Modern Holy Fool (Holy-Foolishness in Russian Culture: Part Three)

The image of a Holy Fool (read about who is Holy Fool here and here) found its new popularity following the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the main reasons is, of course, the recognition of Russian Orthodox Christianity as the official religion, but also the collapse of the beliefs of the socialist regime, when the country as a whole found herself in a momentary chaos, becoming, one can argue, a prototype for holy foolishness as a search for meaning.
The holy fool found a renewed interest in Christian studies, but also in academia. However, it is in the popular forms of media, such as films and even music that the holy-fool found a new ‘fame’, he came back to be yet again a spiritual hero, but he also acquired a new angle, the one of controversy in terms of his ‘madness’. What does lie behind his madness? And can we call someone mad, individually speaking, when the whole society can be considered as mad, especially if we look at what was happening in Russia since the late eighties of the last century? The old regime collapsed, reversing the ideology of communism to the ideology of capitalism in a matter of a couple of years. Old government structures were sold as vouchers to the Russian population, to be immediately bought back by those running these companies for a penny, because the population was suddenly starving, making them oligarchs. Shops got empty, there was shortage of food and clothes, and a total disarray in terms of a spiritual direction of the nation. While Russian Orthodox churches were emerging from their oblivion, Tarot readers and palm readers would sit in their proximity and promise the passers-by some hope for a better life. Hypnotist Kashpirovsky got a prime spot on the TV to hypnotize an entire nation, feeding tales from the national TV in 1989.
It was absolute and total madness, and it found its way into popular art, where painters, artists, and film-makers, would resort to the character of a holy fool to make sense of something which didn’t make any sense.
Russia is often referred to by Russians themselves as a country of fools, and the changes that the country witnessed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, could be delegated firmly in the domain of total madness, where the only way to show the light at the end of the tunnel, was to resort to laughter and the grotesque, as a way to manage the deep spiritual malaise. As Heller and Volkova ask, in relation to the fascination of Russian culture with holy-foolishness: “A question arises: is there something deep inside the Russian mentality that correlates with the state of insanity?” (Heller & Volkova, 2003, p. 153) Some changes that Russia has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union left many Russians at a loss, where they were asked to adjust to a new ideology, new beliefs and new rules, and the popular art showed us the difficulty of the transition, by resorting to holy-foolishness and the character of a holy-fool in order to negotiate the incomprehension and deep spiritual uncertainty that the country and her people experienced then.
During the years of Perestroika, the image of holy-fool became the one of a dissident, adopting the weird behaviour of holy-fool to show the plight of many individuals who struggled to adapt to the changes in Russia on an economic and political levels. We can see this theme clearly in Taxi-Blues by Pavel Lungin, a film which was released in 1990, and which portrays us the reality of Russia at that time.
The film focusses on the life of two protagonists, a taxi-driver, Shlykov, and Lyosha (played by Pyotr Mamonov), a saxophonist. They meet on a ride in a taxi, when Shlykov takes Lyosha and his friends as passengers, but Lyosha doesn’t pay for the ride, after which Shlykov manages to track him down. Both characters then develop a truly bizarre friendship, which becomes a main story on the background of the madness of the country then.
The madness of that time starts from the beginning of the movie. The hypnotist Kashpirovsky greets us on the screen, by delivering his slogan promise: ‘Everything will be calm’. It immediately shows us the absurdity of that times, when ordinary people couldn’t find work, when hard-core communists quickly established their new capitalistic businesses, and when, in the ultimate feat of total absurdity, Mikhail Gorbatchev abolished alcohol, driving many Russians to either create a black market, or resort to the home production of alcohol. Kashpirovsky was put on the national TV in order to try to calm the nation down.
The lives of the two main characters show us how ordinary people managed life at that time. Thus, Shlykov, as it appears, adapted better to the new changes, by working hard as a taxi-driver. He has a room in an apartment, a girlfriend, can afford nice food, and from exterior it looks like a good life. Only by watching the narrative do we discover that he is not really happy in himself, that he doesn’t have many friends, that he struggles to find the spiritual meaning in life. And the aim of the film is also to show that all those who just continued hard-work couldn’t dream of acquiring the same richness that nouveu riches managed to accumulate. Hard-work and integrity were all the values that became suddenly obsolete, not cool and not needed.
