22 Lessons for the New Year

2011 was a pivotal year for me.  At the end of 2011, I wrote down lessons that I wanted to take with me into the new year.  It's five years later and I still look at them as a reminder so I thought I'd share them so that others can reflect on the lessons of the past year.

On love and human interaction:

1. You cannot really choose when and to whom you fall in love with. It just happens. Embrace it for what it is.
I fell in love this year. It was unplanned, intense and somewhat dramatic, but it was worth it.

2. Great friendships never die.
I reunited with two good friends who I hadn't seen nor spoken to for years. Meeting again almost felt like we had parted ways only the day before. Once you find your kindred spirits in this life and you endure life's tests, time and distance are no longer a barrier. Great friends will always be there with you. The connection never dies.

3. Choose love over fear. Always.
All emotions derive from these two basic feelings. The outcome of your behaviour is always determined by whether you acted in love or fear. I try to ask myself now and again: "Am I doing this out of love or fear?" Choose love.

4. Get to know yourself and stay true to who you are.
I spent four months living on my own. There were daily doses of laughter, crying and hysteria. Most of all, there were many questions and the answers came. I discovered my life's passions. I've realised that I am truly okay with myself. I don't mind being alone. I just choose not to be alone. After doing this, I discovered that many people don't afford themselves the same opportunity. They don't dive deep within themselves. I'm glad I did it.

5. People die.
I know this one is very obvious. You'd think I didn't know it before. In a way, I didn't. I knew it mentally but my heart had not fully realised it. I always knew that people die but somehow expected those closest to me to live forever. It doesn't work that way. ALL people die! I saw so many people die around me this year that I actually clicked. Cherish each moment. Take lots of photographs.

6. Take people as they are.
Nobody is out to get you or stand in your way. If you listen to gossip, you'll go crazy. If you look for the bad in people, you'll find it. I decided to discard all expectations of people this year. I realised that most people have a pure intent. They may not act on it in what you believe is the best way, but they don't really mean you any harm. An important lesson here is to just accept people for who and what they are. You may influence them but it is not your job to change them. Take the best from them and cherish that.

7. Smile.
A couple of years back, I decided to smile when I greet people. I try to do it with everyone I come across. I noticed some of the aftereffects this year. People who I had met only once, over a year ago, and interacted with very briefly, remembered me. I didn't have to smile first because they lit up when they saw me. I'm talking about complete strangers. It's so simple and yet so powerful. There's no telling how far a smile and genuine interest in another person can go.

On business:

8. It’s never about the money. It’s what you can do with the money.
Money simply does not motivate people. However, it does buy many things that do motivate us, such as survival (food and shelter), recreation and status. The most highly motivated people are not even in it for much more than survival. They have passion. With directed passion, we can do anything.

9. Everything worth doing is worth doing properly. It all takes hard work.
So, I thought to myself: I know my passions so how much more do I need? Work! For years, I was searching for the quickest route to success. Sloth being one of my weaknesses, I didn't expect it to require too much effort. I was very wrong. Passionate people work harder than anybody else because they have a firm belief in what they are striving to achieve. They also have fun working. Leave the paltry efforts to the government administrators who never really seem to help you because they hate what they do.

10. Do what you love.
There are many ways to make money - real estate, diversification, stock markets and so on. Many people do it because they have enough motivation from the things that those profits can buy them. I'm not one of those people. I need to enjoy the process as well as the outcome. The only way to achieve that is to have an unconditional love for your work.

On science and technology:

11. Modern telecommunications has a very valuable role in our society.
I spent two years working in the telecommunications industry but I didn't really fathom the many uses of modern devices and their potential until recently. When you're far away from the ones you love, software such as Skype allows you to talk to, see and interact with others in real time. That's the next best thing to seeing them in person. We've come far from letters, telegraphs, the Bell telephone and the first chat rooms. What's next? Teleporting?!

12. The purpose of science and technology is convenience. It frees up our time so we can have new experiences.
In our modern tech savvy world, we've become accustomed to taking our mobile devices everywhere we go. For some of us, especially business people and teenagers, our lives revolve around the information we share and get from our cellphones and laptops. It's more of a distraction when our attention to the real world fades and we become consumed by a virtual one. It often overwhelms us and takes up all our time. Let's not forget that the point of all this technology is to take care of the mundane everyday tasks so that we can spend more time developing ourselves.

On life in general:

13. Just give. GIVE.
That's all there is to it.

14. Words have the power to move people. Actions have the power to change people.
I wrote three poems this year that drove people to tears. That made me realise the power of words. People, nevertheless, tend to forget words. They serve a purpose and conjure up emotions for the moment but are forgotten afterwards if the lesson in them is not carried forth and acted upon. Words are memorable but nothing says it better than your conduct and behaviour.

15. Home is where the heart is. Follow your heart.
I've heard this one many times but I only understood it this year. Your heart doesn't belong to a physical place that you call your home. Instead, it is where your heart is, that you will be at home. When you are true to your heart's passions an desires, you are at peace and at home within yourself.

16. Everybody is bigger than they are.
We all have the potential to become something bigger and better than what we are right now.

