Imperfect

I expressed some stances in my earlier post on this blog. I called the post “Perfect” because it had to do with the impression that we need a perfect life to grow as human beings. Or that having everything we ever wanted necessarily means happiness. Or that having things others think we should have is a measure of the person.

There are different forms of perfect. In my hometown, it is married life, a house arranged in provincial taste and children, jobs that give financial security and little pleasure in the work itself. Some aim higher as there are many contents to fill in the form of perfect. Of course, it is not always that gloomy, and some people enjoy genuinely happy lives in the province, even some who made space for acceptance of their alternative lifestyles. So do I envy people who made it perfect for themselves? Do I think it is all a shallow compromise? I get a lot of trolling once I make my point on that. My answer is; these questions make no sense at all! My point is somewhere else; it is to encourage myself and others to thrive despite the imperfect circumstances.

To make it more clear, I used the magnifier—lives of brilliant people who thrived despite unfavourable circumstances. In the post on Van Gogh and Slava Raskaj I tried to explain what I mean. I tried to describe the epic battle of someone who is trying to create despite illness and despite having a kind of life where you don’t have much to lose.

I wanted to do the recap to make my point; people can grow and create, risk and challenge themselves despite things (seemingly) not going great for them. Who has the right to talk down on them from a perfect or seemingly perfect position?

Keats got tuberculosis in his twenties, and it was a terminal illness at the time. He died when he was 25, his life was hardly perfect, but his poetry is almost there. I am not saying everyone can leave Opus Mangum, but then again, you never know who it will be, right? Maybe someone who has it all sorted out, of course, someone who drew better cards than Keats.

Still, a glance at things through a magnifier- lives of the greats who also struggled shows that personal growth, the achievement and happy moments is not only for those who get or seemingly get what they always wanted. So no, I am not trying to say feel envious, think as if missing out on things, I want to say thrive because the best of us, the most talented of us, the most decent of us can have it imperfect.

I don’t know the cure for the people who can’t see that even everyday people like me mean the world to someone and can enrich lives. The art of living well is rather democratic. There are many ways to practice it, and I don’t see why some would be privileged. That is all.

Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

Time management

I decided to do this topic since I am facing a new severe health issue aside from bipolar, something that also starts as an invisible disability. Still, I am so active these days, although not manic.

I remember when I finally gained control over my bipolar years ago. One of the first things I did is- read books on time management. I had so much to do, and so much that I wanted to do so, I was guessing my best odds were at organising better.

I went through some of the books, and all the basic principles did not apply to me at all! That was the time I decided to write about it the first time I get the chance. I am going to stick, for the time being, with the primary obstacle.

First of my problems was, how on earth can I plan every hour of the day when I can’t predict how am I going to feel at all! What if my energy levels are too low to be active at that point. More or less I know I am doing lousy in the mornings, by now I know how I can manage through the day, but if I had a strict schedule, I would end up with the feeling of guilt and lack of accomplishment.

Still, there was one advice I could follow: get the planner! I did get the planner, and I would write down tasks for the day, ones that are a must and ones that are optional, no specific timing other than meetings and similar. It is working well for me. When I have energy, I do what it takes and sometimes even more than that, I pick up tasks from the day that follows.

One thing I have learned from one book was “the vacation principle”. It means giving ourselves more time than we need for the task or starting it as early as possible so we can make it before the official deadline. It provides a feeling of accomplishment. Also, don’t plan too ambitious. That would be my experience. It feels fantastic when we plan a decent workload but not too much, and then we get to do even more than expected!

It is always better to put things into some order, but we need to honour our needs and add self-care on the list as well. Maybe even use the planner to monitor mood swings or whatever we need to watch. Now that my skin is so oily due to meds, I am even planning my weekly Rhassoul clay facial mask, sometimes even longer walks.

I know the times when getting out of bed might become a significant task could be around the corner, but I will quote my doctor: “Do whatever your mind and body permit you to do and don’t even think you won’t be able to do things!”

How did you approach planning time and living with bipolar, I would love to hear your comments!

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Real

I dedicated the last few posts to people living with mental illness who managed to engage with the world and produce art. I don’t know of any data, but from my going through biographies, people living with a disability don’t seem to be underrepresented among people who made it in creative endeavours. So why are they underrepresented everywhere else? Rhetorical question, of course. I do think we should fight for our place in the grand scheme of things. I will probably continue this series, but now I intend to disrupt it.

