Swimming out of the sea of pain
How to Swim Through Pain is a healing poetry and photography book to help readers find a way towards the light when it becomes too difficult to row through life. The author of the book, photographer and poet Neringa Rekašiūtė, invites you to an immensely honest, naked, sometimes painful but always liberating encounter with yourself.
Between the pages of this book, there is a story that began when you were 28. What was happening in your life at that time and how did you feel about it?
It is hard to talk about that even now because every time I’m telling this story, it feels like I’m experiencing it once again. Looking from the perspective of time, I realize that it was a classic story of the relationship between two people. I was aiming for a powerful emotional connection; I wanted to experience the most important things together, I wanted a family. But the other person wouldn’t commit to the same . He kept me waiting, probably because he wasn’t sure about his feelings. Or maybe he was hoping that one day the same feelings that we used to experience in the very beginning would return. And I was waiting…
Time was flowing by, and nothing changed. Human is such a creature that can easily fool itself. So, I used to create hope for myself, I used to persuade myself that I needed to wait just a little bit more. The longer I waited, the more I realized we were eroding and destroying each other, we were becoming more and more distant.
I used to destroy myself this way from the inside until one night, after another fight, I woke up with only one thought in my head: I wanted something terrible to happen to me. The pain inside was so great that I couldn’t even explain what it was. That night I realized I needed help.
I told myself I’m not ok many times. But maybe because I was experiencing a lot of stress, I simply wasn’t able to express my feelings. It seemed as if I was speaking some other language, nobody heard me. Or maybe I just attacked people like a typhoon with all of my feelings. I really don’t understand anymore what was true and what was not.
When you are experiencing depression, everything seems foggy, as if it was happening to someone else. It was hard for me to realize many things, I couldn’t trust anyone anymore, and my best friend left me during that most difficult time. She said, she wouldn’t recognize me anymore.
Still, I was a functioning person. There are a lot of stereotypes saying that a depressed person is lying in bed all the time, unable to do anything, and his mood is always down. In reality, depression has a lot of different forms. At that time, it took me a lot of effort to take any action. I had panic attacks often. I used to wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. It felt as if the bed was soaking me up to some unknown nothingness. Today I understand how hard it is to be with such person, therefore I don’t blame neither my friend nor my ex-partner. We simply don’t have the knowledge of what one should do, nobody teaches us how to help someone with a sick soul. If a friend brakes his arm, you simply take him to the hospital. In this case, you just feel totally lost.
In that big sea of pain, you finally found strength, you stood up and managed to walk away. How did you succeed in that?
Actually, at that time it didn’t seem like a success to me. A big step forward was a decision to visit a psychotherapist. I decided to ask for help after reading a post by a girl that seemed perfect to me at that time. She told her story about depression very honestly. I remember crying very badly after reading it. As if I was reliving my own tragedy through her words.
Also, the movie Rūta about the young swimming champion Rūta Meilutytė helped me a lot. In the movie, Rūta talks about how difficult it was for her, how she even wanted to kill herself until the therapy drew her out and saved her.
Psychotherapy is a long-term process and involves long and honest conversations with yourself. Our minds are set to rationalize everything in life, to put everything in boxes, we get angry and delusive about ourselves if we feel bad, because others feel even worse. It seems that we don’t have the right to feel bad. And so, we suppress our emotions. It took me quite a long time until I finally found them. And then relief came. Stroke by stroke I started swimming away from pain.
Nature helped me a lot too. Being in nature, photographing women in nature, all of my lakes, woods, and goddesses, I was rinsing away my pain, learning to let the bad emotions go. Little by little, there was more light in my life.
You are talking now about the period when you were still not separated from your ex-partner. How did you manage to let the broken relationship go?
When you are dragging that burden, that strong emotional pain that you feel attached to for such a long time, and suddenly you realize that you are now letting it go, you experience a big inner explosion, some kind of catharsis. At that time when this was happening, I was in Belgrade where I was taking part in an art project In the Traces of Socialism. When I came back even my friends noticed that I looked different. The psychological burden that we carry changes our body as well. I came back liberated and straightened.
In Belgrade I felt valued as an artist. I saw that people can be nice to me and admire my work. I got a lot of support that I used to long for in my closest environment.
