Sep 27, 2015

Have they forgotten their history? How is that even possible?

In my case it is Heikki. And my friend Susanna’s father Robert.

Heikki came with a name tag around his neck from Finland during the second World War. He was one of the 70 000 children evacuated from Finland during the war, one of the largest children transfers in the world, as far as we know.

Elisabet was a distant relative to me, a bit older than my mother, an intense talkative woman married to a silent and mellow man. They didn’t have any children of their own, and they adopted Heikki. My memories of Heikki are very vague, but the story the more vivid. The fact that he for a while was engaged to one of the biggest pop singers in Sweden, Siv Malmqvist, made his story even more intriguing. 

To me Heikki was somewhat of a shadow. Elisabet talked about him all the time, but I don’t know his occupation, and did he live in Stockholm? I think though, that he was a fragile soul, and he died quiet young, maybe even before his parents.

Robert was one of 200 000 Hungarians who fled their country at the failed uprising 1956, and the regained Soviet Union control of Hungary. 8000 people sought refuge in Sweden, and Robert was one of them.

He made a life for himself here. Studied, married and had two daughters, Susanna is the oldest. His two sons were still in Hungary, and by the time they came two the age of military service, Robert and his Swedish family made not only one but two dangerous and dramatic trips to Hungary successfully smuggling his sons, the young daughters half brothers, over the border, for a safe life in Sweden.

Those stories are like taken from a dramatic film with a happy ending. But all films don’t end well, reality exceeds poem, and today Europe is facing the largest refugee catastrophe and immigration challenge since the World Wars. People from mainly Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are leaving their home countries because they have no choice, the voyage across the Mediterranean is true horror, and if they survive, the route to northern Europe is blocked by closed borders, barbed wires and water cannons.

I was born in 1956. The Hungary year. Most everyone in my generation knows a story like Heikki’s and Roberts. The stories of Finland and Hungary. Friends, friends of friends or family. The fact that Hungary today won’t let people even pass through the country is incomprehensible. Have they forgotten your history? How is that possible?

But the news reaching us this week makes me feel sick, maybe because it’s so close to me. People from Iraq are traveling through Sweden for Finland. Although Finland is a lot more restrictive when it comes to letting refuges into the country than Sweden, Finland consider Iraq more dangerous than Sweden does, therefore Iraqis feel their chance for asylum is higher in Finland, and they often have relatives there.

The Iraqis are traveling through Sweden on train. The land-border between Sweden and Finland is at the north end of the Bothnian Bay, the inland sea separating northern Sweden and northern Finland. The Swedish city Haparanda and Finnish Tornionjoki is practically one city, the border passing through it.

A week ago, Finns made a human wall at the border. People side by side, many in the Finnish hockey teams shirts (!) marking they wouldn’t let anyone in. The distance between Bagdad and Haparanda is 65762 km (4074 miles). That’s how far the refuges have traveled in unspeakable privations. And crossing the border, making it down to a refugee camp in southern Finland they were met by Ku Klux Clan look-a-likes, throwing stones and waiving blue-and-white banners: Go Finland go. Like this is a hockey match!! The dark Mississippi meeting the World Championship and the refugees are the hockey puck, or what?!!! And have they forgotten their history? How is that even possible?

Every night the trains with refugees are passing Umeå, making a stop here. People wanting to help out are there, providing them water, food, clothes and humanity. Today I have gone through my closets to see what I can do. I found four pair of winter shoes, sweaters, thick ski pants, two leather jackets and one big long beautiful beige wool coat. 

The coat is a favorite which for some reason doesn’t work for me anymore. For years I have been trying to give it away to someone who would really appreciate it, but failed. Now I am picturing a cold and scared woman, far away from home, being on the run for months, wrapped up in my warm coat, pulling the hood over her dark hair. And maybe she will even feel a little bit pretty, restoring a piece of her dignity.

Sep 20, 2015

Fragility-Being Mount Rainier

I am standing at my front porch in a moment of autumn sun, leaning my body towards the white door behind me. 

I am watching the big pine tree at the ditch where the fields start, the pine which was just a little thing coming out of the ground when I was young. Watching the charming outhouse my father built in all his playfulness. The mountain ash where me and my cousins hid in our tree house. The baker’s cottage where my anxiety ridden mother used to be happy. The play house my sister and I made a tiny home every summer. The full-grown ash tree my garden-interested dad once planted, stolen from somewhere in southern Sweden, ash trees are not supposed to survive on the 64th latitude. The lawn stone-settings me and my husband quarreled and agreed on. The white picket fence crafted by my father in law. I hear my young sons laughter, watching the now quite swings. All the neighborhood teen age boys running around the front yard, oh how fed up I was with them. Under the birch the Adiron deck chair I painted bright colors during the chemo. I see everything I did and accomplished and everything that didn’t get done. All the dreams. I see the hope and longing sharing this place with a special someone in The Next Part of My Life. In front of me, my front yard, lays my whole life, such it has been. And I am crying my eyes out in the unexpected warm Sunday afternoon beam of light.

