of the fields where I can’t be great, no matter how much interesting or appealing they could be to me. I was and am insecure, I needed proof of my worth and seemingly nothing less than some sort of proof of greatness was good enough for me.

That was how I entered the world of learning foreign languages and “trading” one for the other working on translations. That’s a safe ground, although also creative one to a certain point, as perceiving the world around us doesn’t always match in different cultures. Safe is good enough for a nature precise like mine, but no matter how much verbal creativity can be hidden in the translating process, it’s still just a conversion of somebody else’s creation from one format to another. You trade one language for the other, but the content is still the same if you did your job well. However, that’s not nor it will ever be your content, as you’re just a conversion tool. It really is safer and you don’t risk much, but nobody will ever hear what you as a human being have to say to the rest of humanity. This realization truly defeated me. And I decided to take action. Translating and language teaching were put behind the scene and preserved for survival only, while I happily embarked on a new artistic journey. If I couldn’t excel with words, I opted for images.

For a long time I sadly contemplated on how tragically wrong this decision was, until i realized once again that it had nothing to do with decision itself, but with how I chose to react to the environment I found myself in. I was very happy when I was admitted to the art school, but the dream stopped right there. No matter what I did or created, I was always harshly criticized. Not only that I couldn’t excel in this world, I couldn’t even earn a single praise. That was extremely painful, to the point that I still feel that pain even though the nightmare ended 8 years ago. Today when I look back on that experience, I see little flashbacks of how my fellow students had nice words for some of the things I managed to come up with. I remember positive reactions from people from the outside of that world. I watch the notes I got for two photography classes I took, and even though I am well aware that I was and still am far from being a good and special photographer, I still had best marks in my generation. However, things didn’t look that bright at the time. Negation and denial was all I was presented with and not only that I accepted them as real, I implemented that attitude as my own thinking. Simply speaking, I began and continued thinking that I was artistically inadequate for good so I consequently left the images behind, the same way I abandoned words a decade and a half earlier.

As you already guessed, I didn’t listen to what my friend had to say in that letter from many years ago. I stopped keeping notes. I stopped keeping a journal. And the saddest of all, I didn’t keep in touch. If I kept in touch, I’m sure that my friend would encourage me to continue writing and that I would learn many more things from the exchange of our thoughts. At least my English would be much more fluent than it is today. Maybe he would have managed to illuminate me much earlier that what’s very good is good enough for everybody to keep doing whatever it is you do very well. Maybe he would have found the way to make me understand that the world would be a very small and almost empty place if only the extremely talented did some type of work in the fields they were born for. Maybe he would tell me that I had to believe in myself no matter what others say. To listen, but to stay who I am.

Sometimes critics may be right, but all the same there are ways and ways to point out to somebody how to improve their work, negativism and offenses are definitely not the instruments good people use to instill changes for the better in others. But on the other hand, sometimes critics are not right. People make all sorts of mistakes. I watched a movie last night and I wrote down this interesting line – “Nobody’s perfect, that’s why pencils have erasers on them.” Some of those mistakes are made out of ignorance because no one’s infallible eminence, not even the best experts. They are humans, too. Again, sometimes people just have double standards or they want to put you down because they perceive your work as a threat to their own success. Sometimes people are just plain mean. If you’re unlucky enough to meet people from this last category and end up believing their words and adopting them as your own way of thinking, world will be deprived of your precious creation for no reason. Sometimes people spend a certain amount of time doing what can be called average work and then all of a sudden their potentials just “explode” in the right circumstances. Imagine if they weren’t patient enough to wait for their stellar moment, what a tragic loss would that be.

On the other hand, maybe that globally approved greatness will simply never happen. That still doesn’t mean that we should sit and do nothing. Create. Write. Sing. Play an instrument. Draw. Paint. Cook. Do whatever makes you happy. Nobody can truly convince me any more that even a lifetime of “average” work can’t yield brilliant moments of their own. What matters is that you enjoy what you do and everything else your life consists of. When you get into that state of creative happiness, honestly only sky is the limit as to what can happen in the end.

Don’t repeat my mistakes. Don’t chase for too long intangible things believing that you’re chasing your true inner soul. Don’t waste time waiting to “find” yourself and then start doing something. You have yourself, here and now, you haven’t disappeared anywhere so that you have to go and look for yourself. Create if that is how you feel, without second thoughts and unnecessary questions. As long as you like what you do, you’ll find others who like it as well, I’m certain about it. This is one big planet, among all those billions of people there must be at least several kindred spirits for each one of us.

Keep notes. Keep a journal. Keep in touch, with both your inner soul and people you care about. And as for everything else, no matter what it is as long as it matters to you – KEEP IT.

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.

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.

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.

Hang in there

There is one good, middle aged man in my neighborhood who was born with a certain degree of disability due to which he has numerous health problems. I didn’t even know he existed, nor that he lived just several hundred meters away from me, because only in the block of adjacent buildings where I stay there are more or less 1,000 souls, not to mention that this whole area of the town with these same buildings consists of 13-14 such identical blocks. In reality, we are one entire little town by itself, condensed in not that much vast land area, there are so many people living literally ones on the top of others packed in apartments with mostly insufficient number of square meters yet you rarely know the person living next door, not to mention somebody from a different floor or in a different building within the same block. It wasn’t like that in the past, not even in that not very distant past when we moved in here a bit more than 30 years ago. People cared more about other people and life wasn’t so much about material possession and personal vanity as it is now, I sincerely and dearly miss that country called Yugoslavia I was born in. If I were still living in Yugoslavia (and I’m not, even though I haven’t moved an inch away in these last nearly 4 decades), the man from the beginning of this story would be in much better shape today. He would have completely free health care, some personal income due to his very legitimate disability issues, access to daily meals for people with income problems. He would have some dignity in this life and more people on the block would know he existed and offered some help, because social services would work on his integration in the community.