On the other side of the spectrum, Lyosha, the saxophonist by profession, refused to adjust. He just goes with the flow. Despite the fact that saxophonists are nor longer needed and struggle to find any employment, Lyosha refuses to change anything, and gets by, by either singing on the streets, or by pure luck, such as meeting Shlykov in a difficult moment in his life and being helped by him. And while Shlykov helps Lyosha on a material level, Lyosha gives Shlykov a new spiritual meaning, found in laughter, unpredictability, and love of grotesque. Lyosha reminds Shlykov to sometimes let go, do something unexpected, believe in the fate.
The character of Lyosha, played by Pyotr Mamonov is often compared to that of a holy fool, but transformed into a modern version of it. We can disagree, however, with that meaning, because while during the whole narrative, Lyosha does exhibit all the characteristics of a holy fool, he fails in the end of the movie to fulfil the ultimate obligation of giving. Lyosha meets a famous American saxophonist at some point, and gets an opportunity to perform in the United States, which re-launches his musical career. Shlykov watches the newly found fame of his friend from a distance, and is desperate to see Lyosha again. He misses the playfulness and cheerfulness of his friend, and he doesn’t understand why Lyosha fails to come and see him when he is back in Moscow. Eventually when Lyosha comes to see him, he brings with him a band of new friends and absurd presents, such as a big doll. We can see that he breaks the heart of Shlykov and lets his old friend down.
But while one can argue whether Lyosha can be compared to the character of a holy-fool, it is the narrative itself that is representative of holy-foolishness positioned at the fall of the Soviet Union. The film shows us how the modern world changed to the worst, where the goodness of character, kindness and empathy are replaced by greediness, strive for material goods, and desire to become famous. It is the story itself that leads us to ask the eternal spiritual questions: but what is the meaning of life if one is lost completely in the material side of it? Should we remain humble even if we get further in life, and still remember those who helped us at the most difficult part of our journey? Shouldn’t we cherish friendship and simple things in life, such as sharing warm soup with friends, laugh even when life is difficult, appreciate people rather than goods?
It is in his next movie, The Island that Lungin returns to the question of deep spiritual meaning. The Island appeared in 2006, quite a few years later after Taxi-Blues. In it we see a story of a modern fictional Russian orthodox monk, played yet again by Pyotr Mamonov.
It starts during the second world war, when sailor Anatoly and his captain, Tikhon are ambushed by the Germans, somewhere at the shore of the white sea. As a grotesque joke, the Germans present Anatoly with a choice: either to shoot Tikhon and live, or die. Anatoly shoots Tikhon after which the Germans blow up the ship.
Anatoly survives and is rescued by the monks from a local monastery, where he stays. It is many years later that the new life of Anatoly is presented to us. He works as a stoker at the monastery and acts as a local ‘wise’ man. It is to him that ordinary people come for advice, prayer and also in order to heal.
The parallels with the holy-fool are much more striking in The Island. Anatoly is a deeply spiritual man, who constantly prays to God. He has a gift of a prophet and of a healer. He sees the future and can predict it. He gives wise advice. At the same time, his behaviour is extremely weird. He rarely washes his face, makes fun of the monks, is always late for the Church services, where he shows up in a truly bizarre attire, one day marching with one foot in a boot, another dressed in a sock.
But while watching the character, we can’t help but fall in love with him and his way of thinking and doing. His faith in God is so beautiful and sincere, that the viewer hopes that he will be forgiven for his ultimate sin. And we are relieved indeed when right before his death (that Anatoly foresees himself several days in advance, by organising his own coffin), we learn that Tikhon had survived. He brings his daughter to see the remote monk due to rumours of his healing gift, and meets Anatoly. Anatoly reassures Tikhon that his daughter is not mad but is possessed by a demon, preforms exorcise, after which she is healed. After that Anatoly tells Tikhon who he is, but Tikhon tells him that he was only wounded in the arm, and that he had forgiven him.
The movie, while basing the character of Anatoly on holy-fool, presents us a different façade of holy-foolishness than the one we have seen in ‘Taxi-Blues’. It reaches a deeper spiritual meaning where we are confronted with the true meaning of holy-foolishness: one has to have faith in God and Jesus, and then and only then, one can become a holy-fool, while renouncing also worldly conventions and material aspects of things. It also shows us Russia as it changed in the years after the turmoil of the uncertainty following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It became quieter in its own spiritual search, firmly embracing Christianity, and by going back to its roots preceding the revolution. The country might still experience turmoil at a political level, but spiritually, it found a new meaning.