17. The air by the seaside or ocean is cleaner than any other.
I spent three months by the seaside and chronic sinus problems I've been battling with for almost seven years virtually disappeared. It's not a myth and doctors were not crazy back in the day for sending patients to the sea to heal. The air by the shore is cleaner. Even living near a lake or river is beneficial.

18. FOCUS = Follow One Course Until Successful
Unless you are a true multi-tasker with limitless energy, you cannot focus on a million things. Rather focus on one task or objective at a time, complete it and then move on ahead. Otherwise, most of us are left pulling our hair out and facing a lot of unfinished business. Sound familiar? This is why some of the dead come back to haunt us.

19. In hospital, on tours and on airplanes, being a vegetarian rocks!
This one comes from gathered experience. I'm about to complete my third year as a vegetarian but I claimed to be one years before in those three places. I don't know why it is, but the vegetarian meals are almost always better than the others. I don't know if it's because it's cooked separately, but it is a pattern.

20. Heart and head are meant to work together as a unit.
Follow your heart, yes, but don't be stupid about it. Most of us have allowed logic and reason to dictate our lives. That's the opposite extreme. There's a reason we have both. The mind is there to follow and carry out the heart's instructions. Direct your passions, else you are likely to become the fool.

21. There is no “could’ve”, “should’ve”, “would’ve”. There is only NOW.
Forget regrets. It's over. Move on and start a better "now".

22. Listen to the advice of others, but do it your way.
Everybody has a good dose of advice they want to dish out to others. Mostly, it is justified and they raise good points. Listen and let it help you, but follow your own intuition. We're all different and so are our paths. The world is in constant change. Something that was valid yesterday may not necessarily be valid today. Most of the advice people give is the advice they wish they could have given to themselves at some stage. You are not them nor are you pre-destined to make the same mistakes. Listen, but sing your own song.

Maja Dezulovic

10 Factors That Contribute to Depression

A while back I did a lot of research on mental health (depression in particular) as it was a subject close to home.  I have decided to share what I have learnt and perhaps it will also help others.

People sometimes wait years before seeking medical help for psychiatric disorders, but help is available and an increasing amount of studies are appearing related to mental illnesses, making them easier to diagnose and treat.

Depression for the purpose of this article includes all mental illnesses which involve depression, including anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and related illnesses.  According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting 350 million people.[1] 

Here I look at some of the triggers of mental ill-health.

1 Biological Factors

According to studies, someone with a parent with depression is two to three times more likely to suffer from depression.  This suggests that there is a genetic link to depression, and some experts have even gone as far as to say that genetics accounts for 50% of cases.[2] 

Scientists have also linked poor blood flow in the frontal lobe of the brain to the severity of depression in patients.[3] 

For years the chemical imbalance theory was accepted as an explanation for why people suffer from depression, but this theory has come under heavy scrutiny lately and many mental health professionals are claiming that this is simply not the case.[4]

2 Malnutrition

A 2016 study found that Omega-3 supplementation can help treat depression.[5]  This is likely because DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a long chain Omega-3 fatty acid, has been linked to brain development and may be essential to the growth and functioning of the brain.[6]  A rich source of DHA is oily fish, and other good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.[7] 

Poor eating in general leads to fatigue and disorder in the body so it is recommended that anyone concerned about their mental health looks into a good diet plan that will complement their needs.  The media has caused us to look at diets as something that we apply only to weight loss and certain health issues, but it is important to note that diet is much more than that.  What we eat needs to become an important part of our lifestyle in order to stay healthy.

3 Brain Damage or Defects

Half of the people who suffer from traumatic brain injury also develop depression.[8]  Traumatic brain injury can be the result of collisions, or foreign objects piercing the skull and entering the brain.[9]  This supports the strong link between brain functioning and depression. 

Recent studies have also shown that depression can also lead to brain damage by shrinking the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for forming new memories, as well as behavioral and emotional functioning.[10]

4 Substance Abuse

Drug use and mental illness are closely related.  Sometimes people with mental health issues turn to substances like alcohol or cocaine in order to self-medicate.  The problem is that this may also lead to addiction.  People with pre-existing mental illnesses have also been found to be more susceptible to drug use. 

Certain drugs like tobacco and marijuana have also been linked to an increased likelihood of anxiety and even psychosis.[11]

5 Trauma and Stress

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is the result of trauma suffering.  Unlike classic depression, the triggers are usually simpler to find; they could include abuse, exposure to violence, and surviving wars or conflict.[12]  If PTSD is discovered early enough, it can be treated systematically.  However, it often leads to long-term depression and anxiety.[13] 

Furthermore, too much pressure in our daily lives can lead to chronic stress, which is a factor in depression.  Stress can be linked to trauma, life events, or lifestyle.[14]

6 Social Stresses

Toxic relationships that involve abuse lead to trauma and mental illness.  If a person’s social life only consists of these type of relationships, they can be destined to repeat old patterns and find difficulty in forming healthy relationships.  Emotional abuse is sometimes difficult to recognize, and can in many ways be more harmful psychologically than physical abuse.[15]
Other social stresses that may not necessarily constitute emotional abuse could lead to disorders like social anxiety and depression.  These include a lack of meaningful relationships, not feeling like we are a part of any group or family, constantly comparing ourselves to others, purposeful isolation, and not feeling worthy enough.[16]

Feelings of inadequacy in social situations can be rooted in abusive relationships in childhood or later, in which people are talked down, or made to feel guilty or unworthy.

