Olga Yerema, Ukraine “My trip through the world” or “How I am reconquering the world from war”
Do you enjoy going on rollercoaster rides? When an armed conflict began in my country’s Ukraine’s regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, I got the feeling that me and the citizens of my country have been put on this ride, and suddenly with incredible speed we are falling, then suddenly rising, then spiralling and freezing at the highest point. And sometimes it seems this will never end. We cannot influence the man at the control board who is controlling this ride while sitting in our seats. How would you feel if you knew that the ride you are on will never stop?
I want to share my experiences from this involuntary “trip” which has been going on for more than 7 months. I am a citizen of Ukraine, an inhabitant of its city Kharkov, a volunteer psychologist in the psychological service of crisis intervention; I help people who have been forced to move. These people have had to leave their homes and their belongings, and flee from gunpoint to a safer place.
So what was my way to this ride? At first I refused to believe that a war in the 21st century is possible, I denied it completely, and was convinced that at any moment everything would be solved, the ride would stop and everyone would go their own way with new experiences. Unfortunately a month passed and no end was in sight, the ride started going even faster. Around me the first victims could be seen, the broken parts of the ride, the people who had fallen out with different degrees of traumas, but there were no longer those who are unaffected by it. This unbearable tension forced me to mobilize all my inner strength, and I made the decision to not waste my energy on anger and aggression, but instead focus it on other things.
I decided to fight my anxiety by facing my fears, by meeting people who had just arrived from the conflict area. Now looking back, I realize that this conflict changed all of us. The nightmare that took place in our country made our volunteers feel closer to each other, because together it was easier to share all that pain, despair, sorrow and suffering. By communicating with each other we created tiny islands of common sense in that sea of chaos.
Acknowledging the truth within yourself, you can no longer pretend not seeing it, you stand for it no matter what. Many citizens of my country have taken their political stance rejecting any doubts, they are not keen to accept other points of view and tend to divide everything as being only black or white. Because of this, many fights have erupted among friends, many families have crumbled, many relatives have stopped talking to each other in this war of argument – who is right, who is guilty, what is true and what is false. It is very hard – to lose friends, disown sons, deny your blood ties – all because our opinions about an event differ and we expect different outcomes, yet the pain, suffering and sorrow is the same. I, too, encountered the problem of maintaining neutrality while communicating with people who held different political views.
Up until the beginning of this armed conflict I had my goals and plans for life. Now, I do not know what will happen in my city next day; I live while anticipating a war that might begin any minute.
Inside me a constant war is already going on, and I am fighting it every minute. I finish my shift leaving displaced people for the evening, but snippets of phrases, shards of destiny keep echoing in my head. The avalanche of sorrow buries me, the presence of death hangs in the air. Meanwhile I exit the office and see – people around me live an ordinary life, giving each other expensive flowers, celebrating, going out to restaurants. There is a whirlwind of thoughts in my head, contradicting and fighting each other: “But with this money one could feed three families for a whole day, how much do these flowers cost… a vacation… no, that is a luxury, people have nothing to eat, nowhere to live…” And to win this inner war, to allow yourself to go further than just satisfying basic needs, to allow this “luxury” for yourself, to learn how to switch and leave the “battlefield” – this is possible only by finding a world within yourself; a foothold that gives you the feeling of stability. For me, this comes from the people dear and close to me, from spending time with nature, but sometimes even a simple cup of aromatic coffee brings me to this state of balance. This gives me the possibility of enjoying my life instead of living in constant fear, experiencing the loss of the feeling of safety and the threat that hangs over my life; it helps me to contain experiences of the people I meet.
This job made me confront many of my fears. These are both the fear of my death and the fear of losing my health, my loved ones, my prosperity, the fear of being too obtrusive by offering my help. Here, between life and death, I meet my true self, and I need to be honest with it, I have no right to betray it.
“What good has this war given me?” – when I first asked myself this question, the only thought that crossed my mind was, “This is a nightmare, there can be nothing good in war.” But after a while I became aware of the good that the war has given me – I am more mature now, I grew up. It became a lot easier to go through problems that before caused me to suffer or feel hate. My thoughts have become more global and broader, energy cannot be spent on petty things now, soon it might be necessary for acquiring peace and removing anxiety; this place is my inner World. Due to war, I got to know many new people, I “tasted” new professional experience, I re-evaluated my values. Now I appreciate and enjoy the present, I spend less time in my future. I am thankful to my past and the people that were in it, but presently I am here and now. My resource is my family, my children, who bring me to life, make me feel like a child; who genuinely laugh and are able to enjoy life; they are my teachers. My husband – he is my pillar, next to him my heart beats louder and more often, my chest is filled with warmth and my soul with love. My colleagues, who help me, become aware of all the acquired experience, accept my helplessness and despair, go through my intense emotions and accept my limitations at work, my possibilities and my limits, and the amount that each of the volunteer psychologists can go through safely, without breaking down or burning out.
Now I acutely feel that the society has lost faith in its country’s bright future, now I feel as if we are stuck in a swamp with no way out, I wish to get out as soon as possible, get out of this bog that sucks everything in, and now more than ever I need the strength of my will, faith in victory, acceptance of the world as it is, and integrity of my inner world.
I am cognizing myself and the surrounding world in all its expressions, and I am becoming a part of a new world; a world where it is impossible to predict and plan everything, and I am learning to live in it, to try to control my consciousness and not the world. I believe that even the nearing of death can encourage harmony of the mind, instead of despair and helplessness.