(photo: Paula and her Grandpa Ivan)
"I am glad I listened to MYSELF and not my ANXIETY, and that I opened up and let things happen."
Yesterday I came back from Croatia after a long day of sitting in a train
(not that that was a problem) and I'm still in the process of arriving back
here. To help me with that, I will tell you how it went, just read and watch!
30th September, 2018
Today I'm traveling to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Right now I'm sitting on a train to Munich, where I'll later have to change trains to get to Zagreb, where I'll stay for one night.
At the train station, there was a pile of puke on the floor, which made me very anxious and now that I saw it, I can't get that stupid thing out of my head... I don't like my emetophobia. And I'm letting It control me.
I made it! I'm sitting in the final train to Zagreb!
I've been panicking a bit because we were really high up in the mountain, but it's alright now.
There are two people from Slovenia sitting in here with me, and I found myself trying to communicate with them! WHAT?! I know right?
They are laughing a lot, which makes me really happy :)
You know what? I think there might be no such thing as “language barriers” because if there was, wouldn't be able to communicate with those people right now? Doesn't that mean laughing is a language too?
I'm now at my dad's place in Zagreb and I'm proud of myself because I was very responsible... at
least I think I was. I almost forgot to tell you, I gave one of the people in my wagon a sheet with a smiley face on it, because they were so nice to me! I'm sitting here in my bed and I am very surprised that everything went so well!
However, I am suuuper nervous because tomorrow I will be going to the ACTUAL challenge for my trip.
(I'll tell you about that tomorrow though)
Day 1: "At the Bear Sanctuary"
1st October, 2018
Today my dad drove me to Kuterevo, where there is a bear sanctuary I am going to volunteer at for the first time. My grandfather leads the bear sanctuary.
I was SO nervous the whole time, I couldn't eat anything, not even pizza! However, the nearer we got the more excited I got too and when we finally arrived here, we already met three super nice people, who turned out to be the majority of the volunteers. This surprised me because I thought there was going to be a minority of maybe seven! You know what? Good for me, I won't have to get used to too many people.
I wasn't calm for long though, since my grandpa started to explain all of his expectations to me! He also gave me the choice to either work here as a volunteer, or to just be a tourist, and I said I wanted to be a volunteer. To my surprise, my anxiety didn't even kick in! You see how anxiety is only there, because we expect it to be, if we don't, it basically doesn't exist!
He explained his rules. We weren't supposed to put our hands in our pockets, and that I had to be there at 9 am (6 hour work days).
For a short moment I thought that I regretted my decision, but then I remembered I'm doing this to gain more confidence and responsibility, so this all really comes in handy.
Soon my dad and my little brother left and I was “all on my own”. To be honest, it felt pretty good! The more time I spent with my new colleagues, the more confident and relieved I got (despite that, the first task I helped with was mushroom sorting which was really calming).
We all had dinner together and I did the best I could (still being a little unsure about everything) to help them. I still couldn't eat that much, but that was okay, since we soon all started laughing and making jokes together.
I really like these people! They're just as weird as I am, but most of all, they're accepting.
Day 2: “Mountains connecting people”
2nd October, 2018
Today was my first ACTUAL work day!
One of the volunteers, Barbara, showed me how to let out and feed the geese, which I might be doing tomorrow. We also visited Teta Dragica. She is a super sweet elderly lady who is known by everybody in this village. She makes the very known “Coklije" which are a kind of knitted slippers and the bottom is made of old gummy tires!
(Photo: Teta Dragica teaching me how to knit)
Oh! I almost forgot: There is a super cute dog, Lessie! He waits at the house where I'm staying every morning to get some food and he is so sweet! I love him!
Back to my day, I'm experiencing REAL village life, which is beautiful! Everyone greets each other and helps each other out. From the first look you could really say that there are only nice people here. As a volunteer (which I'm actually proud to say) of course, I also had some tasks, such as sorting branches. The branches are given to the bears to play, used for a fire or to carve walking sticks. We fed the bears and ponies, burned the branches, learned about brown bears in Europe. We also did little tasks like washing the dishes.
I got to watch another volunteer, Maja, guiding a group of tourists to learn something for myself as well, I even talked to one of the tourists! That made me realize how interesting it is to see different cultures learning about each other and all in all it was really fun to break these barriers we set ourselves in society.
Yet, the best thing that remains is:
I AM HAPPY HERE!
I love this lifestyle and there are animals everywhere! I love the people I am with and I'm actually so happy to have this opportunity.
This evening again, we laughed so much that age and language barriers were broken and friends were made. That was only my second day and I don't know what will be happening and how things will change, but for now I can say:
I am glad I listened to MYSELF and not my ANXIETY, and that I opened up and let things happen.
