Metal box masses


Never stopping voices and noises
Squeezing the mind from all directions
Melting the bodies into one mass
Without distinct features nor thoughts

No escape from the metal box
From the anxiety caused by too much caffeine
Mixed with a chemical concoction
All from over the counter
From the top of my fridge
From inside my drawers

Electronic hand-held distractions
Both relaxing and triggering
Slowing down feet that are ought to rush
And blocking the unwanted sounds
Illusion of a bubble inside a non-existing space

Never alone, but always lonely
Disillusioned with the modern lifestyle
That ends up with a prescription and a medical bill
Vibrating pockets and plugged up ears
So close in a mass of faceless humans
So isolated in the minds of robots-to-be

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On September 16th I went to Belarus


We arrived at the parking lot just in time for the bus. A quick count of the heads and on to the double-decker already full of half-asleep passengers. As soon as the clock stroke 4.15AM, we drove off into the darkness. We travelled through the lush south Lithuanian woods for a few hours. The bus feel into a nightly quietness, while I fought with my broken chair and blasted Turkish rock into my ears.

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Right before reaching the border checkpoint at Raigardas – Privalka the tour coordinator reminded us the regular border crossing rules. Prepare the documents, put down that phone, and stay calm. Thus, we filled-in our immigration documents, waited, surendered our passports to the border control, waited a bit more. Finally, after several uniformed officers checked our bus and the faces, we received the stamps and were given a passage to Belarus.

Numerous tour buses come from Poland and Lithuania every weekends full of people wanting to visit Hrodna and the Augustow canals. The Belarusian government decided to allow visa-free access to this region, therefore opening the doors for some more (still limited) tourism and unlimited (sort of) shopping. It is a great opportunity to finally visit this largely isolated nation and learn more about our historical ties.

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A short ride from the border to the city looked incredibly like Lithuania. Flowing grasslands, scattered wooden houses, and dark forests, gradually becoming greener as the 8AM sun was rising above horizon. Our tour guide, while fighting with a lagging microphone, told us a bit more about the tour and the shopping limitations. The passengers became more alive, chatting about the day tour affront and ruffling their bags for food. We reached Hrodna right on time, let out folks not joining the Augustow canal trip and continued on through quaint towns and woods.

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Luckily, the weather was crisply Autumnal and unclouded. The water in the natural canals shined bright in the sun reflecting tall elk trees. The boat moved slowly through the water route, pushing water plants ashore. Spiders were waking up in their webs and enjoying the sun and vessel movement with the group.

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After the boat visit, we turned back to the city for an old-town visit. Using rapid Russian language, the local tour guide talked about the city and its common history with Lithuania and Poland. Having studied Russian years ago, I understood bits and pieces while partially napping due to the sleepless night.

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We stopped at the oldest extant structure in Hrodna – the Kalozha Church (built in 12th century), standing right by Nemunas. As I am not too big on Christian churches, I chose to walk around relishing the river views, as everyone else explored the incense-drenched inside.

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I separated from the group after the church visit and joined my parents, who skipped the boat tour. We walked together through the clean streets and minimalist signs in Cyrillic writing. I could not help but feel like I was in Lithuanian city. Just with a touch of socialism. That is Belarus for you.

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Cobbled paths, classic and soviet-style buildings, and wide squares with Lenin on the pedestal. We enjoyed the city without the hastiness of the huge group. We shopped for products much cheaper than in Lithuania and breathed in the warm air.

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I finally got to enjoy real soviet-style cream soda from an old machine covered in wasps. Moreover, felt proud of myself that I could read the Cyrillic signs without trouble and communicate with the local waiters at a restaurant. My high school teacher should be happy.

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Right before 5PM, we got back for the return to Lithuania. Everyone slowly gathered into the bus. With bags full of souvenirs, cheap clothes, and local foods. However, the departure from the city did not mean a quick departure to Lithuania.

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The border patrol did not seem to care for us too much. Yet, the tour guide allowed the bus passengers a “short” stop at the Duty Free store, for the last opportunity to snatch some cheap products.  Each person returned to the bus with another bag overflowing with discounted goods.

Then we moved for the last time. With the sky quickly turning darker, we crossed the border to Lithuania and rode for a couple of hours until our starting point in Kaunas. The whole way back I was falling in and out of sleep with more music and back-pain caused by uncomfortable seats. Nonetheless, I successfully visited country number 35 and I could not be happier for that. However, the next trip will definitely be individual. Group travelling is not for me.

restless 


Senses awake without a break
Catching every sound and change of shadow
The night is too light and too noisy
Shivering eye sockets
Fidgeting toes
Never sleeping ears

Restless fingernails
Scratching
Touching
Bleeding
Onto next and next and next
The forgotten start to itch
And the pain is coming —

Pain in the knees
Head, shoulders, knees and toes
Knees, just knees
Maybe head as well
Misaligned shoulders
Moisture sucked out by wind —