I am thinking a lot about my situation lately. I can’t move because of the pandemic; I am stuck in my flat in the province. I got another severe diagnosis. But, I am constructive most of the time, I am learning new things and making sketches for my book to be. Prospects are gloomy, and I don’t have much to hope for, but I’ve been there already. Haven’t we all? Sometimes battles that can’t possibly be won are the battles that decide the history, like the battle of Thermopylae where Leonidas stopped the Persian power with a few good men. The analogy has to stop at some point, but knowing that battles you can’t win can be decisive is what keeps us hopeful, humble and real.

Perfectly healthy people can’t win against ageing and death because nobody can. It is a truism. Some try desperately to make it seem like they are slowing the process down, but there is no warrantee at all, for anything in life. Deception works on the minds of living beings, but it doesn’t work on the laws of nature. She is cruel to her children sometimes, but the least bit harsh if we align with her and listen to her beats that are present in every landscape.

That is why I feel good in this black hole of mine despite everything. I know I am using well the time I have at my hand. I am not giving up on the gift of life or seeing it as an adventure. In this pandemic, I can watch tea ceremony from Nara or attend language courses or study things in the realm of my academic interests with much more knowledgable people on all sorts of online platforms.

I don’t intend to apologize anymore for the things I couldn’t do because of my disability. Those days are over. I don’t see anyone apologizing for doing injustice to the community for their private interest which is often the case in my country and which is leaving disabled and healthy and however-they-want-to-identify people on the margins. I am not perfect, so I won’t say I did my best, but I did fight the battle I can’t win well so far.

So I am here, in this small provincial town writing about my current situation and hoping I am keeping it real, as I’d like to.

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Story Of Slava

History of insane asylums is an interesting story. The oldest one in Croatia has an exhibition gallery named after one female artist. The critics overlooked her work for decades although she was a talented watercolourist that exhibited across Europe.

Why should we have an interest in her? I decided to continue posting about people who suffered disability, mental ill-health and terminal illness and despite all of this managed to produce works of value. Sometimes it seems to me that society today is discarding people as useless for no good reason. When I look at biographies of many people considered great, it seems that despite the lack of activism in their time, they had more opportunities not to end up on the margins.

Slava Raskaj, the painter I started to talk about, was born deaf. Moreover, she suffered severe depression and died of tuberculosis which was a terminal illness back then. You can see more on her life and works here and here. Please take a look at her astonishing work on the second link. She didn’t create much, but she is the pride in Croatian art, and she belongs to Europe of her time. Her work is considered today the hight of Croatian impressionism.

She ended the life in the above mentioned insane asylum in 1906. It had a different name back then. I remember strolling through space, among the old buildings and reaching the gallery. My friend had her work exhibited there.

So why aren’t people like painter Slava Raskaj accepted into the mainstream today? Was it more difficult in her time, or is it more difficult now and why? I would love to read your comments on the topic.

True Colours

I often feel judged. I think in previous posts, I dedicated attention to it. I’ve decided to write about people that marked the foundation of our civilisation and who also had problems with mental ill-health or whose lives didn’t fall into cliches of their time.

I am not saying that all of us are brilliant because we are mad or somehow impaired. I am not even trying to say that thriving despite illness is what makes a person stronger. I am not sure about it, and I would love you to comment on the issue.

I want to point out that life doesn’t have to be a cliche to be a human life and to be owned and accepted. Guess what, cliches change in time, just like fashion in clothing.

I picked Van Gogh for this post. Everyone has heard of him, and everyone knows his most famous paintings, I am sure. His life was a struggle to find a technique to express himself and also struggle with poor mental health.

Van Gogh tried many things before dedicating himself to art, and he failed at almost everything. His career as an artist was brief. His brother Theo supplied him in his needs because in his life- he sold only one painting. Today, at auctions, his paintings have astronomical prices. So, are we quick to judge and slow to understand?

I don’t want to write the whole biography here, since experts have done it much better than I ever could. I want to argue against leaving people on the margins for being somehow impaired.

One of his quotes is omnipresent on the net: “There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” Indeed, one colour brings out the other; they coexist and make the palette useful. So why couldn’t people with different abilities coexist? Isn’t that the very essence of society?