7 Poor Environment

People living in poverty, particularly extreme poverty, are at the greatest risk of suffering from psychiatric disorders.[17]

Unemployment is also one of the factors which influence the onset of mental illness.  This is because of the additional stresses that come with financial instability, searching for new employment, and continual rejection if one finds it difficult to find a new job. 

Studies have also found that living in urban areas increases the risk of mental ill-health.  This may be due to a combination of several factors including high congestion, pollution, and higher crime rates.[18]

8 Major Life Events

People often mistakenly think that only negative life events can lead to mental illness.  However, studies have found that all major life events, both positive and negative can lead to depression.

A 2013 study by Riskind et al. has even gone as far as concluding that positive life events may contribute to depression even more so than negative events.  This is because any major life event creates change and change can be unsettling, and therefore lead to spikes in anxiety.  So not only negative events such as divorce, losing a job, or the death of a loved one might lead to mental illness.  It can even be positive events such as getting married, receiving a promotion, or moving to a better neighborhood.[19]

9 Prescription Medication

Medical practitioners are sometimes too quick to diagnose mental illness, and normal feelings that may be the result of a difficult life event, such as grief or sadness, can be perceived as mental illness.  This was the case with Katinka Blackford Newman, a woman who was experiencing distress as a result of a divorce, who was then prescribed antidepressants by her psychiatrist.  She was in fact not depressed, but going through the normal negative emotions that one would associate with an event such as a divorce.  As a result, the antidepressants created havoc in her life for a year, creating symptoms such as psychosis, weight gain, and violent behavior.[20]

Antidepressants can include side-effects such as suicidal thoughts and anxiety.[21]  The long-term use of antidepressants has also been associated with chronic depression, which is referred to as tardive dysphoria.[22]

Other medications that include depression as a possible side-effect include benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety and insomnia), beta-adrenergic blockers (for blood pressure and heart disease), opioids (pain), and norplant (birth control).[23]

10 Rumination

In 2013 Kinderman et al. from the University of Leeds conducted a study to test the biopsychosocial model of mental health.  They tested 32,827 participants in order to find the leading cause of mental illness.  The variables tested included biological problems, social problems, life events, and rumination.  Of the first three, life events were found to be the greatest predictor of mental-ill health.  However, rumination was found to be the biggest overall predictor of mental ill-health.[24]  Rumination can be defined as ‘dwelling on negative thoughts and self blame’.[25]  So, after a negative event has occurred, we make it worse for ourselves by thinking about it over and over and over again.

This has made mental health professionals look at treatments differently.  The premise is that if we can think ourselves into mental illness, then surely we can think ourselves out of it.  It is not as simple as it seems, but methods such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) aim to achieve that by teaching us to think and behave differently in reaction to life events.[26]

Somewhere Over the Black Rainbow - Impressions of Black Rainbow by Rachel Kelly

Earlier this year I started a bumpy recovery process from depression.  Once I had the energy to read, it became one of the first pleasurable activities I took part in.  I wanted to learn as much as possible.  I also wanted to better understand what I had been through.  My next step was to sign up for online courses again, something I’d enjoyed before I was ill.

I saw a course offered by the University of Warwick entitled Literature and Mental Health.  I didn’t have to think about signing up.  Literature is something I love and mental health is something I was dealing with.  The course included lessons about various mental health issues including PTSD, dementia, and bereavement.  My interest lied particularly in Week 5 so I ended up skipping ahead to learn about depression.  The course materials included an extract from Black Rainbow and an interview with Rachel Kelly.

It was chilling to watch Rachel’s interview.  Her descriptions so accurately described what I had been through.  The people I’d spoken to with experiences of depression hadn’t suffered from the physical symptoms that I had felt, and I hadn’t seen much about it online.  I now felt less mad for having gone through what I did, and I knew I had to find out more.  So I went to Rachel’s blog and started reading the posts.  Through this and more research I realised that people aren’t talking about this enough.  There is still so much stigma attached to mental illness and so many of us are left feeling very alone at the worst of times.  My natural reaction was to continue reading about it, writing about it, and sharing my experiences with others.

I ordered Black Rainbow, but when it arrived my outlook had changed.  I was doing much better.  I was taking walks to the beach, growing plants, entertaining guests, reading, writing, and working.  I no longer felt a need to learn or talk about depression, unless it was describing how I’d overcome it and was now fine.  Why would I want to invite that dark period that I’d just managed to get through back into my life?  So I placed the book on top of my To-Read pile, and there it sat unopened for weeks, as I pulled other books from beneath it. 

Then the unexpected happened.  I relapsed.  It was surreal at first.  For months I’d gotten up early, walked the dog, talked to people, travelled and done the normal things of everyday life without too much stress.  Then one morning I battled to get out of bed.  I got up, but I was in pain.  It felt like every muscle and joint hurt as I moved.  I still pushed myself and went for walks for the first two days.  After two short walks that left me exhausted, shivering and nauseous, I gave up.  The black dog was back.