Wind outside the window
Truck in the horizon
Opening and closing doors
Scratching chairs somewhere above —

Scratching
Here goes another one
Something new on the back
Turn on the light
Turn around
Turn on the other side

So many turns and flashes in the night
How will I survive another night?
How will I survive another day, I scream —

Screaming children
Shouting grannies
Bikes and trucks
And tricyclic contraptions
Around the corners
Back and forth ring the bell
And don’t fall off —


Fall down to your bed
At the end of the day
And begin the cycle all over again
And again
And again…

Three Things My Therapist Taught Me


It has been almost two months since I left Beijing. With my graduation and departure from Peking University, also ended my weekly counselling sessions. These hour-long meetings with a therapist at the university mental health centre have been amazing at keeping me intact through the craziness that last year was. From juggling way too many different responsibilities to dealing with my crippling social anxiety and bipolar disorder, it was rough. Nonetheless, I came out alive and learned great things from the teary-laughy dialogues with my therapist.

I want to share three main takeaways that I hope will help me in the future and maybe someone else, who might come across this blog post.

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Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash
  1. Tell yourself that you are great just as you are, without any reason

Let’s begin from the most cliché one – “love yourself“. I know that it is easier said than done. No secret that it is so much easier to compliment your friend or say that you are proud of your younger sibling than yourself. But why can’t we love ourselves as unconditionally as we might love our parents? Without any reasoning or explanation. Simply for being where we right now and right here.

This lesson is still hard for me. One session, when talking about the whirlpool of negative thoughts in my head, my therapist asked me to imagine myself sitting in front of me. Then she asked me to tell her/me that I am proud of her, that I think she is amazing. I could not. I could not say, “You are awesome“. I thought of saying, “You are great for completing that project” or “I am proud of you for finishing your thesis“. But that was not the lesson. I was not supposed to be looking for a reason to love myself. I should just do so. No conditions. Just the feeling.

Still, don’t forget that the work you are doing at your job, school, home, etc. is also amazing. Give yourself credit for that and just add some brownie points to the overall awesomeness count!

  1. Remember that others may be going through similar issues, don’t be afraid to talk

When going through difficult times, sometimes it becomes easy to imagine that you are the only one going through them. In the age of social media that only features the best moments, it is easy to forget the mental slums that everyone experiences. I myself, working with social media, often post the best pictures, write the most “dreamy” captions just to create the illusion people want to see. And still, when I see my peers sharing news about their new job offers or posting stories about all their superb adventures, I can’t help but think that I am the only one, who is struggling with rejection letters, panic attacks, and lack of motivation.

Thus, my therapist asked me to talk to some of my peers about my anxiety about moving back to Lithuania and struggling to find employment. To my personal surprise, many of the people I spoke to were feeling the same, struggling with graduation, jobs, and stress. Just as I, many were projecting a positive outlook to the public, while secretly being jealous of everyone else’s artificial projection.

In the end, once you start opening up about your sincere experiences, people will share their thoughts back, usually happy to talk to someone heart-to-heart without hiding behind a smiley emoji.

As a side note, just remember, that sometimes behind the Instagram’s “morning selfies”, there is an hour of makeup and most of the time behind the beautiful tropical trip photos there is a stomach bug from the street food.

  1. Create “anchors of stability” in your life

Finally, one of the most important things that I learned from my therapist was the creation of stable daily rituals. For the past few years, I have been moving around different countries, changing my friend groups, my interests, my work. It has been a hurricane of instability. I was struggling to find an anchor that would keep me grounded wherever I am.

My therapist suggested me making little adjustments during my day that would eventually become habitual. Not necessarily strictly time-based commitments (as waking up at 6 AM each day and having a routine in stone), but simple habits that would easily travel with me wherever I go and fit in any schedule.

At the time, I chose three – meditation, journaling, and practising Chinese. I still keep up with them and they have made all the difference. No matter where I was – in my dorm, on a class trip, in an Indian jungle, or my bed in Lithuania – I could continue these habits. I have my phone for Chinese and meditation; and a notebook for journaling. That is it. Those are my  “(portable) anchors of stability“.

I truly understand the importance of a daily routine and I am still working towards one. However,  sometimes it becomes difficult to keep on following an hour-long routine that starts early in the morning when you were kept up the whole night by insomnia or have no energy to even walk to get food. Thus, these small, non-pressuring “anchors of stability” gave me a great foundation for future and enough stability to go on each day.


I am wholeheartedly grateful to my therapist for all her great suggestions that kept me sane enough to accomplish all my work and complete my thesis. If you are going through a rough patch, talking to someone is one of the best solutions ever. It does not have to be a therapist or psychologist, any trustworthy human-being works. If there is no one you would be comfortable speaking to in a time of crisis, the Internet is also an amazing resource pool – from 7cups to funny cat videos to numerous blogs and forums on this topic. Something to make life better for everyone’s taste!

