At the beginning, I would like to emphasize the fact that it is impossible to express in words the gratitude that I feel for all people who have engaged in the project and its final result. This is the first such book in my writing achievements. So far, there have been only scientific studies, and those have their specific rules.
There have been so many people contributing to the creation of this collection that it is difficult to name everyone. However, I am grateful to the fact that they appeared in my life and became a part of it.
First of all, I would like to thank my husband — Peter — for the support, insightful questions that were born in my mind, but I did not have the courage to articulate them. It became a reflection for me, an echo that allowed me to hear myself.
I would like to thank the readers of my blog Manufaktura Słowa, who eagerly shared the impressions and conclusions regarding the articles posted on the blog.
I would like to thank all Catherines who have contributed to the process of creating and completing the material for this book.
Many thanks to my friend Ann, who has always believed in me (and I trust that she still does). She was with me in the most difficult moments, on sharp turns, high waves, during thunders and storms. She can always see a ray of sun, where there is truly none.
I would like to thank my parents for loving me as they were able to; to my children for making my life meaningful; my first husband for allowing me to leave, so that I could find what I lost many years ago.
Many thanks for editors, proofreaders, graphic designers who took care of both the aesthetic and artistic values of the book, and Eva who undertook the challenging task of translating difficult texts — difficult — as they carry a large emotional load. Thank you very much.
Once again, many thanks to everyone I have not mentioned by name. I assure you that I appreciate all the hardships, help, support and care, as well as your efforts and concern for me. I have never given up!
“Wisdom means to choose now what will make sense later. I am learning everyday to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be, to inspire me and not terrify me.” (Tracee Ellis Ross)
Each of us is a little wanderer, traveller, seeker. Sometimes there are moments in our lives in which we do not feel ourselves. We feel a lack or a satiation. We are happy and unhappy, sad or joyful, filled with sense and emptiness. We are collectors of memories — those that make us smile and those that we would rather forget about. Meanwhile, all of those memories are part of us. And this is what this book is about — seeking, various moments, love and betrayal, disappointment, uncertainty, fear and loneliness. This book is also about the strength that lies deep in each of us, about values, choices, finding the lost.
I wrote How To Sweeten Bitter Thoughts for several reasons. First of all — I wanted to write a book that would give hope, simultaneously, choosing the content that interests the reader. I assumed that it will be a collection of columns and the readers will choose what suits them best. I wanted to give the readers a room for thought and reflection. Secondly, we all need a mirror. And where it is best to see yourself if not in the reflection of another human being? There is a third reason as well — I felt the inner need to write another book. It has been almost a year since I wrote the previous one.
I would like to warn you in advance that this is not a psychological guide. How To Sweeten Bitter Thoughts is the first collection of columns, full of reflection as well as inspiration to make an attempt to start life from scratch. I use my own narration, peculiar to me. I write about how I managed to bury the past and get the new parts of what we call Life. I managed to find joy in spite of pain and suffering, to find a smile, and finally learn to speak about what I feel.
This is a book about a new outlook on the surrounding reality, about strength and determination, the art of understanding and the art of love, about a happy fulfilled life.
This is how it started — why we need all of this
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
As a child, I read Anne of Green Gables and I was not only delighted by the extraordinary story of a girl with fiery hair and a head full of ideas, but also the way in which the book was written.
I also wanted to write. And I wrote. I wrote novels, stories, poems, fairy tales for children. For a short period of time, I worked in the editorial office of a multi-branch magazine. I also wrote short columns for the daily local press. Most, however, I wrote to leave it later in my drawer. However, many texts have been preserved thanks to my mother to a large extent. When they were landing in the trash or in the piles of waste paper, my mother was saving and collecting them. Currently, among other things, I am a writer, a columnist. I write articles, scientific papers and books.
I remember that it was always easier for me to write what I felt than to say. Presently, nothing has changed. I know how words can hurt, but I know how they can bring relief as well. Thoughts written on paper in the form of words, sentences, notes, relations, and finally a diary, have become a form of therapy that helps to deal with difficult reality, emotions and feelings. Written words have become a form of purification, a way to improve mood. Thanks to what has been written in the past, I understand my present. I understand what happened and I know how to use it to be the best version of myself every day.
I needed space for personal thoughts. The first blog gave me this opportunity. It allowed me to bring artistry to my writing. This is a great tool for modern technology, which doesn’t change the fact that I still love the smell of paper and my favourite, well-sharpened pencil.