Also: “A good picture is equivalent to a good deed.” He knew that he was great. He knew that he is contributing the best he can. It is evident in this quote. It is also a lesson for all of us in a similar situation, for everyone misunderstood that we needn’t be great to contribute, that sometimes a small act of kindness can have the value of an astonishing painting if I am allowed to turn this quote upside down.

Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

Own Our Evil/Rebel

Sometimes people are so understanding of mental ill-health. Way too understanding. I am talking about the situations when they attribute everything we do to poor health. I am not saying no one was ever out of control and calling for help when it was awful. It can get outta hand, true. I am talking about our lives most of the time.

What I mean is rather that people attribute almost everything to poor mental health, even when we are acting downright mean. As if we have no responsibility. As we are not a so-called “moral agent”. I am not talking headlines that are always portraying vile people as mentally ill or vile people in the establishment as having some sort of personality disorder. I am talking instead of everyday evil. Yes, some mentally ill people are petty, and also some mentally ill people are standing up for themselves. It includes a bit of aggression sometimes, but it is often dismantled as a sign of illness. Sometimes even deliberately.

I read in one good book on communication psychology this procedure, whether it is aimed at someone with mental ill-health or not, is called diagnosing. So people are putting themselves in the shoes of the expert and diagnosing the condition of their communication partner. It is lame, very lame if you know that on the receiving end you can find someone living with mental illness. But it happens quite a lot, and it is robbing people of their autonomy. It is soft violence and not more pleasant because it is soft.

Some people do it with the best intention, but I read about some indigenous groups complaining about the romanticized vision of their worlds by some anthropologists. They wanted to own their evil as well, whether in self-defence or otherwise. It could be stretched, I think, to many other groups of people, in case we are placing people in groups. If it is ad hoc placing, it can make sense.

Which brings me to the second topic of this post: it is important to own our potential for acting out if it takes, by all means, structured and controlled manifestations of acting out, but still showing our tough side. While I spent time in advocacy, it became clear to me that some people don’t like mad people theorizing, thinking, discussing. It was always easier to give the floor even to other persons with disability claiming mad people don’t have it that bad, that the world is easy on them. It is better to create schisma than to listen. In reality, they were afraid of all that creativity, energy and willingness to fight for visibility. There is one stereotype that is true of mad people: they are not easy to control so better marginalize them. I witnessed in some settings precisely that.
Mad people are smart and creative; they can rebel. Madness has always been observed as a subversive power. And it is still valid.

Photo by Javier García on Unsplash

Crazy Cab

I remember vividly that summer I’ve spent in the hospital. That was the first time I was treated with a proper medication that brought me recovery in the end. It was the largest hospital in the country, and it had pavilions. Everyone called my pavillion “The Sheraton” because it was for “elite mad people”. It wasn’t really, but it was for those who had the best odds but also for some filthy rich despite our health care being public. Sad. Behind The Sheraton, there was a reminder of the history of mad people’s asylums, a place for the homeless. This was the first asylum in the country, namely.

Anyway, every day, from five to six, we had mandatory socialising in the living room. On Fridays it was Bingo. I hated it, to be honest, and a few other younger people were cracking jokes about it.  We would collect the money from everyone to buy prizes in the convenience store nearby. However, people got bored with food. So, at some point, my few years older acquaintance made a suggestion to buy some items in a store with all sorts of shiny, cheap garbage, for laughs. It was two bus stops away, so we needed exit permission for an hour, and we got those papers.

When I say we, I mean the lady I mentioned, married with two kids, one already in uni, the ex-nurse I’ll call Rose as that is the translation of her name from Croatian, one guy that was neglected as a child and seemed as if his intelligence was below average, but that was hardly the case, he had wit, he could draw, but he lived in extreme poverty making some cash by drawing tattoos. And there was I.

We spent too much time shopping, and at some point, we realised we won’t get back on time by bus—no way with all that stuff. Back then taxi was cheap in Zagreb, so I suggested getting a ride. The neglected guy was excited about it as he has never been in a cab. So we made a call and got our ride in five minutes.