It's surprising how much easier it is now that I thought it would be.
Day 3: My First Words
3rd October, 2018
Today was the most confusing and at the same time beautiful day I've had here so far.
I woke up like usual (slept a little better though) and the foggy morning was crazily beautiful! I opened the little window, took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. I know it sounds like it's out of a novel, but trust me that's what it was like! I felt so healthy and peaceful and just listened to all of the sounds of the animals, farmers and the forest. It was incredibly unreal!
Josipa and I walked down to the station to start the day. One thing I love about this place is, that almost everyone seems to constantly be happy. At first, I tried to learn some Croatian phrases like “kako si?” which means “how are you?” or maybe “how's it going?” and also a little something about the European Brown Bear. Then I went off to continue sorting branches that were laying around. I felt very professional as I put them in like a bundle and carried them over my shoulder. I realized that this kind of work I can do without having to worry about not enough motivation. I always felt that there was something I could do and actually like to do!
So to everyone who thinks they won't be able to do anything because they just can't find the motivation, you will! I felt the same way and didn't think I'd find something to bring back my courage that fast. Just encourage yourself to take a tiny step, it can change a lot!
Anyway, when I was done, I went back to the station and helped with washing the dishes. We all had lunch together and laughed a lot (we also had too much food). We ate outside because the weather changed from winter to summer in no time!
OH! I forgot to tell you something!
This morning I let the geese and chicken out for the first time and let me tell you, those geese do NOT like people! One of them bit my shoe...
After lunch, we drank some of the best coffee I've ever had. Then, Barbara and I went to feed the bears with old veggies, which caused me to feel a little nauseous so that my emetophobia kicked in again... But I handled it with a bit of ginger and some convincing myself that I was in fact fine and would not throw up. It also helped me, to continue the work at the branches, because it distracted me from the anxiety.
We always listen to some music while working at the station and it's actually the nicest thing! For a short while I was alone there with Maja and we had a good time talking about our pets and life and (again) laughing a lot. As always, we were all super excited when it was time for dinner because there was someone who cooked some AWESOME food and, surprise, we joked around and laughed a whole lot!
After our dinner, Aurelien (we call him “The French Guy”), Maja and I went for a little night walk and let me tell you! It was probably one of the most peaceful and beautiful evenings I've ever had! Our first stop was at a cute little house. A little further up the hill, the house has a breathtakingly beautiful view over a big part of the village and some of the mountains on the other side too. It was even more overwhelming because the sky was so clear and you felt like you could see every single star in the night sky.
After that, we went to a little bar (they call it the “Bear Bar”) and had some drinks (I had tea).We basically just sat down in front of the fireplace and just talked for what felt like hours.
Walking back, we played a little round of tag (there's no age limit for that), because the French guy didn't want to take his money back, so I chased him until we couldn't run anymore. I don't regret this decision in my life at all! I was definitely scared at first but that went away with the blink of an eye!
Glad I did this!
Day 4: All My Insecurities
4th October, 2018
Today I doubted myself and my decisions a lot.
It was also a little strange when I woke up because I knew that I was going to move to the station to live there for the next week. In addition, it was my first time actually talking to tourists, which was a bit scary because I don't know nearly as much as the other volunteers and I've always had difficulties going up to people. I was very scared that I was going to say things that are wrong or that my grandpa wouldn't like what I was doing. So I also felt very insecure, but still, I managed to do it!
However, apart from all that, apart from my anxiety, which I'm trying to ignore as much as I can, I learned how to make bread from scratch and for my first improvised bread, it didn't turn out that bad at all!
I also tried to help at the souvenir shop, where I realized it isn't that hard to just talk to people at all and it's actually pretty fun!
Around afternoon, some preparations were made for a fair marked in a little town an hour away from us.
When it was already dark, I went to pick up my stuff from the house I was staying in for the first three nights.
I keep getting worried that I will be an annoying roommate... I'll just try to be myself and not to think of it so much.
I hope that I'll be a little more confident tomorrow.
Day 5 It's All on Us Now
5th October, 2018
Today Maja and Aurelien went to that fair I told you about yesterday, now, I'm not quite sure what it's about exactly, but I'll go tomorrow too and I'm really excited so I will tell you about it then! It has something to do with the local traditions, but we'll see.
I was here at the station with Marina (respect to her, because every morning she comes here by bike in the freezing morning air and rides the same way back in the evening).
This morning I took weirdly long to wake up, since I'm already used to being awake after ten minutes. However, it was also the first morning after sleeping at the station, so it wasn't really surprising.
Since my brain wasn't quite awake yet, I figured that I'd just study some “bear-ologie” (yes I made that up), but because that didn't really work out, I just decided to do the dishes from the day before.