What is Normal?

I already discussed the normality as the most boring tale in my other post, but I want to go back to the discussion again. I think, it is a syndrome, a syndrome of normality that we should talk about now.

Let’s define it again.

The state of normality nowadays is presented to us as a state where we don’t ask many questions. We are not really curious about the state of the world, characterised by extreme inequality, where rich are getting richer, poor poorer, and where we have wars amongst religions, hunger, depletion of natural resources, and more. A failure to reflect on it, and not being worried – is sign for me of ‘mental illness’, not the other way around.

The state of normality is sold to us as a state where kindness is no longer a virtue but strive for statuses and wealth is, it is a state where we are living in constant consumption, get quick fixes via apps and the likes, and where reality tv is presented to us as something nice to watch. It’s a state when we like reading the celebrity stories, and read about dirt found on celebrities in some press. If it is normal to enjoy it, then excuse me, I am out of this tale, a tale of the ‘normality’.

A state of normality is a state when we still have religions, but we freak out when we see the proof of God, and or when someone tells us that the person talks with God. Apparently, it is possible to see the signs of God and not feel euphoria from it- how it is done, well, just visit the self-help section in the bookshop, and have a look. It is sold to us now, the spirituality, but those very few who experience it in real life, the state of connection to God, the spiritual enlightenment – are usually diagnosed with ‘mental illness’, like I was.

The normality becomes a syndrome when we just take days as it comes without reflection, without critical thinking, and questions about meaning of life. It is a syndrome when we consume the next celebrity story, next to devasting news about refugees, and just get on with our daily tasks, saying to ourselves: ‘I shouldn’t be too concerned about the misery of others.’ It is a syndrome when we think only about the next thing to buy, a new fancy car to purchase, or have sex via an app. It is a state where we simply stop thinking, thinking about a bigger picture. The earth is a global responsibility, but we tend to be responsible only for our little bubble of a comfortable world: where we are encouraged to buy, to buy more, and even more when people on the other side of the planet are starving.

The syndrome of normality is looking for a partner with money, instead of real love. It’s a state where deep friendships no longer matter, because of the competitive spirit of our world in the West. It is a state when we sell our souls for money, and let’s be frank here: it is all about money nowadays, the icon that replaced God in our current state of ‘normality’’. It is when we judge others who are different, and stigmatise them online. It’s a state where we are allowed to be mean to each other, and where we don’t even know our neighbours’ names.

I exited this tale a long time ago, I try to lead a different life. I don’t watch any TV, but occasional good movies. I read books and I read philosophical books too. I search for love, not a partner. I build amazing, beautiful friendships for life. My best friend is my friend for 37 years now, and I have real friends around the world.

I try to cook simple meals, but I am still affected by consumption, it is impossible to escape it entirely today. I like good face creams that are expensive, but on the other hand, I love my job where I earn good money. I worked hard to be where I am now, on a material level, but I also share.

I listen to good music and I read the news. I don’t read the celebrities stories, but I do cry often when I read about starving children, the refugees and racial or other injustice. I often think about our world and how we should take better care of our planet earth. I reflect.

