The nurse and I argue. She insists that the reason for my upset stomach is a stomach bug. Finally, I spit it out: I confess it’s probably stress. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Have you spoken to someone about this?” she asks. I reply by giving her one of my best seriously now looks, as she insists that she’s “been there,” and that I need help. Both of which, I honestly doubt.
I’m an emotional caveman: loud, rough and intense. There are all sorts of doodles on the walls of my cave, and they ultimately tell the same story. Since it’s European, and my character doesn’t necessarily have to fulfill the American dream to entertain the audience, it’s really not one with a happy ending. I usually just go all Bamm-Bamm about stuff and club my way out of situations, appearing more Flinstonian than I’ve initially intended to. Thus, disappointing people, and concluding each story as a one-man wound-dressing extravaganza.
Growing up in post-communist Bulgaria, I’ve learned how to be both a hunter and a gatherer. It’s a cultural thing. We just do stuff on our own, and hate asking anyone for anything. Especially help. We DIY through life, fixing our own apartments, cars, relationships; even prescribing ourselves antibiotics. And I’m not exactly sure whether it’s because we don’t trust that others can do the job better than us, or it’s just that we’re simply too proud to ask for help altogether.
My Bostonian apartment is virtually light years ahead of my cave. Mostly it’s because we have maintenance workers. They change the light bulbs for us, and I can also happily conclude that I haven’t been electrocuted even once since I got here. But I’m still very suspicious of the whole sharing thing. A proper alter ego, my Bamm-Bamm doesn’t share his feelings. He just clubs people ever so hard when he gets pissed off, and waits for the moment to pass. Because he doesn’t talk problems, he just gets grumpy.
On this side of the ocean, everybody’s bombarded by ads for self-help books, antidepressants, therapists, anger management courses, help groups and churches. And all of the above offer salvation and peace. It all depends on how much money you have to spend on it. So people do ask for help. And they also get it. The quality of it is, at times, somewhat doubtful, but ultimately the act itself, cultivates belief in others and, to some extend, relief.
Is that a happier way to live? More practical? More self-preserving?
I don’t know, maybe.
After surviving living in Sofia and traveling around the Balkans, I feel like I can totally make it in case of an apocalypse, but I’m not so sure how to survive a help-dependent society. Because in the cave I grew up in, people only went to a shrink if they were crazy, took pills if they were sick and attended church if they were old. I was taught to find strength in myself, and to never rely on anybody else for help. Which has served me well there, and left me lonely here. It’s a relationship that is bound to fail, because it does not depend on sharing, but is rather built upon doubt and paranoia that if you happen to leave your cave to socialize, you’ll enter hell. Because hell is other people.
And it is so. Hell is other people, when you keep to the darkness of your cave where all you see are crazy shadows, which can surely be somewhat Hitchcocky and drive you mad. Especially since you can’t relate to what you cannot see, right? But the process of leaving the cave can be just as painful and hard and also as pointless as trying to swim to the other side of the ocean.
The article was originally written in English.
Illustration: Henrietta Harris
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