F**k it, I choose life
I stared at the box of pills in front of me. It read ‘Venlafaxine, retard’. I chuckled and thought ‘this is ridiculous’. I have resisted taking medication for so long and now that I had it in my hands, even the box of antidepressants was calling me insane.
'No,' said my mom, who is a docter. 'It's not retard, but rétard, meaning 'slow release' in French.'
It didn't make it less funny.
You might wonder why I chuckled. Depressed people don't laugh, right? False. First of all, laughing doesn't always mean joy. This was a laughter of sarcasm. Something I excel at: sarcasm. It's my distinctive trait to be able to make jokes and take it to a dark side.
Second, and far more important, depression is not the same as pessimism or sadness. Depression is a lack of energy. A lack of energy to get up; to meet people; to get out of bed; to pretend you are okay; to be positive; to laugh of joy; to hold back the tears; to feel anything; but most of all a big lack of going somewhere other than inside yourself.
My family has a heritage of depression and a history of taking all kinds of medication. The amount of sternness that they imposed upon themselves, they projected on to the family; they possessed intelligence of the highest ranking, being social was one of the biggest traits and emotional stuff like depressions, were not discussed very well. Of course in reality, it was much more grey than this black and white image I had created in my head. But all you have is your own perception of the world, right?
Since my adolesence I have been trying to out perform my family, because I am not the smartest. Neither am I the most social and heck, I have been an emotional girl since my birth. I have been crying on and off since I came out of my mothers womb.
Taking the pills, the retard pills, would definitely make me one of them. Claiming the bad genes, as I saw it. I resisted for a long time, years, but in the end it was a choice I had to make: go down this path of inescapable and fast approaching death or take the pills. I took the pills. I returned to my family. The crazy bunch.
After the first weeks of feeling like throwing up, a nice side effect of Venlafaxine, I still wasn't sleeping, which I hadn't been doing for months. My psychiatrist wanted to try Mirtazapine on top of the pills I was already taking. These made me eat like a horse.
I could eat three meals before 10 am and still be hungry.
A nice side effect of Mirtazapine.
As you can imagine, I didn't feel any better during these first weeks. I felt nauseous or hungry and I slowly gained a lot of weight. I felt even more a zombie than I did before the pills, but it was all part of the process, I was told, promised even.
A few weeks after taking that first pill, all of a sudden I started getting up in the morning, after sleeping complete nights, I went to work almost without effort. I was still afraid to go anywhere else but inside my head, but at least my body was making improvements.
Slowly, my psychotherapist pursuaded me to let her into the dark parts of my brain where nobody had ever been. It was hard, even with these first layers. You know, the brain is much like an onion. The top layers are shown to everybody, but the more you peel off, the darker and untouched it is. Sometimes fungus is growing or severely neglected parts have almost rotted away.
Onions come in all sizes. Mine was huge, but even peeling off these top layers made me see life in a whole different perspective. I came to see myself in a whole new light. I might say, a little bit of 'me' returned to the surface, not bothered by layers or conventions. Just popping up, saying 'hello'.
It was the summer after the first weeks of taking these pills that some of my spirit for adventure returned. Holidays are a luxury in some people’s lives. In mine they are mandatory. Depressed or not, holidays have to be taken.
Introduction to F**k It
Earlier that year, one of my best friends recommended this book called 'F**k It'. I laughed about the story and I saw myself in it, but I wasn't able to accept anything in my state of depression. It was a great story but nothing more than that. The funny thing is, that even though the first impact was limited, I did become interested in the retreats of F**k It after the same friend said: 'Why don't you go on their retreat for your holiday?'
It was expensive for me. I booked it anyway. I signed up for the Stromboli location, but hell, the route to the island involved cities, boats, trains and I could travel, but not like that. Not then. So I e-mailed the headquarters. Couldn't I come in September to Puglia instead, so travelling would be easy?
