LitLink: From ONE IN A HUNDRED by Barbara Matejčić, translated by Una Krizmanić Ožegović

December 2006

This disorder is oh-so-terrible, even the doctor doesn’t dare to write F20 on the chart. I don’t know what’s so abnormal about me and I will never find out because the disorder is for life. I’ve had it for ten years. My doctor friend tells me it’s also called the cancer of the soul. It started a little before my 18th birthday. I was always into hooking up, partying, going out, dancing. It started as a neurosis – my expectation for myself were to high – and turned into a psychosis. Suddenly, I wanted to change something in my life, turn back time. I sat in the same spot for a month staring at books. Just looking at them. I went to a psychiatrist on my own. I took my first anti-psychotic drug on my 18th birthday. Moditen. Yuck. Since then, when I wake up, I don’t think: “Look at the sunshine, it’s so beautiful”, which is what my Dad does, I go: “Oh, well, let’s do this, what else is there.”

I’ve had about fifteen psychotic episodes so far. Been committed eleven times. The longest was for three months, the shortest two weeks, a month on average. That orange bed in the emergency room reminds me of the chairs flying across the Dinamo football stadium. Still, when they stick a needle in you as soon as you come in, it’s always hard.

Back then, when it all started, after a month of another me, my grandmother found a psychic healer. We came to this house and it went like this. The crackerjack said: “I see someone who is stubborn and who thinks they are so clever they can act crazy. Let’s see: if you don’t change, you will have a failed marriage and keep going to asylums for the rest of your life. What’s your diagnosis? Psychosis. I don’t work with psychotics, but I have a friend who does.” Wait a minute, your superpowers have just told I wasn’t crazy, but you don’t work with lunatics? Okay. And so I went to his friend to be cured. The man was a psychiatrist, but he left the hospital running and started practicing alternative medicine. I was given crystals to put on my chakras, to purify and fill them up. The guy said: “That’s it, you are cured.” I stopped taking my meds and I couldn’t sleep after a month, the symptoms worsened. One day in 1997 while I was sitting in the kitchen, three months after my 19th birthday, a doctor and two police officers came in an ambulance. Dad had called them. They grabbed my arms and legs and took me to a closed psychiatric ward at the general hospital. I was fucking angry, marching up and down the hall and when they closed the glass-steel door behind me, I smashed it. They took the glass out of me. I will quote the discharge letter: “Patient was admitted into the emergency due to psychotic decompensation, manifested as restlessness, insomnia, inappropriate behavior, disorientation, verbal diarrhea and verbal aggression…” And, of course, an F20. First time at the nuthouse. My disorder made me feel embarrassed. I don’t feel embarrassed anymore, it’s tiring, that’s all. They always have to check that I understand what I am being told, that I know the sun is yellow and that the sky is blue. When I hang out with someone, I am happy only until I tell them I have a disorder. Until then, I am the same. When I’m fine, I’m great to be around with and when I know I am doing well, I always think: “Please, God, let it last.”

Then there was the bean fortuneteller. He told me: “Careful with abortions, car accidents, you will marry a guy in a grey car, and you will be with a guy in a blue car. You will have two friends.” Two. That’s a lot, I thought. I have to admit: I had an abortion, I married a guy in a grey car, I was in a heavy collision and I did end up with a guy in a blue car. I would’ve never guessed it, but, sure enough, he was right. I keep thinking about those two friends even to this day. Those could only be my two psychiatrists.

January 2007

Gosh, I feel like throwing up from all the pills and all the bad actors insisting that I am the same old me. Everything would be okay if I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t end up weighing 600 pounds so they wouldn’t have to pull me out of the house with a crane.

It is just as unlikely that I will be fine as it is for God to be standing behind me. I dare you, motherfucker.

I’d like it if God sent me cancer or at least a car accident. If there was a law on euthanasia, I’d persuade my husband to agree to it. He could agree to it if I explained it wasn’t going to get any better than this, but he still thinks that’s not the case. I’m sorry, I don’t want to be alive anymore.

My mom died when I was seven. I accused her of leaving me and that, since she was a doctor, she could’ve survived the cancer. I wouldn’t say that her death caused my disorder because my brother is handsome, smart, studies computer engineering and gives zero fucks. He’s moved out. No history of mental illness in the family. My husband and I live in a house with my mother-in-law. She is not exactly lucid, she’s 75.