Moreover, two magical accidents happened during that trip. On my way to Belgrade I read a book that I was given by some accidentally met women that was interested in shamanism and spiritual practices. In the book I read about intuitive wisdom of our bodies and how we avoid listening to our bodies, we rationalize everything even when our body screams that something is wrong. I felt as if something inside me is starting to change, to unfold.
In Belgrade, I was going for dinner one night and saw a woman sitting outside the café on the edge of the pavement. She was smoking a cigarette and looking at me. My gaze was drawn by the glitter of the crystals that I saw in the window of the store behind her. I popped in. There, I saw a lot of dusty stones. I was walking around and observing them, until finally, I took one stone in my hands, a green Dioptase. It was so beautiful that I simply couldn’t let it from my hands, and even though it wasn’t cheap, I decided to buy it. When back home, I opened a stone manual, and to my biggest surprise, I read that this stone helps to take on fatal decisions and let the old karmic bonds go. It was exactly the same decision I had already made. And my former boyfriend accepted it with relief.
When did you start writing poetry?
I started writing when I was traveling in Iran. I always wanted to get to know that country, but many times I postponed the journey. At that time, I was living in complete darkness. Iran became an escape from that painful situation for me. I was traveling alone for one month. And there, I started realizing more and more clearly that the current period of my life is heading nowhere, that I am only fooling myself.
Iran, just like the whole Persian culture, is full of poetry. It is a singing and dreamy country although its people suffer great suppression. But their inner vocation and love for creativity evoked something inside me too. I started writing again. I used to write before when I was studying in London, but I stopped when I came back to Lithuania. In Iran, the verse started pouring from inside of me. Maybe because I saw myself from a distance and I realized how sorry I felt for this person, for myself. I was living in a toxic relationship, first of all, with myself. Poetry became a certain therapy to me. I woke up at night sometimes and words were floating from inside. I wrote them down crying and also in the moment of real euphoria when it seemed that my inner me was cleaning itself and turning into verses that made me perceive and experience that immense pain. Sometimes it seemed impossible how a person can bear so much pain. Therefore, some of my poems are about the collective pain of many different women that were not given a chance to speak out, to pour out, to show what they felt.
Slowly, writing started to lead me from darkness into light. I had to go down to the very bottom, so I could begin to rise towards the light. Though I never thought that from that a book could be born… I was simply writing. Although now I think I was subconsciously spreading signs of helplessness into daylight. I was looking for help. And poetry helped me to establish connections with many people that were experiencing the same sorrow.
Were people writing to you and telling you about their pain?
If it wasn’t for them, I probably would’ve never decided to publish a poetry book, especially in English. It seemed impossible. Who would want to read this thing in Lithuania?! Yet my followers became my biggest support. I noticed how deep we were sinking into conversations that we all needed so much. Poetry became a rescue wheel to us. We could hold on to it and rest a bit, and then we swam further until we reached the shore. The feedback I got gave me courage, belief, and willingness for this book to happen.
Can you tell us what stages a person needs to overcome to swim out of pain?
It is a bit different for everyone, but the pain, in general, reminds me of a Greek tragedy or drama where there is storytelling, rising, culmination, and low tide. This is also similar to what Gabrielle Roth, author of 5 Rythms movement meditation practice, is talking about. The dance practice begins with the Flowing rhythm, then it develops into Staccato that makes you feel different emotions. Afterward follows Chaos, in which all of these emotions flow through your body, and then here comes the Lyrical rhythm where the emotions get balanced and peace overflows. You simply start glowing from the inside because you just released your feelings and pain.
Pain fluctuates in a similar way: Feelings boil inside until you just can’t suppress them, neither can you run away or hide from them. Because of that pain we start trembling, and then we splash our emotions in all different directions until we feel free. I think we all feel mostly afraid about that natural emotion splash because it tears us away from being a civilized and rational person. It is even more difficult for women to discover and to accept inner anger, pain, and aggression. Bad emotions are so natural, although we’ve been somehow taught that we always need to feel happy, and we have to suppress and hide anything that doesn’t match the image of happiness.
It is very difficult to start loving yourself, isn’t it?