After Marina arrived, the first thing we did was feed the small bears. Before today, her and I hadn't done much together yet, so the more we worked together, the more courage was built to communicate. We cleaned out a whole bunch of older jars to put honey in, so it can be sold at the souvenir shop, it was a bit exhausting!
It was the good kind of exhaustion, the kind that makes you feel productive!
For lunch, we cooked a very improvised Spanish tortilla without potatoes, which turned out to be pretty good. After, there were many German tourists I got to guide around the refuge, which I found surprisingly pleasing! I realized that I got more confident and free and more fluent in talking (because there was no other option than just to do it)
When I was alone here again, I managed to put the geese and the chicken back into their enclosure, which was funny, because I had to have a good technique to keep the geese from biting me.
Not much later, Maja and Aurelien came back from the fair, and for some reason, I was scared again that I would be annoying, but we ended up talking about projects and looking at photos of the day.
As soon as “the French guy” was gone, it was quiet at first, but then Maja randomly started laughing, which made me laugh, so I calmed down a bit. Hearing people laugh just makes my heart so happy! I've learned today, the more you do, the more you'll be able to continue and the more you'll be able to do.
I'm pretty sure that I found some kind of love in this place.
“Love isn't only two people of the opposite gender being sexually attracted to each other, or being sexually attracted at all! Love is in all of us and comes in so many different varieties. It's freedom, you can find it everywhere.”
Day 6: Gospić
6th October, 2018
Today when I woke up, I was really happy for some reason. I feel like I am happy most of the time here.
We went to a town called “Gospić” where that market fair is. We had an own stand there, where we sold some of our souvenirs and looked at some other stands with traditional goods.
At first, I was super nervous because I was afraid that no one would understand me. Well, it turned out to be the exact opposite! We all communicated without having to understand what the other was saying!
Teta Dragica taught me how to knit and I quote: “You're a natural!” said My awesome roommate, Maja. That's what I did pretty much the rest of the day, in between I looked at some stands myself, it was pretty interesting.
In general, I just loved the whole event because it was so full of life and culture. A lot of people stopped by and looked at our stuff, occasionally asked how I already knew how to knit so well and talked to everyone in our little group. I just love how there seems to be no thought of hate whatsoever! Everything was just so fun, especially in the company of the elderly, because it just feels like they're everyone's grandmas.
When we had finished everything at the market, we wanted to drive back home, but our car wouldn't turn on at first until we got helped by a really kind guy (Thank you).
Arriving back in Kuterevo, Ivan (my Grandpa) introduced me to some of the neighbors who were baking “Rakija." Ivan said it's usual to visit during the procedure. Once again, it really amazed me how everyone is accepted as a member of a family here and I'm sure that if more people would start caring less about looks and habits, humanity would be a much better place.
As we finally arrived at Postaja, Maja welcomed us and we just talked about our day (to be honest it felt good to have someone of a friend ACTUALLY listening).
We looked at a book together that had some traditional clothings in it, which was super interesting to see, even if some were really strange-looking with a lot of gems on them and that really made us laugh a lot!
Wow... I can't believe that my sixth day here is already over, on Monday I'll be the only one sleeping at the station, which I'm excited but also kind of nervous about!
There is one important thing I've learned so far: Communication and understanding does not require any verbal language. Just patience, curiosity and tolerance.
Day 7: Everything Takes Its Time
7th October, 2018
Today was an interesting day.
For breakfast we had brownies Maja and Glorija had made the other day and they were delicious! However, there would be a down side to it, at least on my side, because I was scared I would eat too much of them and that I would get sick, which I didn't. At that point I just went to get some fresh air to calm down a bit.
We went to the market one last time this weekend (it was the last day anyway) and the drive there was funny, because the car is really small. I was sitting in between the two elderly women, Teta Dragica and Teta Ankica, who were incredibly cute and I had to laugh almost the whole way to Gospic!
After arriving I really had to pee, but couldn't find the toilet on the market itself, so I had to go ask in a pub if I could use their restroom, which actually boosted my confidence.
The whole time we were there, all I really did was knitting and watching the little traditional show dance, which was super interesting and really fun to watch!
After a time my anxiety kicked in again, due to a headache that I got because I wasn't drinking enough the whole time. That immediately caused the fear that I would get sick and throw up in public. I was even going to ask my grandpa to drive me home to Kuterevo, which I didn't end up doing. We didn't stay much longer anyway because it was the last day of the market, so things had to be packed up and we needed more people for that. On our way back I really enjoyed the view, I just can't get enough of it!
Back at home all I did was wash the leftover dishes and chatted with Glorija, she made tea from scratch (good tea from scratch), and in the end, I video chatted my best friend, which was also super fun, I was so excited to tell her all about Kuterevo! Some time later Aurelien and Maja came back from packing up things at the marked, we chatted a bit and then they went out one last time, because she has to leave tomorrow morning. It makes me a bit sad to be honest, I had a great time with her!