Rachel, from the F**k It HQ, wrote back:
'This is your first step towards your F**k It Life, asking what you want. Well done.'
I felt proud. I had learned at least this one little thing.
In September I left for Puglia, Italy, for my very first F**k It Retreat with John Parkin, the author of the book, and his Italian wife Gaia. I arrived in the afternoon. I drove with a few other f**kiteers, under which name the F**k It visitors go. to the venue, a beautiful hotel in the southern Italian hills. The apartments were little white houses with pointy roofs and below a bright blue pool awaited our arrival. I shared the room with two ladies and that first night we were introduced to the life of F**k It with a grand dinner of four courses consisting of pasta's, meats, greens and of course gelato.
F**k It is not some strict cult where the outside world is your enemy, where you can't drink alcohol and where you have to get up at five. Instead, the lessons start at 10 am, a respectable time for a holiday. John, the dry humoured Brit with the relaxed look, told us during that very first meeting: 'You don't have to do anything. If you fancy lying in a corner, please do so. We only ask you to attend, because that's what you paid for.'
That first meeting I discovered the real reason why I had booked the retreat. During the conversations with my therapist I figured out that trust is the big issue for me. I didn't trust anyone and most of all not myself. How can you live with someone when you don't trust that person at all?
Gaia stood up after John had finished and started talking softly with a genuine warmth to her voice: 'Trust is very important if you want to open up and learn something. Don't worry, though, this week you can trust on us. At the end of the week, we hope you can trust yourself and when the time is right, you can trust life.'
BOOM. The tears filled my eyes, my voice started to shake. In front of the whole group, dammit. Gaia reassured me later: people open up and there is always one who starts the disclosure.
As we moved through Qigong movements, breathing sessions and trust exercises, strangely, sadness wasn't the emotion that came up for me. I didn't cry for the rest of the week. I started laughing, real laughter, not the laughter of sarcasm. I experienced joy. I, who had been unable to feel anything but pain for two years, felt joy. I laughed. Because in these trust exercises and the Qigong movements, more layers of the onion peeled off. The wall that I had built, crumbled one brick at a time. Beneath these bricks wasn't sadness. I still couldn't believe what was happening to me. Joy, go figure.
I didn't understand at first, I didn't want to because, seriously, I felt good. In time, however, it was important for me to understand, because, and this is different for everybody, I need to understand what went wrong, what patterns are holding me back. Seeing these patterns that I can influence, makes me aware of where I can make improvements. It allows me step out of the ritual, to break free, to not go to these dark places anymore.
For me, I figured that all my patterns strongly connect to conditional and unconditional love. Society, as I see it, is mainly based on conditional love. Only if you are skinny, are you to be loved. Only if you are smart, are you to be loved. Only if you fit in with my theory, are you to be loved. Only if you behave exactly the way I tell you to behave, are you to be loved.
In the past I have lived exactly to these rules. Having had a boyfriend who made even more rules did not help. Telling me that he wouldn't love me anymore if I didn't live according to these rules, made me even more vulnarable. The funny thing is of course that in the end, even though I did everything exactly as he told me to, he stopped loving me. Why? Because I wasn't the girl he fell in love with anymore.
You can call it what you want, but I was a pleaser, and in some respects still am. I pleased my parents; pleased my friends; pleased potential boyfriends; pleased collegues; pleased acquiantances; pleased the people I interviewed. All to receive love, or at least, something, like kindness, that resembled love. The only one I didn't please was myself.
In this pleasing behaviour I let people step over my boundaries, I lied to myself about what I really wanted, I shape shifted into a person that the other person wanted me to be. All to be 'loved'.
But love is not something you can condition. Love is there, or not. If it's conditional, it shouldn't be called love, but conditional kindness.
Using the F**k It Method you work on unconditional love for yourself. The theoratical musician and writer John and feeling, dancing Gaia are unconditional love. They are glowing with unconditional love. Of course, they are not perfect and never pretend to be. On the contrary, they wrote: 'Today, we, John & Gaia, might well argue over something. F**k It: that’s life.'