A six week battle followed.  My days varied between deep anguish and glimpses of normality.  On the semi-normal days I used whatever energy reserves I had to work, communicate, and try to solve this problem I was facing.  When I found myself awake in the early hours of the morning, if I wasn’t in too much pain I used that time to be as productive as I could.  One thing I could still do was read.  So I finally grabbed Black Rainbow because I wanted to feel less alone and insane.  I wanted the promise of a “happy ending”, or rather a manageable life, at a time when I felt I was losing control.  Over the next month I read Rachel’s story.

One of the last things to leave me when I suffer depression is literature - even when I can no longer focus on books, I try taking in snippets of articles, songs, poems, and quotes.  Starting to read after a depressive episode is also one of the first signs that I’m getting better.  Reading is and has been a lifeline that I cling onto for as long as possible.  Rachel writes about how words helped heal her.  I read her story and enjoyed the poetry in between.  I could also relate to her knowledge of prayer and the poetry in the bible.  Admittedly I’ve lived most of my adult life in a secular manner.  I let go of learned Catholic traditions and beliefs that I felt were irrelevant or outdated for my way of life.  However, in times of peril, all those prayers and verses from my childhood come rushing back and give me something to cling to.

I also gained some valuable life lessons from Rachel’s book.  I’ll quote two of them directly.

“Any major life change makes you vulnerable to depression.”
This allowed me to better understand what had happened last year.  I went through many life changes – my work routine drastically changed, I got married, and we moved to another continent to begin a new life.  All these things were positive, but they were major life changes and I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to adjust to them.

“I had to accept that on some level my very being and identity, in particular my anxious, striving character and desire to achieve, whether at home or at work, had in part caused the illness.  I think that’s why mental illness remains so challenging for sufferers and witnesses to accept: it’s because we feel it’s partly the fault of the individual.  We can’t simply say we are victims of depression, as we can say we are victims of cancer or diabetes, thereby relieving us of any responsibility.  A victim must have an attacker, some angry rogue cells or dodgy insulin suppliers.  Depression is different.  It is our fault.  We should be better able to control ourselves, and all those feelings that accompany searing anxiety and depression.  But we can’t.  And we feel shame and a sense of failure because of it and because of the self-absorption that ensues.”
Depression is an illness like any other.  However, I do believe that we can take full responsibility for our lives and some of the challenges we face.  The choices we make contribute directly to our well-being.  Just like smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise add to the risk of cancer and heart disease, certain behaviours contribute to the risk of depression.  I allowed my worries to run wild in my mind, bottled up emotions, and I worked too hard to the point of burnt out.  That’s how it started and now it’s up to me to manage this thing in order to prevent another relapse.

I’ve learnt that there are no perfect solutions.  We can only do the best we can with what we know and work to gain other skills to help us heal and progress.  It is my hope that as perceptions change there will be greater interventions to prevent and manage mental illness.

Rachel’s book references The Wizard of Oz, and I think the movie provides a perfect metaphor for depression.  The world is grey and dull, and sometimes this hazy feeling culminates in a tornado of anxiety - thoughts and images whiz past, and you wonder if you'll ever get out of this horror, or even survive it.  Then, suddenly, one day you realise that the swirling has stopped, and you take that first step outside the house (or perhaps your mind).  You discover that the bleak black-and-white world has turned into a bright Technicolor!  It's also alive with interesting features, people, and songs.  Wow!  I have never felt more alive than I did after recovering from a depressive episode.  Thank God I'm alive!  And thank you to Rachel Kelly for writing and publishing her book.

Judy Garland - Somewhere Over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz)

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream,
Really do come true.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,
Away above the chimney tops,
That's where you'll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Related Articles and Links:

Maja Dezulovic

Church Bells and Mental Hells - Poetry Weekend

Church Bells and Mental Hells

Church bells are ringing.
Ain’t it swell
To know we might be saved?
We won’t go to hell.

Church bells are ringing.
The choir is singing
Of saviours and joys
And the good tithings
We’re obliged to be bringing.

Church bells are ringing.
Empty streets are humming
For forgotten spirits
And the live ones
Loved ones and their Christmas homecoming.

Church bells are ringing.
The blustery winds coincide.
You can hear the metal tremble
An echo of consolation
For widowed brides.

Church bells are ringing.
But it’s not nearly as loud as the ringing in my head
Ringing outside.
Ringing inside.
It’s almost enough to keep me in bed.

Maja Dezulovic

A Week's Worth of Madness - Poetry Weekend

Drawing by Steve Ouditt

A Week's Worth of Madness

A week's worth of madness
That's all it took
To give thanks for
My arms
My legs
And the concentration it takes to read a whole book!

A week's worth of madness
Unfolding in my mind
So now I understand better
What it means
To have a restful sleep
To relax

A week's worth of madness
Excruciating pain
Was enough
To get me to say:
"Lord, rather just take me now!"
And then when He didn't
I announced my new way of looking at the world
In utter disdain.

A week's worth of madness
Forced me to treasure
Small joys
Dawn breaking
Birds singing
Sun shining
Rain falling
Life's stupid little things
That sometimes have value beyond measure.

A week's worth of madness
And I'm a better writer
Words like
Take on new meaning.
I'd even go as far as calling anybody battling with illness
A freedom-fighter!

A week's worth of madness
And I'm sane
You see!
Just please Lord,
I've learnt my lesson
No need to hit repeat.
Please, let's not go through this again!