It's now really late and I'm waiting for her to come back, but I think it'll still take time, so I will probably go to bed!
Day 8: A Visit from the Outside World
8th October, 2018
I'm actually writing this the next day (the 9th of October) because it was my first night alone and I was really tired yesterday.
I woke up really early to say goodbye to my friend and made coffee on the stove for the very first time here! I was always scared of doing it wrong, but now I tried and it turned out to be super easy.
At noon, my dad, his girlfriend, my little brother, his little friend, and her father came to visit the refuge and us volunteers. We cooked together and I even made improvised sweet potato fries, which turned out to be really good and very well to dip in tomato soup one of my volunteer friends made. I made a funny discovery: Ever since I came here, I could suddenly cook!
My dad pointed out that I was a lot more open than when I first arrived here, which made me really happy, since that was one of the reasons I even came here in the first place. In the evening we visited Teta Dragica, it was so much fun! She's the nicest old lady, who's actually not old at all, because as soon as you look into her eyes you can almost see the happy eyes of a passionate young woman! She's just such a living joy and loved by all of us.
After the geese and the chicken were back in their enclosure and everyone was gone, I went to sleep pretty fast, because as I already wrote, I was super tired!
It was one of the nicest days I had there, despite the fact that every day here is amazing.
Good night :)
Day 9: Kopija
9th October, 2018
Again, I was too tired to write yesterday evening so I'm just going to write about it today. I woke up at 8 am without having set an alarm the night before, which I consider a success! As usual, I did the routine of letting the geese and chicken out and enjoyed the amazing foggy air.
Later that day, I guided some really nice tourists around and I actually had a lot of fun doing that and didn't even feel a tiny bit of my anxiety, which means that this trip has definitely done something good to me and I have no regrets!
After that, Ivan/Grandpa and I went off to the forest to go mushroom hunting, it was magical! Just seeing the shapes and colors of fall in the mountains passing by while we were getting higher and higher up until we crossed the mountain was breathtakingly beautiful. We drove into a little side way from the road into the forest and guess what we found! Foot prints! And scats! Of a bear! They looked like they were painted into the mud and, don't worry, the scats didn't stink, bear scats actually smell like what the bear ate before.
We took some photos and went back to the road to drive to a place where there were supposed to be many mushrooms. We didn't find that many, but I also took the chance to practice my photography skills and I'm pretty happy with the results!
We also went to a huge rock, where we had to be really loud, because a bear lives in that area at the moment. At that place, we found many toadstools and everything looked like it was another world and some beautiful pictures were taken, I can't explain to you how beautiful everything looked in real life!
After that, our last stop was at “Kopija”, which is a place in the mountain that is part of the refuge and it really looks like a fairy garden! There is a little cabin where volunteers can stay while they're “patrol” for wolves and bears.
When we got back, I met a really inspiring couple, who travel around the world in a van. Their “life is a road trip”, as they said, which is something that shows me that you can live really anywhere and it really opened up my heart for traveling a lot more! We ended up talking a lot and I realized that I didn't even have problems to go up to them!
Experience ensures you to gain knowledge about things you actually need in life.
Good night from me! :)
Day 10: My Last Day At Home
10th October 2018
Today was a calm, long day with a lot of sun, fun and laughter.
I got up early to make the fire and coffee for everyone. Then I cooked some plums to put on my oatmeal and sat down at the table to talk to Adam for a bit.
At first, I didn't really go out and work a lot (the past days have been lazy days anyway), except for when I let out the geese and got some wood for the fire.
I realized that, in the past few days, I lost a lot of my fear of doing things wrong. I think it makes me more open to the world outside and the people in it which was basically by goal for this trip. I've definitely found some new friends and got a lot more confident about myself, which my dad also remarked!
It is an amazing experience to have people you look up to accept you as one of them and on the same level as them. They've helped me learn and laughed with me and I laughed with them, which, for me, is something very valuable. The more open and weird people can laugh with me, the more I know that they trust me and I can trust them because they just don't care if they sound crazy or bad.
In my whole time here I got to know what it feels like to have people actually caring enough of what I think about certain things, a feeling that I hadn't even realized I was lacking until I came here and honestly, it's the best feeling in the world! Is this what love feels like? I mean love, not being IN love.
Anyway, I'm going to pack my things now so I can spend as much time as possible with my friends I have left, good night, and good bye!
For the people who, like me, struggle with anxiety or other similar mental health problems:
I can only recommend you to do something like this, because you'll only really understand what I'm feeling here if you feel for yourself!
Don't let anxiety choose for you!