That's the whole thing: I am not perfect, you are not perfect. I don't know who came up with that f**king word, but it's bullshit. Nobody is perfect. The only way forward is to love all the unperfections and just be. That's unconditional love.
It's hard to explain the complete process I went through during that week in Italy, but also the weeks prior and the weeks afterwards. My psychotherapist noticed the difference. I was now more keen on living than on dying, and that's the main thing I established that week. My follow-up sessions with my psychotherapist made a lot more sense to me. I could actually feel happy about working on myself and making progress.
Let's make this clear: if it wasn't for my friends, family, but mostly my therapist and psychiatrist, I wouldn't have been able to make it. The retreat was a turning point for me – the catalyst. From that moment on I could take the advice, the help, the friendship and let love in. It made me ready to heal. It's a big deal realising this.
I really lost all ability to let anyone in.
Any kind of love, most of all my selflove, was completely outside myself and since I had built a thick wall around my heart. Nobody was coming in or going out. Not even me.
So it could be that during the last two years I have learned more than the past thirty, including two university studies. I tried so hard to fit into everyone's picture of how you should be a citizen: boyfriend, succesfull career, house you can call your own, do interesting things, make enough money. I realised that all I wanted, was to be free. I didn't want to be in my job anymore, I didn't want a boyfriend. I don't care about money, I don't want to do stuff because it's 'interesting' to everybody else, I want to do stuff because I feel like doing it. I did buy my own house and that was truly me. It's my safe haven. I never regret that.
During these two years I quit my job, I decided it was time to travel for a few months on my own and I started my own company. I cannot say that I have sailed through these years. Quitting a good paying job with lots of potential at a place with great collegues, is not easy. I wanted to because I had outgrown the job. I wanted more. Different. Hell, I still don't know what I really want, but I am much happier now than I was at the time I quit my job.
Now I rely on my parents for support, I am poor, my business is growing, but without a significant other and with a place of my own, I have to do everything by myself. It's fun, I enjoy it, but it's hard. These are all first world problems. I really don't want to complain and I even find that I am more grateful than ever: I have a roof over my head; I have loving friends and family; I still get more work every day; I see the beauty in a lot of situations and things.
At the same time I still cry. I feel sad. I am scared of the future. I stutter, fall and disappoint people or myself. The key is that it is part of life. I am still an onion and there are different layers to my life. There is no such thing as a perfect onion, we all have our greenish, rotten layers, but we can't throw it all away. The ups and downs are part of life, part of the onion.
F**k It — Part 2
I am stronger and happier, but somehow I kept returning to F**k It. To the books, the online content and the e-mails. Spring 2014 I felt this urge to go on yet another F**k It week. It was all just perfect. I was the Maid of Honour at my friend's wedding in Tuscany, heading for Italy anyway. The week prior to the wedding, there was a Gaia's Magic Movement, now called F**k It Magic, week at Stromboli. The Stromboli I didn't go to before.
The group who met on Stromboli is still whatsapping about their experience and our everyday life. We refer to the F**k It week with Gaia as our pink bubble. Unfortunately you can't stay in this pink bubble forever. Even if you would try, it would turn colour in time because life wouldn't stay this pretty forever. In the end it would even burst when you try to stay too long. But it definitely felt like a pink bubble when we were there.
I have never met a group that instantly moved so naturally together. Of course, it partly has to do with the purpose of the people coming there, but it has also to do with Gaia, a centre of love and our guide for the week. Together we created the pink bubble, a necessary bubble. Only when you are in a bubble of safety and freedom, you can really open up.
To be honest, I felt this urge of going there, but when I arrived on the island, I couldn't remember why. Why did I have this need to come here? What else did I need in the process? Didn't I do enough during the last two years? It would be a wonderful week, I was sure of that, but what was my purpose? What if there was nothing left to discover?