I believe that every knowledge gives opportunities. You will find here a wide variety of texts: thoughts, memories, attempts to interpret events based on acquired psychological knowledge, dialogue with the past, desires, dreams and reflections. The texts contain quotes and references to literature that moved me or set my direction for development.
Perhaps you will find here your own or similar experiences. Perhaps, something you find here will appeal to you and you will find it worth your attention. Perhaps, you will discover your own desires, needs, ways for your development, reflections.
My island — searching for my own space
“When two people live together, they can be like two separate islands in a big ocean, exposed to the same storms and heated by the same sun. Although each of them has its own shape, they have common volcanoes, valleys and waterfalls.“ (Iwona Chmielewska)
I like islands. They make me feel good. I like the paradise islands the most. Those with palm trees and sunny beaches, the blue coast… and sharks. Who does not miss paradise? Paradise that is frequently associated with safety, bliss and happy life. We have these needs buried deep in our minds. No wonder that we crave for escape to such places — if not in reality, it is certainly in our imagination.
I don’t know too many exotic islands. I know their geographical location, but I wasn’t able to see many of them. I was in Stockholm — there are a lot of islets and rocky skerries there. I visited the Ionian islands off the coast of Greece and Albania. However, I was amazed by Malta and Gozo the most. I fell in love with the sun, water, people and became enchanted with the richness of culture. Thanks to Joseph, our carrier after Blue Grotto, I missed the endless blue. I found a piece of myself, an important one, about which I haven’t known before. This is why my longing for this island is so strong. I know that I will be coming back there. Perhaps, I will move there for some time.
However, there are also my native islands around Gdansk, for instance, Sobieszewska, with real Bird Paradise, and Stogi with lakes, ponds and a small pier. Both are overgrown with seaside forest and wonderfully green. Currently, they are the closest islands to me.
But, there is one more. Unique, because only mine. My own island. Every morning, just after waking up, I do the rounds of my island. I check if everything on it is as it should be. I am making ongoing repairs to any resulting damage. I count losses and profits. I observe the changes taking place on my island. Often, I am the initiator of these changes.
From its safe shores, I look at the world, not always friendly, but I feel that here on my island I feel safe. Sometimes I invite my friend, the only one I have now. This island exists only in my imagination, but I have a real sense of its existence. It separates me from the noise, battlefields of the world, chaos. It defends me against insanity and madness. It protects me against hurtful judgment. It protects me from toxic people. No one invited is not allowed to enter my island.
My island doesn’t have one name. Sometimes it is called “Sorrow”, other times “Silence”, at other times it is called “Joy” or “I Feel Good Here”, but most often I call it “My Island”.
I feel like an island myself. Sometimes sunny, but with many unknowns hidden in dense tropical flora. Sometimes rocky and inaccessible. Sometimes explosive and full of cumulated energy, like a volcanic island. Sometimes lonely and grateful appreciating the closeness of other islands.
And what island are you?
Write and you will see more, further, more clearly. Write and you will understand.
“The fact that I’m silent does not mean, that I have nothing to say.” (Jonathan Carroll)
Which teenager did not write poems? Which teenager did not go through the time of writing their own poetry? Who did not write a diary, or at least, tried to do it, more or less effectively? There are those among us who have saved their entire volumes. And it is not only about writing till the present or a one episode in your life. For some people, and maybe for you as well, talking about feelings and emotions is difficult. To some extent, most of us have a problem with it. Why is it easier to write about something than to say? Why do we reach for a notebook and a pen more often in hard times and at the edges of life?
The answer is simple: Writing purifies. But how it is that when we put our feelings down on paper, we feel better? Of course, it has a scientific justification. The therapeutic power of the narrative was proved by American Professor J. Pennebaker. He argued that writing is a therapy.
Writing about yourself has a therapeutic power. By giving the narrative a certain structure (for instance, in the form of a text — a poem, a diary, a short note, an index card), we make a good story based on our experiences. This allows us to see its real meaning reducing the emotional load.
At the beginning, a good way to express emotions and feelings and to talk about them is to write them down. If something gives us joy, pleasure, satisfaction, we are more likely to talk about it, share our insights and feelings. Nevertheless, it is worse when situations are frustrating or even painful for us. You can write down what you feel especially in such situations. It can satisfy the need to relieve emotions, get rid of poison, throw away grief, anger. Create a story using your own pen. Buy a notebook, take a pen and describe what happened yesterday. When you find out how interesting everyday life is, go back to the past. It is worth trying. Those who create narratives, simply cope better in everyday troubles and also recover faster after difficult events.
