Winter is Coming

Winter is coming
for the forsaken,
forgotten souls of yesteryear.

Winter is coming
so everything can hide,
freeze over
before hell.

Winter is coming
so the blood red
can shine through the
icy white.

Winter is coming
and it foreshadows
the days of fuming heat,
and they too will come.

Winter is coming
and with it brings the days
of solitude
and closing ourselves up in tight corners
made endurable by hot coals.

Winter is coming.

Maja Dezulovic


Let's fly...
Until there's no more up to get to.

Let's fly
Beyond the abyss
and the fall into nothingness.

Until we're lighter for it.

Let's fly
Beyond the clouds
and the thunderstorms.


Maja Dezulovic

22 Lessons for the New Year

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

On love and human interaction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On business:

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

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

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

On science and technology:

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

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

On life in general:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maja Dezulovic

10 Factors That Contribute to Depression

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

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

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

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

1 Biological Factors

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

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

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

2 Malnutrition

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

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

3 Brain Damage or Defects

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

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

4 Substance Abuse

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

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

5 Trauma and Stress

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

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

6 Social Stresses

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

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

7 Poor Environment

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

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

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

8 Major Life Events

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

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

9 Prescription Medication

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

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

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

10 Rumination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maja Dezulovic