I sat in the front. “Where to?” the driver asked. I told the name of the hospital and also asked to take us straight to the pavilion as we were in a hurry. I felt he was uncomfortable. Still, with all these stuff at our hands, we seemed more as if we were visiting someone in the madhouse. I believe that thought made him relax for a second. But then our first time in the taxi guy kicked in. He told him we bought gifts for the Bingo in the madhouse and that only our pavillion has such activities. He also told him not to worry because we have exit permissions from the ward, and we can show it to him. Yup. The lady, roughly my age with two kids, saw his expression in the mirror and said Rose is a nurse. Rose was almost sixty, but she enjoyed the confusion. The driver asked: “So you are accompanying them?” Rose said: “I am a nurse but I am also mad.”

From that moment on he just shut up. Complete silence. When we got to the door of the pavillion he couldn’t wait till we exit the car. He wanted to drive away without money. I barely made him take my cash.

So there you go, stigma in a nutshell. Don’t crack jokes about being mad, it scares people.

Perfect

I went to a birthday party, not so long ago. It was not the usual birthday party. I needed to go because it was the brother of my childhood friend. He is a person with an intellectual disability, and I have known him for my whole lifetime. Or better to say he has known me all my life as he is much older than me. He turned fifty one that day. So, I brought him stuff you would bring to a man of that age you consider almost your relative. But for him, usually ignored and neglected that day was something to look forward throughout the year. The only day when he is the centre of attention.

There is also this thing about my friend, his sister. Her life didn’t go as planned, and at some point, she decided to be a single mom. Her girl is now fifteen. She made her decision in a small community in the province of a traditional country where every behaviour is okay if it is under the cloak of marriage. She suffered slander, but she laughed it off, carelessly. That is her. Their elder brother also had an unplanned life. He is brilliant and capable, a fighter. He has someone now, and he is happy, but he wanted a family.

There is more, and that is us, imperfect people, insufficient, people with shattered dreams due to harsh circumstances and a decision or two, like one of those decisions to follow your gut or what seems right at a cost.

And then, again there are perfect people. I’ve met them in the province, the petit-bourgeoisie type. Of course, I remember where some of them came from and how they were coming to my doorstep to seek refuge in my stable family life from their shattered existence. That is the truth of some, not all, but you can guess what I am aiming at, these are the people who get to hide their weaknesses or whose weaknesses are proper and socially acceptable in some settings. Those are people who, when they can’t hide their loss, they turn it into battle won and- everything is perfect again. They can’t lose to illness, to poverty, everything happens to someone else.

I met them from that pathetic province where I was born, a small town that could be thriving with a different mindset to gala dinners and receptions in five-star hotels abroad. No matter their level of achievement, they are so remarkably similar. So perfect. They never have anything that is bothering them, let alone a reason to worry.

I’ve been behind the scenery in some cases, as above mentioned but my point is I felt safe with my imperfect friends, cosy, at home, myself. Just as I feel writing this blog. At some point, the person that perfect people call a “retard” the one that had a birthday asked me a question: “Why am I not like other people?” I said I am not like other people as well.

One thing is amazing here, he is more self-aware than perfect people. Very much so. They hate their facade being questioned and defending it is a matter of life and death. They believe the web of lies they present to the world. This was a topic for many artists and people of science. It is real. Just not for perfect people. Remember it just in case someone perfect tries to put you down for being who you are.

To All The Warriors Out There

I had a hard time learning that, since the diagnosis, I became somehow less than a person even to some people quite close to me. I had to end ties, what else? It was happening with a slow progression, one step at the time.

I can say that I’ve helped change the course of life for some of those people. I didn’t ask for gratitude, listening nor much empathy, only a tiny dosage of understanding and- no stigma involved. Something you often get from decent strangers. So- just no stigma, a space to breathe in and be the new me, coping with illness and everyday tasks. But I got contempt. I didn’t reveal my pain much, and I had, unlike so many, safe places to do so. I was just asking not to be judged! But people around me, many of my acquaintances indulged in my inability. Disability, if you want to call it that way.

I failed to understand as I still saw myself as very capable. Things were going in slow motion for me which was so much unlike me before but I couldn’t observe what is wrong with me. I was still making better, more informed, rational decisions in given circumstances, I was still more proactive when it comes to life, I was more honest, capable of making authentic connections and I just couldn’t see how it is that I have failed while my satellites from the past didn’t.