There is a thin membrane pulsating somewhere to the left of my awareness. Inside, something red, like viscera, trying to get through. Threatening to get through.

I am very fragile. Since my confuse episode a week ago I am trying to navigate in the outside world where I need to function, and my inside world where fear from the timeline of my life is trying to take control.

Fear, anxiety and panic are not unfamiliar feelings to me. I have been frightened all my life. It’s my natural habitat. It wasn’t laid into me that the world is a good place to be. I wonder what it is like feeling safe. The sentence “everything will be okay” is a foreign language to me. I find it offending.

Anxiety, in my case, is upgraded fear. In the life I remember, I have been through truly difficult periods of time, therefore, and then, fighting anxiety. And knowing my childhood it is likely I experienced anxiety really early in life, although it is not in my conscious memory bank.

Panic. Yes. I know what it is like breathing myself to sleep focused on a white-hot spot swirling in my chest. 

It’s been a while though since these all sense occupying feelings occurred, strange actually considering the turn of my life. Therefore, what I am experiencing now, and what I was through a week ago is extremely frightening.

It has never happened to me that my brain has logged out, protecting me from what goes on outside. I have never crossed that line before. No matter how dreadful life has been, I have managed to stay on the right side. Knowing that I’ve been over on the dark side and that it can happen is itself cause for panic.

Fragments. They come as fragments. But I sense they aren’t just fragments, I feel they are hot lava streams. Many of them I know by heart, I have spent a lot of time with them and I really wish I didn’t have to do it all over again. But feeling the pulsating membrane so close to burst from the red hot mass of anxiety, I sense there are  experiences in there I have been unaware of. And if all of this, old new, aware and unaware, floods me at the same time, I will go under. I feel like anticipating the eruption of Mount Rainier. Like it’s close now.

When I was young, having my teenage tantrums, my mother used to prophesy my future being locked in at a mental institution. I sense now I’ve waited all my life for men in white coats knocking at my door, grabbing my wrists, forcing me to come with them.

There is another thin membrane. The one between being sane and insane, carelessly expressed. A thin line. Right now, I feel like I have been walking that line a big part of my life, a line I in my case would call fear. And who is sane anyway? The one who rarely looks into herself or the one experiences her deepest feelings?

Sep 13, 2015

The stroke scare

I don’t know if there will be a posting today. My mind is foggy and my brain is exhausted. I am extremely tired. I will make a start here and see how long I last.

Thursday afternoon I found myself standing in my grocery store not understanding my shopping list. I read the words but I couldn’t make sense of them. And I didn’t find my way around in my cell. Josephine, who always does the shopping with me and didn’t recognize my behavior, drove me to the ER. Trouble 2 and Audrey met up with us there.

Many hours were spent there with my foggy brain. I know nurses and doctors were talking to me, so did Trouble 2 and Audrey, and I was made aware of that I did not remember what I said. I was repeating myself. They say I was even repeating myself to the point and literary. And although I was never unconscious or passed out, I felt like I had been gone and out. Or as I had done an over seas flight, waking up in a different time zone.

I was admitted to the neurology ward in wait for a CT, and Trouble 2 and Audrey left me there at midnight. Now that’s a trauma by itself, as I have spent time at the hospital in tremendously traumatic and stressful situations. I hate the hospital. Just driving by it triggers anxiety. And there I was, with an IV on my right hand,  shivering under many blankets in hospital clothes with a brain I didn’t recognize. It was extremely scary.

I got myself through the night with thinking I am lucky to live in a city with a big university hospital known for it’s stroke competence, and the CT was done in the morning. Trouble 2 was back a bit later and Trouble 1 joined us at noon. I was very tired. Hazy. But grateful my sons were with me.

In the afternoon a doctor examined me, ran tests, and the CT results were back. There were no signs of stroke, TIA or tumors. My labs were basically OK with a couple of small question marks. Trouble 2 was thoroughly questioned by the doctor, as he was the one being with me during the ER hours, able to testify he didn’t recognize his mothers behavior.

Between the three of us we narrowed down some factors which might be causing the episode. 

My life is my life. It’s normal to me, but the doctor summing it up meant I have an extremely stressful situation. I am also about to loose my counselor, a warm and loving woman who has been my main support and anchor for nine years. During the summer I have been phasing out one of my medicines, and it might be that right now is when the substance has fully gone out of my system.

During the night before this episode I had an absolutely horrible night mare. I was brutally and repeatedly stabbed to death with a dagger. In my grocery store, leaning against the cart, I felt like fragments of this dream were floating up. I couldn’t get a hold of it, but it was like me and my brain were occupied by something. The dream can be caused by the lack of medicine.

Putting together all these factor it might be that I was having a low intense and protracted panic attack. 