I am still learning it every single day. And I have to say, now I feel much more confident about it. Some time ago my self-love used to look like this: I worked like a horse completely undermining my limits, my fatigue, my emotional exhaustion. I sacrificed everything for others, I did what I absolutely didn’t want to do in order to make others happy. I worked a lot because I needed to make money. I felt unsafe. And then, after six months of such running when I felt almost as if I were dead, I rewarded myself with… a massage. That is how I loved myself.
How did your attitude towards yourself change?
It started changing with the ever-growing consciousness when I finally realized that self-love is neither a new dress nor a massage. No, it actually constant caring for yourself and your emotions. It is attention and showing of your feelings, a supportive surrounding that I was so tragically missing before. Or maybe it was there but I felt so bad that I wasn’t able to notice it. In the end, whatever others are telling you, if you hate yourself, nothing will help you. And I really hated myself at that time.
Now I ask myself what I really want, and I let myself have it. A constant conversation with myself is happening. Moreover, I learned to talk to myself in a sweet note, as if I was talking to a child. And these conversations let my inner child feel much better.
And how did you learn to work less? Didn’t you feel insecure and scared that everyone would soon forget you?
Now I really do work less. But when I felt really bad, I didn’t care at all if anybody would forget me or not. Every photo shoot I did required an enormous amount of effort. When I asked a few people later if they noticed how difficult it was for me, most of them shook their heads, only a few very intuitive people recognized that something bad was going on with me.
Weren’t you afraid of being lonely?
I honestly thought that the person I was living with was the man of my life. After I lost my best friend and started feeling that I’m moving away from my partner, I felt as if I were worthless, that I can’t establish a long-term relationship, that after meeting the inner me people simply leave me. Can you imagine what it means to live with such an attitude? I simply felt like I was a complete mistake.
When it seemed to me that I couldn’t control anything in my life, when everything I believed in started falling apart, I found intermittent fasting. I could eat for eight hours a day and fast for 16 hours. But actually, I didn’t each much during the first eight hours too… I refused sugar, all floury meals, I started training, and soon I lost a lot of weight. I remember my friends asking, “Please, could you stop!” But it seemed to me that I had everything under control. Now I realize that people whose life is slipping away start controlling their body. This is exactly what happened to me too.
And then I met Sandro, and everything turned upside down. I started eating, enjoying life, feeling good, and dreaming. It is in the veins of Kartvels to make a dying existence bloom. Today I’m trying to accept my solitude and separation but also to let another person close to me, to open my heart to him. Some time ago I only recognized extreme fusion or extreme retreat. I think in my book one can feel how I came to realize that nobody will save me, and it only will be me who will have to create my wonderful life. How to Swim Through Pain is my heroic journey, the becoming of my own source of strength.
I bet the story of how you met Sandro resembles movie scene?
It almost does! I like the stories of how famous writers used to go to Paris looking for inspiration. Tbilisi is my Paris, so when I was preparing for my second trip to Northern Iran, I decided to spend a few days in this city. I rented a little room at a local movie director’s home and I was simply melting from joy and happiness for two days. Kartvels really knows how to surround you with attention and love. One day the movie director showed a photo of me to his friends, one of them was Sandro. He told me that after seeing my photo he simply froze. Later on, he found me on Facebook, we started talking, I had to recognize that Sandro speaks this wonderful poetic language. Intelligence, wisdom, and beautiful language is so important to me. So, we decided to meet. When we first saw each other, it felt as if my destiny had just entered the room. We looked at each other and couldn’t understand what was happening. We felt as if our souls had known each other for so long, and we just sat there trying to get to know each other.
Now I know that you just have to do what your heart tells you. When I had to go to Georgia, I was totally out of money, I managed to get a cheap ticket and then doubts came. I didn’t understand why I was going to Tbilisi, I didn’t have any purpose. For many years, I haven’t traveled anywhere without a purpose, only because I wanted to. But in the end, I got myself together and I left trusting my inner guidance.
After coming back from that fateful trip, you decided to change all of the photos in the upcoming book. Why did you?
Yes, although it was already decided which photos would accompany my poetry, but after coming back, I took my film camera and I photographed every day for three weeks. I was guided by my inner knowledge what exactly has to be in the photos. I photographed my closest friends. To me, the most important thing was that the photos were very realistic, unimproved, not retouched, natural like an unpolished diamond.
More about the book: www.howtoswimthroughpain.com.