In his twenties, he used to live in Yugoslavia as well, and his father’s company helped him the best they could by letting him work in the company’s kitchen for their workers. He carried things around and peeled some vegetables, he had some little income and full insurance – those were the best days in his little unfortunate life, days before the world slowly but definitely started tumbling down on him.
Yugoslavia got torn up in pieces, swallowed by its own inhabitants who turned against each others, failing to understand that the consequences of these actions would harm only themselves and no one else. His dad’s company first suffered the beginning of a bad economical crisis. Then his dad passed away, failing to buy off their living space from the state in the midst of that crazy stellar inflation, as we all did and thus literally saved ourselves. His dad’s company eventually had to be restructured in the process of privatization, obligatory in the transition towards capitalism, but nothing prevented bankruptcy from happening. He lost his little job and remained with his mom who inherited his dad’s retirement money, as she didn’t have any income of her own. Life went on while his mom could take care of their lives in every possible sense, but in the end she passed away too several years ago. And this is when life stopped. He remained completely alone, lost, in Serbia now, with no means to live this life and expired ID, hidden among us with no electricity, with unpaid bills and no food for days in a row. He can do some things, but he needs to be told exactly what to do and he has to be partially supervised, which makes it almost impossible for him to find some kind of stable work position in this country. I found about him for the first time when an old lady involved in an organization for saving stray dogs moved in with him to help him out in exchange for the accommodation for her and the dogs she took care of. Things got better for a while, bills got payed again, there was some food on the table every day… but the lady’s age is such that she progressively needed more and more help for herself, and somewhere by the time my dad declined she left the man’s place as it seems for good. Dogs were took over by the organization, the lady was accepted by some relatives and he is alone again, growing older himself and becoming more and more helpless as time goes by. My mom helps him with food as always in these last years as much as she can, but life has hanged for us as well. I remember that in the middle of my worst panic ridden despair when I didn’t go anywhere, I secretly and deeply feared that I would end up like him and it scared me to death. Those fears returned all right with income problems and the shock my dad’s passing away caused in my little life.

I saw him today. I turned round the corner as he was emptying some huge bag of high class garbage into a container, obviously a chore he was asked to do for someone in exchange for an equivalent of a dollar or two, or a sandwich for that day. It was a sad contrast to see him, a man in a clearly very neglected state and torn clothes, throwing away very expensive waste items. My heart sank as I said hello to him, he wouldn’t notice me otherwise as his vision deteriorates heavily as well. He knows about my dad from my mom, so he asked how we were doing. We were standing in front of that container, the sky was heavy and black as the depths of my soul, and this person who’s lived genuine hardships asked me if I was coping, when the right question would be if and how he is coping. I said I was managing, somehow. He looked firmly at me and smiled, saying: “Hey, hang in there. You have to. Got it? HANG IN THERE.” Then he waved goodbye and wandered away as I stood in disbelief. Honestly speaking, what does he have to hope for in this world? He is doomed to soon lose even the bed he’s sleeping in when bills accumulate again, this time to the point of no return. He would have all the right to totally give up. This person who has sometimes hard time getting simple things wanted to make sure I got it that I had to hang in there. Ashamed, sad, amazed, humbled, shaken… that’s how I felt returning to my realistically really modest home, I have no idea how it feels to be wealthy or even just well off. I looked around me and thought… what would he give to exchange places with me and have my life, with all its hardships? Probably everything. It would be for him as if somebody had taken stars of the sky and spread them in front of his feet. Or it would equal touching that distant sky above us. He would be extremely happy. And I’m so miserable.

How is it possible for people to differ so much in the same circumstances? No matter what, if somebody like him tells you to hang in there, then you really have to do it. Such messages can’t be ignored.

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.

It’s all life

Something crossed my mind tonight as I was washing the black shirt I wear a lot these days. I’ve been wearing only black things since dad passed away, but not really or only because it is the tradition in my country – this is how I feel and this is what the mind naturally chooses to do, it’s somehow that the brain becomes color resistant in grief – at least this is the best I can describe it with words. It totally is not me though to wear only black, so I had to buy some shirts, the one I was washing being one of them. My mind wandered off in this process to the phone conversation I had had earlier in the evening – I wasn’t feeling well at all in the first place when the phone rang, and there was this person calling with lots of shiny and glittering details about going on a luxurious holiday. Not a word about me, my life, my feelings, if and how I’m coping. Just about how great the place is, how much it costs, how special the accommodation will be… I sort of couldn’t grasp why I had to endure listening to all that boasting in this period of my life, with or without the situation with my dad I’m miles away from such a lifestyle and people involved in that story. Then as I was wrenching the shirt, I suddenly realized how firmly black its color is and how different life is for every one of us in any given moment – somebody is embarking on a high style journey, somebody is as we say wrapped up in black, somebody out there is being born at that very instant, somebody is celebrating a birthday or an anniversary. Somebody is getting married or divorced, somebody is sick or dying, somebody is being buried. It has always fascinated me how so many different things could be going on in the exact same fraction of time on this planet. Good, great, bad and horrible things, all together. And it is all life.