Why am I “less than”? Because of the mere fact that I am ill? I think it is pretty much close to that as any of the people I am talking of didn’t feel the consequences of my illness. They were never that close to know I sometimes struggle to get in the shower. That I am preparing for the whole morning to go and do something in the afternoon. That I can’t read as much as I used to.

I was thinking once that I might have had the attitude of the centre of the universe and some people wanted me to pay for it, but you can’t get as malicious for that for years. The average anger lifespan at someone’s ego just diminishes. Who knows, maybe people who needed me when I was “more than” equally needed me or someone else who is “less than”?

I hate it! I hate it that people see not myself, but anyone else battling chronic illness as weak. It is insulting when I read in the media that someone is analysing some vicious politician for his supposed mental illness. We had our jokes in the hospital about our condition but I simply hate when someone cracks dumb and crude jokes about people with mental ill-health. People with any illness. I am from Eastern Europe. Gay people tell gay jokes, mad people mad jokes but there are ways and nuances to it.

It can be a pit beyond dumb. One thing: many brilliant people, the greatest minds of all time, like Blaise Pascal, were chronically ill. Sustaining all chronically ill, provided they need sustaining, for one mind like his, is worth the trouble. That is the argument that comes before empathy argument, “it could be us or our loved ones” argument, “we never know when we might need help or tolerance” argument and so on.

Also, in the community of people with chronic illness, there are those who have strange attitudes, like showing how well they are coping, better than the rest. I feel a deep dislike for it, but it is human. Seeking “less than” even within the community is human. The ugly side of it, but still human.

Everyone should keep themselves in check in the first place. I learned that from the ones who indulge in the lowest. And this is what I mean by this title. I want to share gratitude for people who are trying. I want to salute all of my fellow warriors who are coping the best they can, who are finding ways to cope, who are balancing between life, illness, stigma and so many roles in life. Who are battling and refusing to be less worthy.

Photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash

The Inner Critic

My close friend often hears kind words from me, but just as often he is trying his best to dismiss them, invalidate them. He didn’t hear many kind words in his life, admittedly. As a friend, I can’t disclose much of his inner world, but my point would be it is full of voices of criticism he kept hearing through the years. They became a part of his interior, and seemingly he can’t function without them as if he would make the same mistakes over and over if he stopped listening to them. That might be one explanation why he, we are holding so tightly onto them.

I don’t think there are many people out there without their inner critics. They can be too harsh when one is feeling anxiety, and they can prolong and deepen some feelings.

I used to think I am doing so much better than my friend. After all, at least I could accept a compliment from someone close. But these voices are layers and layers of dirt or rust that are gathering as the years go by. We really need to do some work and investigate our beliefs about ourselves. Which ones are our own and which ones are the ones we owned, but kept hearing from someone else? Naturally, we need feedback, but what if it is uninformed or even malicious?

I’ll give a simple example. As a kid I was very good at school, I dare to say I excelled. So by stereotypical logic, I couldn’t be considered pretty nor good at sports. I started believing that and I lost interest in sports.

When I left my small town for university, I finally got the chance for swimming that I enjoyed in the summers only and especially Wing Chun. I was good at both, and in Wing Chun, I excelled! Beyond my wildest dreams. Even when diagnosed years later, I would go to the small gym to work out with the man who brought the martial art to this part of the world for some three, four hours.

Good thing that I didn’t listen to this inner voice! I expected I would be clumsy, but I tried anyway. And guess what! And even if I was clumsy but enjoying myself?

Another point that I want to make is that I wasn’t even aware I soaked in that prejudice based on my school success. And that wasn’t the only one, but one of the many. I want to repeat: I am not trying to say we shouldn’t listen to feedback, I wish to say that we shouldn’t let other peoples unconfirmed and uncritical opinions undermine us. When something is repeated so many times, opinion based on cherry-picking methodology, it can grow solid and soon we can give up on things we always wanted to do. I wanted to be a Wing Chun practitioner since I was a child, and if I wasn’t so persistent, I would have missed the joy of it when given a chance.

Don’t let the choirs of the voices from outside bring you down. Inspect why you think you are not good at something or no good in general. Try talking to close people. And most of all, dare and risk. Try some inner hygiene samely as you would clean your room. Above all, try.