But I am not ‘normal’. I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

J’adore la langue franҫaise

You need to fall in love with a language in order to master it and to have the desire to speak it fluently.
I fell in love with the French language when I was thirteen, and living in Moscow. I was attending a linguistic college, but I was more interested in socializing rather than studying.
But then one day I met a new teacher. My mum sent me to her. It was a private tutor. I liked her as soon as I saw her. She opened the door to a very messy apartment, full of dogs, books, and all kinds of rubbish.
She sat me on the chair, and produced a cake, and then she started to talk to me, in French.
“I lived in Montpellier,” she told me. “I lived there for seven years. It was a town of magic, not far from the sea, with different colours, interesting people, and great food.”
I thought I couldn’t understand French before I met my new teacher, but when she was talking, I could follow her. Maybe it was the way she was describing Montpellier, or maybe it was her cake. It was delicious, and I liked being in her cosy apartment. Everywhere I looked, there was stuff. Pictures, candles, interesting books, some antique, two beautiful dogs.
I fell in love with the French language during my first lesson with her.
And this love stayed. When you fall in love with a language, you enter into a parallel universe. You enter into the field of that language, the magic of its particular music. 
When I speak French, I am a different person. I am more romantic, I am shyer, I discuss random things: books, music, philosophy, Russia. I start thinking in French when I speak it, and I like the sound of it in my own head. The voices I hear are in French. They sing to me a very beautiful music.
French language is a language of music. If I would assign a piano concerto to it in its quiet mood, it would be Chopin Nocturne op.9 No.2, and something like Stromae (incredible Belgian singer) in expressing the language when one wants to dance.
Pourquoi pas?
I see the colour blue in French, just like in that movie (Les trois Couleurs: Bleu) with beautiful Juliette Binoche. I see the beauty of Sophie Marceau, la Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, and the philosophy of Michel Foucault. I see my favourite writer, Amelie Nothomb, and the town which I love the most, Brussels. I see the marvel of my favourite painters, the impressionists. I hear prefect French when I listen to Zazie.
The French language is like a flower, it is delicate, it is fragile. One needs to approach it with care. When I first came to Brussels to study, at the age of nineteen, I remained silent for the first six months. I started to talk only when I judged that my French was perfect enough to start self-expressing. French is the sound of love, it is the sound of romantic adventures, of people who love discussing serious things, who love great food, good wine, and self-criticism.
La langue franҫaise est une langue d’amour. (French is the language of love)

I love the French language. J’ adore la langue franҫaise.

Dima, ou es tu?

I was sixteen, and still studying at school. On the day when I encountered Dima I was taking the Moscow’s underground to deliver myself for a photo session at a modelling competition. It was the time, which lasted for a year at most, when I was dreaming of becoming a model. In other words, I was completely, totally insecure in both my body and my head.

When I entered the wagon at one remote station in our beautiful underground, I immediately spotted Dima. The guy was charming, had dark hair and was laughing in a very sure way with two girls sitting next to him.

A cute guy and a student, I sighed. No way a person like him will ever notice my presence. I was wearing a terrible fur cap (to safeguard my hair for the photo session), while the only piece of style in my wardrobe was limited to the boots, which half of Moscow was wearing at that time. It was the period when limited pieces of fashion were attacking Moscow shops in masses. I might have skipped the rainbow coat (worn by the other half of the city’s population) but I had the boots. I sat next to the guy, however, as there was a vacant place. Taking out of my suitcase a book, I tried to loose myself in studying French grammar – the subject I was supposed to know perfectly, while attending a privileged linguistic college in my native town.           

“You speak French?” I heard a second later, and to my greatest amazement, this comment was coming from the cute dark-haired guy. He turned away from his fellow blonde student girlfriends and was looking intensely at me.           

“Yes, professionally,” I gave the most stupid answer, while removing my fur cap with my right hand and hiding a pimple on my check with my left.           

“Interesting,” the guy moved closer to me to look at my book. “Where?”           

“At the University,” I said in a confident way, while trying to adjust the position of my face in such a way that he wouldn’t notice my pimple.           

“Which university?”Despite the fact that I was only sixteen (and still at school), and blessed with pimples I knew which were the best universities, at that time, to learn French in Moscow.          

“The Institute for Foreign Languages,” I said proudly, forecasting my future at that moment, as it’s exactly where I landed for a year before moving to Brussels, let me think … two years later?   

 “Oh …” I could see that the guy’s interest in me was growing. Which was fine by me, as never in my life had a guy like him talked to me for such a long time, and yes, he was the cutest guy I had met so far.           

“Well …” he continued, “I also study French, at the University for Foreign Relations.”

Not only was he cute, he was also smart. At that time the institution he was attending was renowned as the ‘hottest’ place to get your degree.           

“Really?” I said. “I love French. It’s the love of my life,” I lied, since the biggest love of my life at that period was George Michael and Wham!           

“My name is Dima”, said the guy, while trying to hold my gaze for more than two seconds. It was exactly what I was trying to avoid, as my biggest problem at that time, apart from pimples, was that I was blushing on every possible and impossible occasion.

“My name is Ekaterina,” I answered, while wondering what on earth Dima saw in me, as the look on the faces of his two fellow girlfriends was suggesting that they were asking exactly the same question, and not in a very pleasant way.

“Voudriez-vous diner avec moi ce soir?” the eyes of Dima were really too close to mine this time.