I have tried and it was worth it! I’ve read numerous columns of my favourite columnist who is nowadays considered a well-known writer, and she undoubtedly is. Her words were very long on my mind when I tried to use everything I’d learned and discovered before I got more. I felt deep in my heart that someday my writing would go beyond the boundaries of my drawer. I wanted it very much, but at the same time I was afraid. Will anyone read this? Will it be good enough?
I think there’s a reason for everything, just like a magic spell. It is not enough just to want. Of course, to want a lot, it’s the first step to change, action is another. As far as I can remember, it’s always been easier for me to write what I feel than to say. I couldn’t talk about it even with my loved ones. I wrote poems, wrote down more memories and filled with successive fragments of my life another survival notebooks. That’s what I called it, because it really helped me to survive difficult periods in my life.
Writing about the topic didn’t cause me any problems either. I publish scientific papers because of my job and I like it very much. But for a long time I have been thinking about preserving and organizing the notes that have accumulated over many years. The inspiration to finally act and not just to dream about serious writing were the words: “Someone needs what you have to offer. There is a place for your voice in the world […]. Readers who do not like my style of writing they can love yours.” I took Regina Brett’s words as an invitation. Now my writing has taken shape. I read my story and understood that my past, my roots, my upbringing, my experiences, choices and decisions has made me who I am today. Now I can reveal it.
The most difficult experiences are often the best lesson. Acceptance of all life experiences is an important lesson of humility and patience. It is the opportunity to get closer to yourself and to get to the most valuable things in you. I needed myself some time to stop and watch my situation from an observer’s point of view. I needed a rest, a pause, peace.
So much depends on our way of thinking — thinking about yourself, about people, about the world. But above all about yourself. Because how you think about yourself influences how you think about the world and other people. Exploring literature, I found a definition of self-confidence that appealed to me. Confidence is a state where you feel good in your own skin. It’s self-acceptance along with a whole set of imperfections. It’s supporting and appreciating who we are.
I take care of myself. I treat myself as someone important and valuable, I realize my needs. I focus on what I have influence on. I do not base my self-assessment on the assessment of others. I build my self-esteem. I write down all my successes, especially the small ones. I remember that the building consists of many bricks. I’m working on accepting my own flaws and imperfections. I observe myself, my behaviours, thoughts, emotions, reactions and I’m still learning myself. I develop my competences.
Accept what you look like, how old you are, where you came from, how you were brought up. Focus on what you have gained through your all experiences, even the most difficult ones. Appreciate all the good and bad things that have happened to you. It’s YOUR life. All those things made you who you are today. Everyone needs something to recharge the batteries.
If you cannot or do not want to say something, try to write it. For example, think about some important change that has happened in you and describe it.
How to find your way in the network of fashionable trends, advertising slogans, charlatanism and shamanism
“To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.” (Albert Einstein)
I happened to be in a bookstore in the Personal Development or Psychology and Development department, and with my head up, I followed the titles of wise guides. The titles are very different. And I will not write about it, because you probably experienced similar situations in your search for reliable knowledge and inspiration. We must admit that we find quite a few books and texts about development everywhere. Written in a very diverse language. I admit that I immediately put away the books of American psychologists on the borderline of shamanism. You know what I’m talking about. It’s about these titles like: You can be happy now! You deserve happiness! A perfect recipe for success! You are the ruler of your life! Create your ideal life!, etc. I do not rate such publications as worthless, because according to the principle “Every knowledge gives opportunities”, they also have their own value, although I will not necessarily use them. The language used by the authors doesn’t appeal to me. There are plenty of authors and each of them has a goal in publishing such content, and I do not necessarily fit them. The authors of this trend are usually people of success, people of culture, celebrities known to us from the glass window. They succeed, they live beautifully and happily. But is it really true? I sincerely wish them that. However, these kind of arguments do not convince me.
So, how do you look for a good book, not to get lost in this densely woven network of advisers and experts in life? This is a very individual matter. It depends on what you are looking for, what you want to achieve. It also depends on who you are, what you want to change, what you think, what you know about yourself. And a whole lot of other questions. Maybe you need advice, or maybe you don’t want to listen to life experts since they have no idea about you or about the luggage you carry inside you. Maybe you’re just looking for some inspiration.