A week's worth of madness
Has awakened in me
A sense of sadness.
For those whose weeks of madness
Aren't weeks

A week's worth of madness
Got me out in the sun
I left the house
Talked to people
And it was indeed quite fun!

Maja Dezulovic

The Reasons I Write about the “Bad Stuff”

I’ve received a few comments lately that I need to “lighten up” and focus on positive things in both my writing and my life.  Most were well-meaning and well-received, but some came with the implication that it would make it easier on everyone, including myself, if I toned things down a bit.  I wrote this to try to make people understand that I’m not as much of a pessimist as I may be perceived to be.  I prefer to think of myself as a wide-eyed realist.  So here are my reasons for writing about the “bad stuff”.

1. I can’t live inside a bubble
Yes, there are some wonderful and beautiful things in this world.  However, there are also some atrocious and hurtful things.  As much as I’d love to not think about all the suffering that goes on, it’s not a button I can simply turn off.  I’m not necessarily focusing on the negative, it’s just there and I acknowledge it.

2. Someone needs to say something
Too many people are afraid to speak out.  I am possibly even one of them, but I’ve found a way to speak and that is through my writing.  I used to be the type of person to silently scream within myself during social events when people made stupid remarks, whilst just smiling and nodding during conversation.  Then I turned into the person who always spoke out, which was perceived as “bitchy” and anti-social.  Now I’ve learnt to better control when to speak and when to shut up.  Or rather, I’ve learned what type of people to avoid.

3. Just because we’re not speaking about it, doesn’t mean it’s going away
If we ignore the tidal wave, it will still come and drown us all.  I’m still astounded by how many people choose to live in selective ignorance.  I guess they’re simply too afraid to step out from the path that has been carefully laid out for them throughout their whole lives.  However, ignorance is a choice, and it’s sometimes difficult to watch loved ones blissfully make that choice.

4. Discrimination is alive and well
People try to tell me racism is dead.  Aha!  All these people are white, and let’s not even try to explain to them what white privilege is.  I’ve also heard people smirk that depression is not a real illness.  Aha!  Let’s hear you say that after suffering through it (and I really wouldn’t wish it upon anyone).  People also discriminate for so many reasons, many of them petty at best.  Many of these people will also not get it, but there is hope for some.  There is hope for the few that will one day catch themselves and get it, and once that happens there’ll be no turning back for them.

5. You cannot cherry-pick your education
We are learning every day.  It’s part of the process of being alive.  Some lessons will come to us gradually over time, whilst others will smack us in the face and leave bruises on our egos for years.  Yes, you can be selective about your experiences, but life cannot be pre-determined.  I don’t choose to focus on bad things, nor to just speak out about negatives, but I voice the issues that I think require the most attention.  Unfortunately, in most cases, it is the “bad things”, because those are the things that we fight the hardest to ignore.  Once we’ve overcome them, then I guess I’ll have less to write about.

Maja Dezulovic

Songs about Mental Illness

There are undoubtedly many songs about mental illness, drug addiction, and just terrible things in general.  These are five of my favourites.  I like them because they give a little insight into the minds of people who may be suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia.  I've shared some of the versions here so that others can enjoy them with me.

Pixies - Where Is My Mind?

This song was featured in Fight Club and also at the end of Season One of Mr. Robot.  Both the movie and the series have protagonists with schizophrenia.

Ooh, stop
With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
But there's nothing in it
And you'll ask yourself

Where is my mind
Where is my mind
Where is my mind
Way out in the water
See it swimmin'

I was swimmin' in the Caribbean
Animals were hiding behind the rock
Except the little fish
But they told me, he swears
Tryin' to talk to me koi koy

Where is my mind
Where is my mind
Where is my mind...

Bee Gees - I Started a Joke

It's easy to read paranoia and anxiety into this Bee Gees classic.  I've included a recent cover of the song, which was featured in Suicide Squad.

I started a joke, which started the whole world crying
But I didn't see that the joke was on me
I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing
Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me

I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I said
'Till I finally died, which started the whole world living
Oh if I'd only seen that the joke was on me

Nirvana - Lithium

Anybody who's studied mental health or been diagnosed with bipolar disorder will know about Lithium, which has been prescribed as a mood stabiliser to patients with mental illness since 1948.

I'm so happy because today
I've found my friends
They're in my head
I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you
We've broken our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care
And I'm not scared
Light my candles in a daze
'Cause I've found God
Hey, hey, hey

I'm so lonely but that's okay I shaved my head
And I'm not sad
And just maybe I'm to blame for all I've heard
But I'm not sure
I'm so excited, I can't wait to meet you there
But I don't care
I'm so horny but that's okay
My will is good
Hey, hey, hey

I like it, I'm not gonna crack
I miss you, I'm not gonna crack
I love you, I'm not gonna crack
I killed you, I'm not gonna crack

Marvin Gaye - Sad Tomorrows

This is the shorter version of Flyin' High (in the Friendly Sky).

Flying High in the friendly sky,
Without leaving the ground,
Rest of the folks are tired and weary
And have laid their bodies down
I go to the place where danger awaits
And its bound to forsake me.

So stupid minded,
But I go crazy when I cant find it.

In the morning I'll be alright my friends
Soon the night will bring the pains again.