I blushed. The thing was … I didn’t understand a word of what Dima had said. In perfect French. I was so blown away by his intense stare that it didn’t occur to me that I should also use my brain and my ears.           

“Fuck!!!!” was my answer in perfect Russian, when I noticed the name of the underground stop. “I missed my station!”And without giving it an additional, mature, balanced thought I literally jumped from the train.

And only on the platform seeing the departing train and Dima in the train looking (sadly?) at me did the meaning of his sentence entered my teenage brain. “Would you like to have a dinner with me tonight?” This was what he had asked me in French.

Goodbye Gina

You came to my life when you were seven. We took you from the animal shelter. I was begging my ex, the farther of my son for a cat, for ages, and suddenly, one day, he just said:

‘Let’s go, now, to the animal shelter and take a cat.’

I have to admit now, that I was wishing for a young cat, for my son to grow up with. When we approached the shelter, I saw you at once, – you were standing on the window still, staring at us. You felt, of course, that we were coming to give you a new, loving home.

Once we were in the room, for some reason, I forgot that you were already waiting, and ignored you in the first instance, asking to see maximum one year olds cats. The workers at shelter showed us a couple, and they looked cute, but you didn’t ignore us, right on the contrary, and were making walking rounds around my family, especially paying attention to my son. It was my ex, Sean, who asked the obvious question:

‘But what about this cat?’’

I am forever grateful that it was Sean who chose you, as without you, I would never discover my amazing love for cats, and admiration for your nature. You are all gods and goddesses in disguise, much better than the majority of humans, and you chose us. Thank you.

The workers from the shelter explained that you were seven, good with children and other animals and cats, but slightly distressed because you had arrived to the animal shelter from the inability of the previous owner to look after you. I made my mind then, and said:

‘’We want Gina.’’ And you joined our family the next day.

It appeared that you weren’t that good with other animals and children, as you found my over-energetic, marvellous son who was two then, extremely annoying, and you showed a ferocious, absolutely warrior nature towards other cats, and especially towards cats that dared to approach me. You remember, how angry you were when another cat came to our house and I dared to cuddle him? You were really in total rage. I knew then that you looked at me as your mum, and no one could share this love, expect you, and my son, of course. You grew up to him in your affection, once he learned how to sit in one place, in peace, for at least good five minutes.

You showed me love and affection. You showed me it on the day you arrived. You cuddled yourself on my knees and then put your beautiful face on my chest, and your paw on my heart, and I knew then: it was love. Your eyes were oh, so beautiful, containing so much of the wisdom, that we, the humans, lack. If the cat nature can be assigned properly, it goes back to the Ancient Egypt, when you ruled the world, and rightly so. You were considered as gods.

You moved with us to the Netherlands, and decided to retire for good six months. My mum would totally spoil you when she was at my house, giving you biscuits and buying you all kinds of nice cat brands to try. You chose my son’s bedroom as your room, and slept on his bed, once you decided that your office would be in the attic, to stay away from the noise of children, always playing in my house.

You loved me, oh so much, following me everywhere if I was absent, as I had to go to Sheffield, during my holidays, to see my dear friends, and revisit my beloved town. You came to my knees, and you chilled in the garden, and ate the best soups. I would give you food, first thing in the morning, before even thinking of making a coffee for myself.

I hope you enjoyed your eight and a half years with us. I hope you did feel our love and affection, and I know, you did, as your amazing beautiful eyes always looked with so much love, back at us.

This morning I had to say goodbye to you, because you became to unwell to continue living. Your organs failed, and you couldn’t breathe, and I stayed with you till your last breath, and I kissed you and cuddled, but it was a goodbye.

A sad, devastating goodbye as I am missing you, and I love you, my Egyptian Goddess.

Being Mad is Liberating

Being mad is liberating. Well, at least with practice and determination, because, let’s face it, being mental (with a confirmed diagnosis) is not a high status on the scale of popularity in our society, defined as it is by the standards of normality.

My own sense of liberation came around two years ago when I was sitting on a bench in the park. A man literally materialised himself on the same bench a minute later, smoking a cigar in a leisured manner. I didn’t see him approaching and his whole appearance was slightly bizarre: mismatched glasses, dirty trousers and an expensive red tie.