You already know that when I cast my mind back, my sorrows and what I could not deal with, I put down on paper. I wrote and wrote or I painted. Art somehow filled the emptiness inside me. It is thanks to the narrative that I survived what happened to me in my life and I’ve found myself in a new reality.
On the wedding day, I got Regina Brett’s books as a gift which were a real page-turner. I kept coming back to them. In this way, I discovered the existence of a woman who wrote in my language. I felt like someone had written about my life. Of course, not really my life. I wrote about my own many times and she wrote about hers. Our experiences were different. But I needed it. It became a source of inspiration for me. Today we exchange short, but full of kindness posts, although we live on the other sides of the Earth.
Many people accuse authors of copying content in their next books. It is true that many thoughts are repeated. They describe the same experiences. But what is life if not the sequel of repetitions and the same experiences that create a new reality built on the foundation of what shaped us and made us today what we are?!
With great pleasure I contact writers who write in my style. I inspire with their texts, reflections and a look at life. They teach in their books a wise love for themselves, gratitude for the gift of life, appreciating what life brings to us and also care for words, which we speak not only to the world and people, but above all to ourselves.
Nowadays I’ve found my own space as well. It’s filled with writing. I fulfil my dream that has grown inside me since my childhood. I’m writing, because I’m convinced that there’s a place in the universe also for my voice. I thank all readers for the warm words that come back to me and become an inspiration for every step I take.
The publishing market is pampering us. A lot is published, and the shelves are bent under the weight of new products and bestsellers. It is, however, worth being picky. It is worth checking what really appeals to us. There are many ways of development, many guides. You do not have to go every way, you do not have to take everything that the world gives you. First check what you really need, then choose what you will like, understand and feel.
It should be good for you.
I do not fit into this world! How to awaken love to yourself, to people, to the world?
„Get up in the morning, look in the mirror, make some parting and leave yourself alone” (Prof. Wiktor Osiatyński)
Do you feel that you do not fit into the world? I often ask people about it. Often this is how they express their feelings when it comes to the bond. I have written more than one column that begins with this or similar question.
Why do we have such feelings? What determines them? What to do to feel good in your world? The answer probably lies in many areas of our psychophysical, emotional and social functioning.
The vision of a bad world is comfortable, because then the world is responsible for the fact that we are not successful, for we will NEVER succeed, for we STILL/ALWAYS fail, and finally for the fact that NOBODY does not like us, EVERYONE hurts us.
Never, always, nobody, everyone… These are very dangerous words. When we repeat them too often and do not choose the statements that reach us, we expose ourselves to a risk. It is even worse when we ourselves bombard our mind with such words and thoughts. Repeating them effectively leads to underestimation. And yet our value can be our inner strength.
Of course, each of us has some trouble. Some feel overwhelmed by minor difficulties, others overcome traumas. Remembering that the world is not only just good or bad will help you keep your balance. Our life experience includes not only satisfaction, love and fulfilment but also death, loss, suffering, disappointment, rejection, guilt. Accepting these two aspects of our reality helps us find our way through the hardships of everyday life.
Where some see only gaps, others see opportunities. It seems that it depends on the conviction that we are surrounded by a sensible and favourable world. When we acknowledge that we are co-creators of our lives, it’s possible to change our relations with the world. Then, we begin to look for what is good for us and we have better contact with our needs.
Do not worry too much. If we think bad about ourselves, then we also think bad about the world, about the people who live in it, and about what can happen to us. I recommend the text: “Odczep się od siebie, a świat cię przytuli” (A. Srebrna), which means “Leave yourself alone and then the world will hug you”.
What is the world in which you live? What are you doing to feel good in it?
Matrix, i.e. about the life behind the pretence of happiness
“Do not expect from the day what only years may give. But do not forget that the years consist of many days, therefore, decide that you will not waste any single one.” (J. M. Sailer)
Do you sometimes get the impression that you do not fit the place where you are, or that your life is not what you have imagined? It was supposed to be beautiful, happy ever after, and meanwhile you feel lonely, tired, unnecessary, sometimes angry. In the beginning everything went well, you were smiling, you were happy. Your felt joy, satisfaction with who you are, what you do, what you dream about. Sounds familiar?
Is it possible to feel happy and then deeply unhappy?
“I was happy, I had a passion, interests, I wanted to pursue my own dreams and I realized them. It was very exciting, but my life was gradually changing, and I felt as if I was beginning to lack breathing air, time, and finally willingness to live. My life was pointless. Today I have the courage to say that I was a deeply unhappy person, I felt such sadness, helplessness and hopelessness, even despair that I could only cry, I was totally unmanageable, torn inside, I was dying of fear and a sense of guilt.”