I am back home now, incredibly grateful about the fact that I don’t have any kind of brain damage, although it feels that way. I am exhausted, my head is not clear, I feel like my brain is lagging. I woke up this morning after a night full of dreams (although not that violent) a cloud of dream experiences above my head, feeling like if I only could pull them down and watch them it would clarify my head and I could get out of this fog. I also have a sense of jabbering a lot these past days, which I have.

Hopefully I will recover from this although I imagine it will take some time. But what really leaves me in despair is my life situation. Having it pointed out by someone looking for plausible reason for a confuse episode, makes me see it from outside and it just grabs me. And I can feel panicky glimpses from under neath. Because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. 

My back problems, the pain and my restricted life depending on other people is what it is and will always be there. This summer my left foot has collapsed, I need special souls and shoes costing a lot of money (not to talk about the grief of all my favorite shoes I can’t wear anymore), it hurts and I have now trouble walking even between my couch and bath room. And loosing my counselor will happen. I will have to learn to live without the only person always being there.

Accepting? Yes. Coping? Yes. I do all those things. I am good at it. And my gratitude for being back home with only a scare of stroke is profound. But it might be there is a limit to what a human being can control with different strategies. And maybe I am there now. 

Sep 6, 2015

206 465 0540. (Giving out my Seattle number is unfortunately perfectly safe as I’m not there to pick up)

It used to be on Kastrup, the Copenhagen airport, that I changed the greeting message on my cell: “From so and so to so and so I will be in Seattle. I won’t check for messages on my Swedish number, if you want to get hold of me please email me or call my Seattle number, 206 465 0540.”

And somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean I switched SIM card, to my American one. And that’s where I switched life. From my Swedish to my American. Arriving at Seatac airport, turning my cell on, it was inhabited only by my Seattle people. Yes, I really had two lives. It feels unreal now. Oh how I loved it. And oh how I miss it.

This week it is time to refill my ATT account for my phone. As long as there is money on the account I get to keep my number. During the years I was commuting between Sweden and U.S. I took care of that before I returned to Sweden. Last time I left Seattle was September 2012, therefore September is my refill month. 100 $ and I am good for a year.

206 465 0540. I love that number. I love my Seattle phone number. Isn’t that just the prettiest number? It makes me warm inside. I am expanding. 206 is the Seattle area code. My Seattle. 465 0540 is me. My Seattle identity. I have a Seattle phone number. I am a Seattleite. 

In my dream life I would live in Seattle. This dream was vividly alive for many many years, so strong I was absolutely positive it would happen some day. That’s where I was heading all those commuting years, it couldn’t be any other way. 

In 2007 I started to prepare for it. Not full time, as my sons were in Sweden, but definitely 3-4 months a year divided in two periods, you don’t want to mess with the U.S. Immigration…Trouble & Trouble were 19 and 21 and I was thinking they could be without their mama for a month or two once in a while.

I bought a car! Yes, I bought my own car in Seattle! That’s a different story I will tell at some point, but the bottom line was I now had my own transportation vehicle! And one more Seattle identity. A phone number and a car.

Next step was a storage unit. For years I had been harassing my friends with my boxes of necessities which I needed for making myself Seattle homes where ever I stayed. And my Tempur Pedic mattress. My life savor, my back couldn’t make it without that mattress. So my poor friends had been harboring this voluminous survivor kit of mine in their basements during my longer period of Swedish life. And during my Seattle life, even myself.

So, now I had a phone number, a car, a storage unit (with pretty much a view over the new Light Rail (!) and my dreams extended to a hubris magnificent of my own place. The idea of my own home during my stays, which I could rent when I wasn’t there. An impossible dream of course as I didn’t own a fortune.

Anyway, I was all set to take on the next step of my life. But life wasn’t ready. Life had different plans for me. Life had a crashed back and cancer in store for me.

For three years I was placed in my Swedish life utterly challenged by pain and a life threatening disease. I didn’t think I would ever see Seattle again. But I did.

Summer 2010 I was back. And 2011. And 2012. I switched my SIM card. I drove my car. I rented pent houses with killer views where I slept on my Tempur Pedic. Only once a year, and most times stuck in that pent house with my back out. But I was back. Thinking it would continue that way.

Once again though my agenda wasn’t coordinated with whatever runs my life. In November I have practically been bed ridden with severe back problems for three years. And not being able to visit Seattle this summer pushes me over an invisible line. I’ve never been away from Seattle longer than this. If I had been able to make it over this year I had still been on track, even if it was only a three year track. But now…

To be realistic, there is no way I can see it happen. To make the trip all the way over. And to find someone who can be with me there, someone who would enjoy (!!!) driving in Seattle.

My storage unit has become quite expensive, an considerable amount every month. And my car needs work done, right now it’s not drivable because of some silly hang up in the alarm system.

So, the wise thing would be to not refill my ATT account this week. To start letting go.

But I can’t. 206 465 0540. That’s me. That’s my Seattle life. Thats’s my dream. My stupid pathetic embarrassing dream of being a Seattleite. So no. Not quite yet.