It didn’t take me long to start thinking that it might be the Devil, a character I met in all of my psychoses. After an initial deliberation about whether I was experiencing a hallucination (unlikely since the man kept on sitting where he was even after I blinked several times in a row) or a delusion (an explanation more probable than the first), I dismissed these probabilities firmly from my head. I knew that I wasn’t psychotic, helped by the fact that I was on a low dose of quetiapine, and that while I had no proof that the man might be the Devil, he also could be, even if according to the psychiatrists, seeing the character and all other bizarre occurrences belong to the domain of insanity.

I walked away from the bench as fast as I could, because to be honest, I try to avoid the Devil in all his manifestations, but this experience got me thinking. What if the things that mad people see and hear are real? What if there is this tiny possibility that the truth indeed lies in madness and not in what is projected to us by the society as being normal?

I have to admit that simultaneously writing a Ph.D. thesis on how Facebook collects its data helped me in the matter of thinking about my own madness and the madness of others. You see, Facebook and all other Internet companies as well as grocery shops (via their loyalty cards) store everything that comes on their radar. They know all about your daily habits, your friends, what you like having for your breakfast and whether you are single or not. This is in line with what the majority of mad people believe – that we are constantly being watched. Tell this to a psychiatrist? He will answer that you are mental, despite the evidence to the contrary. We are being watched, every single moment of our day and night.

The presence of the Devil is obviously harder to prove and it is not something that I am planning to discuss with psychiatrists in any point of my remaining life. But in an unlikely event that it might happen, I already know their answer. The Devil will be put into the basket of hallucinations or delusions, despite the fact that almost all religions of the world admit his existence.

Here’s a question that has been bothering me for a while: Why is it that while there are considerably more people who are mental than there are psychiatrists, it is the mad who are called being stupid (but in a politically correct way)?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against psychiatrists as such. Most of them do try to help, and I met a couple among them who turned out to be brilliant and fun people. I do take their medication even if I learned from experience that unless I am ready to live like a zombie, I should administer my own dose and not the one they prescribe.

No, it is a lack of a dialogue with psychiatrists that annoys me the most. We know, of course, that psychiatry is an establishment, discussed in length and depth by those willing to sacrifice themselves to the cause. Michel Foucault was perhaps the most prominent scholar in the field and he pointed quite correctly to the fact that psychiatry simply fits into the trend of growing medicalization, where everything that falls outside normality should be treated immediately with some miraculous pills. And usually this is done with such an attitude of arrogance that even those who had no problem in the first place start believing that they are terminally ill.

I did have a problem when I was admitted to the hospital with an acute psychosis for the first time. I didn’t sleep for ten days brought about by the stress of life. I was working for two years as a financial analyst of banks, and as financial crises demonstrate quite clearly, working in finances can drive anyone mad.

The thought pattern after a prolonged insomnia does perhaps belong to the realm of insanity, but among the chaos I was demonstrating to the medical staff who admitted me to the hospital near the city of Amsterdam, there were glimpses of what was really happening with me (besides boring explanations which can be found in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)

“I am Buddha,” I told to my doctor and this is exactly how I was feeling at that time. I was feeling light, happy, full of life. Banks under my analysis could go and fuck themselves and I, Ekaterina from Russia, was ready to enter into a higher vintage point.

The doctor didn’t share my wishes towards happiness. He didn’t even smile (or laugh, which would be even more appropriate) and instead of congratulating me on the fact that I finally started to see the truth, that I was on some road of enlightenment and should abandon my job in finances once and for all, he declared with a solemnly serious face,

“I think you are mad.”

In retrospect, the only mad thing I did was share my thoughts with the doctors. Was I Buddha really? No, I wasn’t, even if it is entirely possible that I was one in my past life. No, my state of Buddhahood was pointing towards the general dilemma experienced by our society. I wanted to be out of the system based on accumulation, statuses and endless consumption. I wanted to be free.

But this is the problem with most psychiatrists, in my opinion. They don’t have a broad vision of life. Their focus is on details, on something that treats manifestations and not the underlying cause. They simply don’t understand the madness, because in order to understand it, one has to be mad himself. How can you treat something when you don’t see or hear the same thing?

As Nietzsche once said, “Why does man not see things? He is himself standing in the way. He conceals things.” Funnily enough, he described in this way the state of psychiatry today. Psychiatry conceals things.