Boy, was I wrong.
Of course life slaps you in the face when you need a reminder. The energy of the universe (or give it any name you prefer, like God) made me come to Stromboli for a reason. Even though I couldn't figure it out before, I sure did when I was there. All these traumatic memories from my childhood came pouring out during one of the first meditations.
Shit, I thought, no, not this crap. I became angry, I cried. Where was my f**king joy? I experienced joy the first time, no, no, no, this is not happening. I thought I dealt with this shit. In my head I screamed, no, no, no, but on the outside I became silent. During the sharing I stayed quiet. I knew what I was feeling, but I sure as hell didn't want to talk about it.
Of course the next exercise Gaia proposed was a connecting exercise: two people tapping and stroking somebody else his/her body in order to connect. Are you connected to your body? Or are you only in your head? What are you physically feeling? Well, I was feeling sick. I backed off. No, no, no, I am not doing this, I told my two companions. Gaia came by. 'What's wrong?' I cried: 'No, no, no, I am not doing this.' I folded my arms in front of my body, unconciously, but determined. No.
Gaia came closer, she touched my arm and said: 'You don't have to do the exercise if you really don't want to, but it would be good to do it. Especially when you have such a strong reaction to it.' She didn't say it, but I felt it:
'You are safe here.'
I was safe. And I did the exercise. I cried. How it felt to have two women stroking my body, holding me, releasing my skin from old pain.
The whole week was a festival of crying, feeling the old pain moving through my body and releasing it whenever I could through screaming, breathing and even throwing up. It is funny how a sceptical and sarcastic Dutchie like me, can surrender when the time is right, when the atmosphere is accepting and the people around me love me unconditionally.
The thing however with F**k It is that pain is only so much. You are not your trauma, you are not your pain. Pain is something you have. Gaia encouraged me go through this in an exercise where at one part of the space I felt the pain, but when I stepped into a space towards the sun that felt good for me, I felt joy. Exactly the same joy that I felt when I went to my first F**k It retreat. I stepped into the sunlight and underneath all this pain that had moved to the top layers of my onion, I felt the upmost joy and fun. I smiled.
After the crying and screaming sessions the group always gathered at the terrace of the hotel. We ordered Italian Prosecco and dough balls. Followed by pasta's, meats and fresh fruit. We talked about our swims in the sea, the gelato we had in the town and the strolls we took. All took place with the backdrop of the sun setting and wine was poured until the bottom was reached. In the tranquil nights we walked quietly to our rooms where we shared one last thought before turning in.
What did I tell you? A f**king pink bubble.
Back to Reality
Back in reality I am not miraculously cured. Not at all. I returned to my therapy, which I had not gone to for almost a year. Do I think it's a step back? No. Was it useful to bring up so much old pain? Yes. Would I ever go on another retreat if this was the outcome? Hell yes! The trauma's from my childhood were the most painful moments I can remember, but it was something I had to re-visit in order to rise above and be able to get rid of old patterns. To be clear: the patterns that underlie the trauma's are much more important than the trauma itself. You are to be loved, that's a fact. Work on that, instead of going back to those painful moments when you were put out of your place, out of the love you deserve. Make patterns that restore the love, rewrite your story to make sure you are loving yourself first.
I still take my retard pills, but I am not my retard pills. I feel blessed more than ever to be part of my crazy family, but I am not my family. I realise that I still have these patterns of pleasing people, but I am not my patterns. It makes life less about pain and more about happiness, gratitude, joy.
The only thing that is true is that unconditional love for yourself makes you feel all that you are. No matter what I feel, if I am sad, mad or happy and joyfull, I can feel it, without being swept away. Even if I don't have enough energy to get out of bed, I can accept it and trust that if I stay present and open, I will recognize the moment I want to get up again.
Death was not the answer for me, life is.
But only a life where unconditional love for myself is a reality.