Flying high in the friendly sky,
Without ever leaving the ground,
Ain't seen nothing but trouble baby, paraphernalia is my name
There's a place where good feeling awaits me,
Self destruction's in my hands.

So stupid-minded,
But I go crazy, when I can find it.

I know I'm hooked my friends, 
To the boy
Who makes slaves out of men.

I did the best I could...
Nobody understood...

Billie Holiday - Gloomy Sunday

Originally The Hungarian Suicide Song by Rezso Seress, this song is hauntingly beautiful.  It was made famous by Billie Holiday and I've included a lovely version by Angelina Jordan.

Sunday is gloomy
My hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Little white flowers will
Never awaken you
Not where the black coach
Of sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought of
Ever returning you
Would they be angry
If I thought of joining you
Gloomy Sunday

Gloomy is Sunday
With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I have
Decided to end it all
Soon there'll be candles
And prayers that are said
I know, let them not weep
Let them know
That I'm glad to go

Death is no dream
For in death I'm caressing you
With the last breath of my
Soul I'll be blessing you

Gloomy Sunday
I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you
Asleep in the deep of
My heart

Darling I hope that my dream
Never haunted you
My heart is telling you
How much I wanted you
Gloomy Sunday

Maja Dezulovic

Long Summer Days Give Way to Autumn Leaves

Falling Leaves in Zrinjevac Park, Zagreb

I grew up loving winter.  It meant dressing up in boots and warm tracksuits, a warm fireplace to fall asleep next to in our sitting room, and sipping hot chocolate in the mornings before school.  For a long time I even felt that winter was my favourite season.  We weren't the type of family that would run away to the coast every summer nor did we have a swimming pool, so aside from the extended summer holidays, there was nothing that made me particularly fond of summer.  Winter felt more special, treasured.  Perhaps that was because winters were short in South Africa.

For the last couple of years, living in Europe, the opposite has been true for me.  Summer is short-lived.  It is a time when days are super-long (sometimes we have sixteen hours of sunshine per day) and our small town comes to life.  There are parties, festivals, water sports and all kinds of stuff to do.  I used to take these things for granted because after summer would end here, I'd just hop back on a flight to South Africa, just in time to catch the beginning of summer there.  And so it went on... Until last year when I experienced my first winter in Dalmatia.  Granted, it isn't nearly as cold or dreary as further up north (I've spent winters in London and Zagreb), but it's depressing nevertheless.  When the harsh winds hit us last year we were unprepared.  My husband trudged on, going out to chop wood to stuff our furiously hungry fireplace.  If the temperature in the room dropped below 24°C, I began to shiver.  For much of this time, I could be found rolled up in a tight ball under a blanket on the sofa right next to the fireplace in our kitchen.  It wasn't pleasant.

A reason for my discomfort was that I had slowly been slipping into depression since summer of that year.  So, it felt worse when I realised that it had gotten cold and horrible, and I hadn't even taken the time to enjoy the summer while it was there.  At the time it was almost impossible to imagine that summer would come again.

It did and it was wonderful.  This year we opened up our home to guests from all around the world.  We made new friends, and I finally started talking to my neighbours.  We had fun, swam, went on boat trips, walked to the beach, and visited nearby towns.  Now, for autumn and winter, we'll be taking hikes and enjoying the quietness, until the rush of summer hits us again next year.

Lately I've been feeling somewhat groggy.  The shorter days, rain, and disappearing sun has awakened an anxiety in me.  "What if this winter will be like last winter?"  I panic a bit before I realise that it can't possibly be.  We're more prepared now.  My husband has been working to fix the leaks in our ceiling, we have better clothing (European winters are not at all like South African winters), and I am not in the middle of an acute depressive episode.  There will be things to enjoy this year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression associated with late autumn and winter.  That's not what I had, but some people do suffer from it.  I guess we could say that it's a serious (and medical) case of the "winter blues".  In order to beat such feelings, I've instead opted to enjoy different versions of a song I love that adequately describes how I feel.

Here come the Autum Leaves.

The version I first fell in love with...

Doris Day has always been a favourite of mine...

My favourite version.  I love Edith Piaf!

Another beautifully melancholic version...

Of course Barbara had to do her own version too...

Now that we've had a moment to appreciate each artist's rendition of this classic (and there are many, many more on YouTube), perhaps even cry a bit; we can safely move on and look for all the beauty in autumn.  Tranquility, colourful leaves, and good reasons to stay indoors.  I'm thinking hot chocolate, sizzling polenta porridge, fruit teas, movies, rich vegetable soup, and dancing to the music that I love will do the trick.

Maja Dezulovic

My Two Favourite Therapists - Music and Lyrics

"'Cause music's been my therapy
Taking the pain from all my anatomy
Oh and my anatomy
It's my symphony, always stayed with me"
- Marvin Gaye, Turn On Some Music

I love music.  From a young age, I was exposed to my father's swing and jazz, and my mother's love for eighties ballads and R&B.  My sister and I had a ritual of watching musicals, and I enjoyed listening to the tracks in movies.  Most of the first CDs I bought were OSTs because I was fascinated by the way the music came together with the pictures to enhance the stories.  For a short while, I followed the top hits around the world every weekend, listening to the countdown on the radio, but as I grew older I also became less interested in pop music.