But because of the weight that the whole establishment carries on its shoulders, we are obliged to obey and if we don’t, we are forced to. My path towards enlightenment was cut short after that doctor put me on a killing dose of risperidone and suggested that I might suffer from schizophrenia. The only thing I could think of after the treatment was how nice it would be to die.

More diagnoses followed later, more hospitalisations (it is normal that one stops a medication that can potentially kill) and more tears. It was only enormous determination on my part, as well as simple curiosity, that finally helped me to get away from those psychiatrists. I haven’t seen them now for five years, I said goodbye to their claws even if the diagnosis of bipolar hangs firmly above my head.

But I don’t mind, because this diagnosis gives me the opportunity to speak. It shows that I’ve been there, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the sad faces of patients who are told day after day that they are mad.

But what is madness exactly? Psychiatry describes it as a loss of touch with reality, as foolish behaviour, as insanity. It is amazing that we take their definitions seriously, considering that those who do see things, outnumber the ones who don’t.

Michel Foucault describes it as a discourse. Somewhere by someone it was decided that those who are more powerful should mistreat those who are weak, and while we see the rise of fight on behalf of other groups who have been discriminated against in the past, this rise towards freedom and equality from the mad is a slow process. This, I believe, is because of stigma, because they are afraid to speak, and because society is scared of anything that points to the fact that there might be another reality.

After that walk in the park, I admitted to myself for the first time that what I see is real. I see angels and fairies, I believe in the afterlife, I talk with animals and I know all about my past lives. And yes, I did meet the Devil. His numerous appearances helped me to realise that madness can also be a battle for one’s soul. I am a firm Christian as a result.

Am I being mad? Probably. But this is what I like in my life. If, on that day I was admitted to the hospital for the first time, someone asked me whether I would like to become normal again and forget about everything that happened to me, I would say a definite no. Because I remember how I was, sitting in a boring job day after day and believing that life was about my next salary, a useless trip to the gym and which diet to follow.

No, life is not about that, I’ve realized. Life is about discovery and madness, and seeing it this way is a sure way to get it right. I am finally free.

(This article was first published on Mad in America in 2015, but I asked to remove it, due to stigma.)

Here is the link to the original article.

Magic is in the air

the magical tree

If you read my previous post called ‘Waarom’ you already know that I always preferred the fantasy world to the ordinary reality we mostly observe around. Magic always appealed to me even if when I was growing up in the Soviet Union, a state where religion was banned.

Still, I constantly looked up to the sky imagining that there was something more to what we could see with our eyes, that there was some kind of parallel world, and all the books I was reading at that time contained perhaps some elements of truth: that there were magical characters, that magic was real, that there was more to this world, besides some scientific explanations as how we were came to earth and how the earth was created. I even remember the precise book that made a switch in my consciousness. A rather dark magical story, called Krabat, written by the remarkable German writer,  Otfried Preußler.

The genre is a fantasy novel, that tells us the story of a boy who ended up as an apprentice at a sorcerer, and is lured into all kinds of black magic, where the goodness prevails at the end, as the boys at the hands of the sorcerer (who can easily be identified as the devil) unite to combat the dark forces, renouncing all kinds of magic in order to win the battle and live a life they wished for themselves, such as creating a family, falling in love, and leading a more or less ‘normal’ life. There is also a movie based on the novel, but I strongly recommend you to start with the book, especially that it was a book that had appeared first, and only later – the movie.

I was seven years old when I came across the book, a pivotal moment in my life as it was the night I fell in love with books and reading. My mum, I remember, was so relieved that I finally showed such an interest in reading, that she allowed me to stay awake until I finished the book, as I couldn’t stop reading, and eventually I finished it at five o’clock in the morning. I have a remarkable mum in this respect, she inflicted in me love for books, theatres, art and great food.

And so after I finished the book, I felt a change happening in my seven-years old mind. Just a single book, but extremely powerful, made me want to believe that magic was real, and that without it, the world would be a very boring space. I also sensed at that time, that if someone writes such stories, then he, the author, also believes in some magic, otherwise, why write a magical story in the first place?

After finishing the book I started to look for magic everywhere. It wasn’t an easy task as I was growing up in the Soviet Union, and apparently we were not supposed to believe in anything besides the communism, a beautiful dream, I have to admit now, but derived of some magical fun elements. I wanted the angels to rule the world, I wanted to meet them, and I wanted to believe that the world as we saw it, was an illusion, there was much more to this universe, some magic.