 

let’s talk about mental health & suicide prevention


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Anytime the topic of mental health or suicide (my fundamental stance is that suicide is not just a mental health issue, but a societal problem, however in this post I talk about the suicide due to mental illnesses) is brought up, people get quiet and wish to leave these taboo subjects in the shadows. Unless a celebrity commits suicide or admits having a mental illness. Then people talk, then people show support, then people push the governments and policy makers to train specialists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and anyone else that would take the “burden” from their private lives. People want “others” to improve the situation, yet never seem to be passionate enough to take matters into their hands.

I have seen this pattern in my native country of Lithuania countless times. The community does not wish to speak about suicide or mental health because it is frowned upon, it is taboo. Regular people, who open up to their friends and families about suffering from depression are quietly shut down for “being too spoiled,” “having too much free time,” or have to listen to another story from the “childhood, where sadness was healed by beating and house chores.”

And I am not even talking about suicidal thoughts.

Oh, aren’t those people selfish? No.

How do I know? I was once one of those “selfish” people.

***

From my personal experiences and several years of suicide research in Lithuania and East Asia, I have come to a conclusion that, although legislative attempts to prevent suicide are beneficial for the most critical stage of suffering, the increase in hospital beds will not improve the well-being.

Then what helps? Well, firstly it would be great to start talking about these issues in the public domain and raising the acceptance of people, who are often marginalised.

Sounds simple, right? Not really.

***

One recent example of suicide prevention in Lithuania comes to my mind. A prominent politician and the Head of the Suicide Prevention Commission worked on a book that would include stories of people whose relatives committed suicide. These stories were supposed to portray the suffering of individuals, who were affected by suicide. In turn, this ought to prevent people from committing suicide by showing how many people they would hurt. In other words, how selfish these people are for thinking of killing themselves.

However, were individuals who attempted suicides included? Unfortunately, no. The premise of the book is correct and promising. It is true that any kind of death affects family and friends, however making the unfortunate people feel guilty for this is neither right nor helpful. First of all, the family members often have nothing to do with the illnesses, thus blaming themselves will not be healthy for anyone. Secondly, when one is at the bottom of mental distress, there are no thoughts of other people, there are no thoughts of “self” either. There is just a dark abyss of pain and suffering. There is no rational thinking or motivation to wonder what others are feeling. Especially, if everyone around you is dismissing what you’re feeling and not providing any support. The illness eats the person up and sucks out all the will of continuing the painful existence.

It is vital to remember – psychological illnesses kill people. Suicide in this case is no longer a wholly personal choice, as there is no “person” left.

***

I do not wish to romanticise suicide or mental illness, as there is nothing romantic or mystical about it. It is horrible. It is as awful as any other physical illness.

However, when a person dies from pneumonia or other physical complications, nobody talks about their selfishness and inconsideration towards others. People praise them for fighting this long and being resilient till the end. Then why are individuals who die from depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder are treated as selfish, and their fight with their own brain gets dismissed? Yes, it is often easier to hide and quietly battle with mental illness, while functioning as a normal human being. However, that is usually because of the continuing stigma and a deeply rooted belief that “what happens in the brain, stays in the brain”.

***

Then how can we help people who suffer from mental health problems and/or have suicidal thoughts without shoving psychiatrists and hospital beds down their throats?

I propose two things – education and dialogue. The best thing is that both can be done on a personal or local level, without any governmental involvement.

It is not difficult to watch a couple of videos on bipolar disorder or simply ask the affected person about their issues or what they’re going through. These human beings have the first-hand experience and are much more willing to explain how they feel instead of having assumptions being made about them.

For instance, I also live with bipolar disorder and would rather tell someone what it is, instead of being asked whether I have taken my medications, just because I feel down one day. It is just rude.

I believe that having mental health as part of the school curriculum would be the best step towards a better understanding of these issues. When I was in Lithuania, we never spoke of mental health problems and ways to deal with them. We had a social worker at the school. However, anyone who saw her was perceived as weird and ended up being isolated or bullied. (Another step for Lithuanian biology/health curriculum would be to introduce gender and sexuality studies, maybe hatred towards LGBTQ+ would subdue…) The lack of discussion and education leaves the society ignorant and alien to their emotions. And nobody wants to talk about it in the long-run.

As for the second point, I also believe that dialogue and integration are the best way to show support. I feel much better whenever someone wholeheartedly asks about my mental state without judgment or false affirmation suggestions (I am looking at you “just be positive” or “your life is great, don’t be sad”), as they rarely work. We simply wish people to understand that mental illnesses are legit diseases that need to be taken care of.

***

People with mental illness do not want to die. However, sometimes the society and the isolation forces the people to stop seeing the purpose in their lives. Sometimes finding a new interest helps, and sometimes a heartful talk over a cup of coffee saves a life.

As long as we start a discussion, we can progress.