I deviated back to what I'd been exposed to before I started worrying about what was cool - music from the movies, old rock, love songs, disco, and jazz.  From there I used the internet to explore different types of music in order to embrace what I loved.  Music's been with me while I've been happy, cheerfully dancing around and singing along; and it's been with me when I was down, crying softly to the tunes with my ear pressed against the radio speaker (until my parents let me have earphones).

I find so much meaning in music.  I've always wanted to make my own music, but I never ventured beyond writing simple lyrics, some terrible singing, and second level adult piano.  As I spend an increasing amount of time on the things I love, it's only natural for me to fall back on music.  So I'm singing, dancing, writing lyrics, and composing. I'm saving up for that piano, and I'm dedicating this week's posts to music.

Maja Dezulovic

Our Parents Raised Us as Storytellers

An ode to little me

I remember how growing up I had two favourite pastimes.  One of them was watching movies with my dad.  We had a ritual of going to the video store, browsing the movies, then after we'd each make our selection, he'd pick which movie to buy.  Then we'd go home and watch it.  It was awesome.  My father exposed us to James Bond, westerns, musicals, and all types of movies, until we were old enough to discern for ourselves and choose what we really liked.

My other favourite pastime was bedtime stories with my mom.  She would read to me about tin soldiers lost at sea, lazy lions, and all kinds of tales.  Because she did this, I loved reading long before it was something I had to do as a part of school.  Eventually my mother and I were reading books that were more advanced than the set books that I brought home from school.  She'd let me get away with not reading the school books that I found boring, because she knew that what I was reading was better for me.

My sister with a book

I never thought about it until recently, but now I know that these small things that my parents did turned my sister and me into storytellers.  Today I'm a writer, and my sister is a filmographer and actress.  Our career paths are the direct result of our parents exposing us to things we were interested in at a young age, and supporting us in our chosen career paths.

It also helped that we were exposed to so many generations.  My grandmother, then in her eighties, came to live with us from Croatia, and she was full of stories.  When I had to write historical essays about World War II or post-WWII Europe, I'd sit down with my dad at the table and make notes of what he told me.  He was like a living textbook.

Our mother, although less eager to share stories of her own, played a huge role in our literacy.  She refused to talk to us in English after others advised her that we would struggle in school if we didn't understand the language.  She disagreed and so my first exposure to English was on T.V. and in nursery school.  Before that, I knew Tswana, Croatian, and Zulu; all of which were spoken in our home.  I'm glad my mother made that choice.  Rather than limit our understanding, she chose to nurture our learning.  I still remember today how she'd flash neatly cut-out word cards in front of me to teach me my English vocabulary.

I also remember how once I sat with a group of kids (in Grade 1 or 2) and someone asked: "How do you spell people?"  I spelt out "pe-o-ple" and the whole group laughed about how I thought that "people" was spelt with an "o".  I was so angry and sure I was right so I asked the teacher when she came around to spell it for us.  She repeated what I'd just said.  The kids stopped laughing and then said nothing.  I expected an apology, but never got one.  That was the first time I ever thought to myself: "I'm surrounded by idiots."  I'm less judgemental nowadays, because I've realised that idiots can make wonderful characters in stories.

Me and a friend in a high school play

My sister as part of a high school play

Maja Dezulovic

What is Love?

I copied this post directly from Hubpages.  It may not have gotten the most views or the greatest response, but I consider it to have been one of my best hubs.  So, here it is again.

Ah! Love? Could I have selected a more clich├ęd, over-done, seemingly overrated topic?! Perhaps not, but here it is nevertheless. This is for those of you who simply love to over-think things. I am like that too. I am told love is illogical. It can make no sense. Some go even further to say that it doesn’t even exist. I beg to differ. Anything that can be seen, felt and recognised does exist. If we are unable to make sense of it scientifically, it only means that we currently lack the technological means.

Pardon the puns. I just love doing that.

Defining Love: What is Love?

For the geeks out there, Oxford dictionary gives me the following: a feeling of deep affection; enjoyment; somebody or something which you like very much; and a friendly name or way of addressing someone. Additionally, Microsoft Word gives me the following synonyms or alternatives: to adore, to find irresistible, to worship, to care for, or to be keen on.

I disagree with most of these, besides that the word can be used to refer to another thing or person, or it can be a pet name. Love is not a feeling! Yes, you can feel love and it can be sparked by a feeling (affection or liking), but love in itself is not merely a feeling. The description that I find to be the most correct is: Love is to find something or someone irresistible.

So, here is my definition:
Love is no matter what.

Types of Love in Relationships

Here are the types of love that you will hear about the most often.

Firstly, there is self-love. This is closely tied to your self-esteem, confidence and feelings of self-worth. This is the most popular love as we are constantly fed with information about how we can make ourselves better. That is, the clothes that will make us look better, the type of education that will give us a better job and future, and various other products to help us become “better”.

Next is boy-girl, husband-to-wife or the love between partners. In this type of relationship, the parties either want to or at some stage wanted to have sex, or they are either having sex or have had sex; with each other of course. This is the type of love most people speak about because sex sells. Okay. There is a deeper reason why this is the second most popular type of love. I’ll get to that below.

Parental and filial love: This is parent-to-child love and vice versa.