It was a week later that an angel appeared in my dream. I wasn’t familiar yet with the phenomenon of lucid dreaming (in one of which much later on I attended the Devil’s ball), but I now recognise what happened. It was indeed my first experience of lucid-dreaming when I woke consciously in my dream. I was in front of a lake, and a fairy was sitting next to it on a bench. I walked towards her and hesitated for a moment, as I wasn’t sure it was allowed, as I was clearly dealing with a magical creature. From behind I could see her lustrous blond hair, and wings resting on her back.

The angel waived to me, inviting me to sit next to her, and that’s what I did, and then she turned to me, revealing her magnificent blue eyes, and said:

“When you seek magic, you will always find it,’’ she then put her hand on my head and I immediately woke up, properly in my bed, in our apartment in Moscow situated on the 16th floor, and I told myself that it was more than real, and not just a dream.

For the next two weeks, I was searching for the signs of magic everywhere. I was truly busy looking, I started a new book by Otfried Preußler, called ‘The Little Witch’, and while it was again a book full of magic, I failed to see its manifestations in my daily life.

But at the end of two weeks, when I was sitting on a big table in the office of my grand-dad, in the apartment of my grand-parents, which was situated in the same complex of apartments as the one of my parents, I saw a black feather making her way towards our balcony, where it landed and came to rest. I went to the balcony, took the feather, and knew at once that it was my first talisman and that magic and my dream  – it was all real, and I felt happiness like never before.

Waarom

Different ways of lives, different languages and cultures appeal to me from an early age.

I remember while being still small in Russia I was walking together with my mother towards the bus station. I can’t recall what was the reason of taking the bus but I clearly remember my state of mind during the march to the bus station

I was out of this world, engrossed totally in my own inner imaginative sphere and I was asking questions in my own head: why is the sky blue? Why should we assume that only the physical manifestations is what the world is about? The road, the bus station visible at a distance, people walking towards it from our Soviet style building where with my family we lived on the 16th floor.

Why are we rushing always towards perfection, my seven years old mind was asking God knows whom. Why do people get angry sometimes and why is the moon moving in cycles?

This sort of questions invaded my head from an early age and I applied a mode of ‘check out of reality’ to deal with all that. Life, according to me as a child, was supposed to be a constant stream of big celebrations: friends around to play and to talk, presents not reserved to just an event such as a birthday or New Year Eve. Cakes everyday, even if in small quantities, people singing on the streets. Children laughing, everywhere and always.

But instead I was confronted with a gruesome picture. Unhappy people queuing for the bus, sleep deprived children going to school, and everyone around playing some kind of normality. You behave, you follow the rules, you obey the existing structure.

My ‘check out’ technique helped me to process the grim reality by presenting me with a more colourful vision. In it lived a magician high in the sky, angels sung, and people danced. I had names for them, burrowed from numerous books I was always busy reading. Christian was a king of the birds, Olanda was a fire queen, while Patrick was a light keeper.

It was while living in the Netherlands that I found a better, much stronger version of a language to address my dilemma as to ‘why’. The Russian version ‘почему’ was too soft, more like a whisper rather than a question asking for an immediate answer. The French ‘pourquoi’ left the possibility of a reply with another question rather than an answer one seeks. To the French ‘Pourquoi’ there is always an option to answer ‘pourquoi pas’. It’s like talking in riddles while your questions still hang in your head.

But the Dutch language gifted me with a perfect word for what I am trying to describe in this post. It is Waarom- strict, precise and powerful sound pronunciation that in English can be spelled as ‘vaaroum’. A single word but holding in itself massive power. I even noticed that when someone asks me ‘Waarom’, I try to still provide some sort of answer even when I have absolutely no clue.

And so now, while I march in my daily reality I start my questions in my head with this powerful Dutch world:

Waarom have we so much poverty still?

Waarom did we have September 11?

Waarom there is still so much misery in our beautiful world?

Waarom there is so much sadness where I can hear so much crying?

And most importantly, waarom asking too many questions about humanity and the world we are living in, is considered as being too weird.

Waarom do we accept the ‘normality’ of this world where people mostly march with neglect and indifference to what’s happening in our beautiful planet, such as hunger in some countries, poverty in almost all countries, so much anger, so much disappointment, tears and sadness?

Waarom?