The sense of security and the need for acceptance are the basic human needs. It is no wonder that every human being strives to satisfy them. The feeling of their absence combined with the pressure of the society and the pressure of the family and immediate surroundings, often pushes people to get married, have children, and start a family. Because you have to fit into the ideal pattern: start a family and then live happily ever after. You think: That’s what I need, I want to be loved, accepted, I want to feel needed. “And it happened, and it was wonderful. Love wrapped its arms around me and I felt safe, and for some time, I even felt loved.”
Now you know that it was not true love. It was just a desperate call for the slightest hint of kindness, intimacy and care. From the conversations that I have conducted with women aged 26 to 56 about the quality and durability of the relationship, we all too often subconsciously refuse all of it ourselves. We stubbornly claim that we are happy, satisfied, and do not need anything more. After all, we have everything — a family, a job we like to a greater or lesser degree. We realize our goals in various areas of life. And we all need it. But somewhere deep in our hearts, we feel so lonely, worthless and unnecessary. “I was ready to hide behind the beautiful pretence created by myself and the surrounding, ready to accept falsehoods and lies.”
You may ask: Why was she silent? After all, the basis is communication and exchange of ideas? Yes, it’s so obvious. The basis of all therapeutic trends in building relationships, let alone the relationship for a lifetime. “Yes, I tried, the thing is, it was just me who had a problem. Everyone around was happy, and when I heard that I was dramatizing, because everyone sometimes has similar situation, I saw no point talking about it.”
She was ready to be silent and not to reveal what she felt, just to have any chance of getting what she needed. Even if it was to be ‘sometime’, ‘later’, in the future.
True love is naturally and fairly honest. However, declaring love is not enough. Because real love also gives a sense of happiness, joy and security. True love does not drain you from strength, does not deprive you of the meaning of life, does not lead you to a desperate sadness and sense of hopelessness. There is no shadow of fear, loneliness or sadness in it.
What can be changed? First of all, it’s worth beginning with yourself. Admit your feelings without shame and judgment. We ourselves are often more severe in our judgments than our surroundings is. Try to cut yourself off from fear. When you reveal yourself in front of you, you will gain the truth — the truth of who you are. And you are a man endowed with a personal dignity — a good that no one can take away from you. You are a human being. You are A HUMAN.
Decide that from now on you will try to be the best version of yourself, without looking at others. There will always be people for whom you’ll be too fat or too skinny, too stupid or too smart, strangely silent or big-mouthed, too pretty or too ugly. And I’m not just referring to women by writing the above words. This applies equally to men. It applies to all of us regardless of age, gender, education, social status, nationality or skin colour. There will always be those who don’t respect the value of humanity or those who don’t see a good human in you, because they have different criteria. It isn’t worth thinking about it, although changing the way of thinking is very difficult.
Since childhood, or rather since generations, we all have been living under the pressure of evaluation. We are evaluated at school, at work, in the family, in the company of friends, by random people. Our skills, competences, qualifications, usefulness, appearance are still being tested and it’s difficult to enumerate all aspects of life here.
Remember that not everything will happen at once. Start with yourself. Look for the truth in yourself. Know yourself. Change does not happen as if by magic. This is a process, often a long and arduous one. But it’s YOUR way. Sometimes it’s bumpy and winding. Take the first step.
I always try to remember that I’m a free man and I have a duty to look after myself. I keep telling myself that there are no bad feelings that I cannot feel.
All feelings are good because they express part of me. Today, I’m aware and convinced that I have a human right to respect and a respect for personal dignity. I do not agree to humiliation or emotional blackmail.
I don’t pretend that everything is beautiful if it’s really bad. I’m real and I don’t create a false pretence. I draw conclusions from my mistakes and I’m looking for solutions. I’m responsible for my life and I take responsibility for my decisions. I cultivate gratitude.
And what aspects of humanity are you grateful for?
Forest, blue sky, the sound of the sea, me, worms and other little beings
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” (Sylvia Plath)
I spent the whole day in the forest, in the bosom of nature. It’s an amazing experience to feel a part of it. When we perceive ourselves as a part of a complex system of connections and dependencies, we better understand ourselves, our choices, decisions and see much more possibilities. I was enjoying the greenness of the forest, the blueness of the sky, the twittering of birds, the fresh air. I was breathing deeply.