I do not have visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations, only delusions. Like, I think I am Audrey Hepburn. I thought my brother was dead. That my mom was alive and walking around the house. I believe it is actually possible, that there’s at least a 50% chance my brother is an alien. Since I respect aliens, that’s not an issue for me, but if I believed my brother was my dad, I could hurt him. Even when I was at school, I used to think that my philosophy teacher was Jesus. That I was a fiancée from the Bible and Keanu Reeves was my fiancé. That Zagreb was New Jerusalem. That people were trapped inside animals. That neighborhood dogs were reincarnations of people and that I was the intermediary between two worlds. When I experience a hallucination, such as, being married to John Cusack, I try to say it out loud, so I knock it off by joking about it.

I’d like to be healthy. But bummer. Sour grapes. When they hear “crazy”, most people also think “stupid.” Or “scram!” When a sane person says something stupid, I, as a schizophrenic, have to keep shut. In the end, I’m left with: take it or kill yourself. I fall, I get up, I fall, I get up, I fall, I get up. I know what I have to do. Find a doctor in Kenya and be a bikini waitress on a Kenyan beach.

I cannot stand the verbal vomit anymore about how I need to fight my disorder. Great job people: “Look at her, she’s faking it, anyone can shake it with willpower alone.” After ten years, I know it’s not possible.

January 2008

I underwent ECT in March and April of 1997, when I was committed for the first time. Electroconvulsive therapy. Electric shocks. After I told my doctor that she was a schizofrenic, threw my meds all over the place and broke the glass-steel door, dad signed off on electric shock treatment even though there could be lasting effects. Since he was the one who raised me, I learned to cope with my problems like a man, so I coped with that one, too. So, I was given my first medication on my 18th birthday, and my first electric shock on my 19th birthday. Three of my friends visited me at the Rebro hospital, wished me a happy birthday, brought gifts, we had coffee. Then the nurse came in and said: “You have to leave, it’s time for her treatment”, and hooked me up. You get a rubber mouth guard, a shot, and while you’re falling asleep, they put something on your temple. I’ll never forget it: I woke up after the electric shocks, walked down the hall and pooped myself, and the nurse yelled at me: “Wash yourself!” I got six ECTs in two weeks. After pleading with my doctor, I was released after only a month. Dad took me to an exhibition, and I was walking around like a zombie. I fell into an awful depression because I was crazy and it wore off only after six months. I used the very last ounce of my strength to go to work. That year, I enrolled at university, but after a year of studying, the same cow who prescribed electric shock therapy, wrote down: “Therapy: nihil.” And – bang! – I relapsed. I stayed with her for two more years, and after that cold-hearted doctor to whom I was just another number, I got a psychiatrist who is glad when I am doing well. Sometimes I pester her and text her, and she replies. I can’t think of my life without her. She is kind, warm, communicative, but also tough and realistic. I go to her every once in a while, and she hugs me on my way out. She is short and petite, something which dawns on me only when she gets out of her doctor’s chair and stands up to hug me.

January 2013

Haven’t thought of taking my own life for like three days now. On the contrary, I rarely think about it. Maybe three times a month. That’s nothing. Seriously. That’s nothing.

March 2013

I’m lying in my tub, sadness oozing down my arms. I should get out of the house. I want to stand on the ground. I’ve already spent 2000 kunas on tarot readings. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Get some rest, work, read, socialize. Save money for a trip. Live. After all the ups and downs, stay above the fray and do not fall again.

April 2013

My mother-in-law tells me: “That’s a big deal, my son with a college degree taking someone as sick as you to be his wife.” He beat me for two years. Cheated on me for four.

September 2013

I am happily divorced. Since July. In the meantime, I hooked up with two of my ‘friends.’ I work with my husband. I have a will to live. I will never give up. Since I was 19 years old, I’ve been committed twenty times or so. I’m 35 now. My life has just begun.

Mom, forgive me.

By Barbara Matejčić

Translated by Una Krizmanić Ožegović

Barbara Matejčić is a writer and an award-wining freelance journalist. She was awarded for the best coverage of LGBT issues in the last decade in Croatia (2000-2010), she won the 2013 Krunoslav Sukic award for promotion of peace and human rights and in 2014 she won the Croatian Journalists’ Association award. She is the director of the documentary movie I am Nobody about asylum seekers in Croatia (2012). Her documentary prose book How are you? about “others” in Croatian society was published in 2015. The author has spent a significant period of time with her characters, helping them and listening to their stories.

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