Sibling love: The love between brothers and sisters.

Friendship: The love you have for those odd people that bounce into your life with a few jokes and stick around for crying sessions. Those that call themselves “good friends” refuse to leave. The nerve!

Love for your community and environment: This includes the people and beings that are linked to you geographically.

Altruism: This can be described as a love for humanity or kindness in giving to others who you appear not to be closely connected to.

Levels of Love and Relationships

Degrees of love in relationships:

Self → Parental and Filial → Siblings → Friendship → Partners → Community and environment → Altruism

The degrees of love above are ordered from the easiest to the most difficult relationship to maintain, as well as from the strongest to the weakest bond.

Of the types of love mentioned above, self-love represents the innermost core. A lack in self-love makes it difficult to truly maintain any other type of love. We develop this love as we go along. The simplest way to put it is that we are stuck with ourselves no matter what. Therefore, a complete lack of self-love would result in suicide.

Secondly, we are generally stuck with our parents and them with us no matter what. A mother and her child are often described to share the strongest type of bond.

Thirdly, we are bound to brothers and sisters through our parents. These people stick with us through the best and worst of times and usually know us the best.

Friendship can be as strong as sibling love. The only difference is that it is easier to let go of a friend whom you have no official or blood ties to other than common interests and experiences. Hence, this bond is more difficult to maintain and easier to break.

Agape (boy-girl love) or partnerships have the potential to be the strongest tie between any two people because of being the most difficult to maintain. Note that I say, maintain and not attain. It is easy to find a partner or somebody to love but love is hard work. The harder we work on something, the stronger it becomes and the least likely we are to let go of it. Think about it. Two people getting together by some sort of chance or circumstance and sticking together no matter what? That is hard work and commitment, whereas family relationships go without saying.

Community and environmental love comes next because if you have money, you can buy freedom of movement. This can be demonstrated in the fact that most people will flee when things go wrong in their homeland rather than stick around to fix things. Also, how many of us actively contribute to our communities? This love is unconditional because we will always love our homes, however will we always be willing to maintain the relationship to our community?

Altruism is the most difficult type of love relationship to maintain. People claim to care about others but this type of caring relationship can be easily neglected since there is no apparent tie between us and complete strangers. An example of someone exhibiting this type of deep love for others is Mother Theresa. Very few people can attain this level.

More on Love

Love is unconditional. It exists no matter what. Like gravity, it is a constant. Regardless of whether you believe it, recognise it or understand it; it will still be there.

Love is a natural and free-flowing energy. It cannot be created nor destroyed. That is why it is very evident when it is transferred.

Nothing we have created (materially) is love. It is merely created either for or out of love. Hence, love is not a feeling. It is a tangible action that results from a feeling. That is how you recognise it. Love is creativity. Mutual creativity in love and relationships creates happiness. Without creativity, love is stagnant and limited by other factors.

There is no true love versus only love. Unrequited love is also love. It does not depend on the condition of the love being supposedly returned. Likewise, although love may depend on other factors such as trust for its sustenance and maintenance, they are not conditions needed for love to exist. You may no longer trust someone, nor have them in your life any longer, but that does not mean that the love is depleted.

The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. And there can be no fear where there is love.

Complete love is having an energy that resonates with everything around you.

Love is all of us! It means that NO MATTER WHAT we are stuck on this blue planet together, come what may! That is the most outer circle of love and it gets deeper and deeper and deeper from there.

Love is in each of us and love is far greater than any one of us but it is all of us put together.

Verses on Love

Love is when you make a mistake and you work and work and you try again and again and again until you get it right.

Love is staying awake at night trying to find the solution to somebody else’s problem.

Love is wearing a bag of potatoes and looking at someone you’ve just helped dress and being happy for them in thinking that they look so beautiful right now.

Love is losing every memoir, souvenir, photo and reminder and still never failing to find that person within you.

Love is calling someone to find out if they’re okay, when you’re not okay, and failing to notice that they don’t care whether you’re okay or not.

Love is having someone curse you, steal from you, abuse you and continue to take advantage of and belittle you and yet, each time you forgive them.

Love is when you feel the most alone and you start thinking about giving up, then you get a funny sms from your friend that makes you laugh and keeps you going.

Love is wanting to run away so badly that you can barely contain being where you are any longer. You plan it out and you’re ready, then you look into the eyes of someone you love. The thought of how much they would hurt keeps you around.

Love is holding on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day things will get better and people will change.

Love is knowing that you’re good enough right now but also working so that you’ll be better tomorrow.

Love is having no contact with someone for years and catching up from where you left off.

Love is forgiveness without any apologies.

Love is giving without recognition.

Love is when you’ve had the most horrible day, you’re in deep physical and emotional pain and you stagger on in anger. Then you see a small child smile as she licks her ice-cream and you think... Life is beautiful.

Figure it Out for Yourself!

I’ve written much about what love is or what it may be, but you might as well disregard everything here. Unless something specific resonates with you, any information is useless. I say this because I think the statement below is the most true of love as we know it.

I don’t claim to be an expert on love. This article was written based on my knowledge, observations of society and personal opinions. If you disagree with anything here or would like to challenge it, please let me know. Love is learning together in order to find truth.

Maja Dezulovic