Update: December 5th, 2022 | The Piano.
On Playing a Piano and The Paradox of Authenticity.
Here is my definition of a talent:
When you are happy, you feel compelled to do it.
When you are sad, you feel compelled to do it.
That’s what writing is to me.
It’s like playing piano.
You can play energico — with energy, enthusiasm, and zest.
Or, you can play grave — solemn and contemplative.
Today, I will play it grave.
To start with, I recently celebrated three years of developing my company.
And over the past three years, I was thinking a lot about the paradox of authenticity.
On the one hand, as entrepreneurs, we are supposed to be authentic — express our thoughts and personality, share real emotions, and speak the truth about our mission, plans, and desires.
But on the other hand, there is all this hypocrisy in the startup culture… People around me constantly tell me that I should keep my posture and that I am not supposed to talk about mental health problems once I have company. Apparently, it does not look good for your potential clients if you are a human being with human emotions. Well, interesting in its own right…
Anyways, I feel like touching on the topic of mental health is important to talk about. Right here, right now. How can I talk about the job market, entrepreneurship, and the process of developing myself if I only talk about the bright sides? That wouldn’t be any truthful. This is why I decided to tell the full story of what happened to me in the past year.
Bittersweet Story With a Bittersweet Ending — How Did All This Even Start?
First to say, this is not yet another sweet inspirational story with a sweet ending… but rather, it’s an open story with more of a bittersweet taste to it.
When and how did my mental crash even start? I started feeling really bad around the fall of last year, after over two years of grinding in my company full time, day and night.
We had a deep lockdown and there were not too many opportunities to meet people face to face. And in general, what are the opportunities to meet people in Nijmegen in the first place? It is a city where you either need to be an undergraduate student or a person who is settled, with two kids and a dog, to have someone to open your mouth to. This solitude had been bothering me even before the corona crisis, and now it only became worse.
The fact that I was doing more or less everything around my company, wasn’t helpful either. Except for Samuel, a developer who was extremely helpful with the backend of all my websites, literally everything else was on my head, from developing products and services to looking for clients, to accountancy. Not to mention the work in itself!
And so I was looking for problems to solve all by myself, then I was creating products and services by myself, I was building an online presence by myself… No free evenings, no weekends. If I had to point to one person who might be “my role model” in business, perhaps I should point to Tommy Wiseau himself!
No Gas Left In The Tank.
I gradually developed severe anxiety attacks. They were tormenting me to such an extent that I often couldn’t stand up out of bed in the morning.
The other day, I had no more energy left in my body. I literally had no more gas in a tank. I was lying down on the floor thinking to myself: “This is all over. My company is not profitable yet, my stomach is the twisted stomach, I am closed in some cage in the middle of nowhere, far from people who are alike. I am 36 and nowhere in life. I am done.”
And then, I suddenly got an unexpected lifeline. Namely, a friend told me about the Rainbow Mansion, a famous place in Cupertino, California, where dozens of entrepreneurs live together under one roof. Their three long-term residents are NASA employees. They take care of the house and recruit everyone else to come to the house and live with them. All the other residents rotate every 2-3 months.
And that’s when I KNEW. This was THE place to go — beyond any doubt. For the whole corona crisis, I had had to return thoughts on my future in a place somewhere in the woods where entrepreneurs would reside together. When I heard about Rainbow Mansion, I was like: “This is it! I MUST go there and see it to my very eyes.”
And that is for so many reasons… Just like the Rainbow’s residents, I am a Physicist too. And so I thought to myself: let’s find out how much rocket science is in rocket science. Perhaps not much. But I deserve to know! Plus, I am into entrepreneurship and building communities. Damn this place is a legend and I just had to experience it on my own skin.
Plus, I already fell in love with Bay Area when I visited five years ago. Frankly, I could write the book about those three weeks spent in the Bay Area. It was magical.
So, EVERYTHING on Earth and in the sky was telling us to go, go go.
When my friend told me about this place, he added that in his opinion, I would never get there as they have a strict application procedure. “Never” is precisely that keyword that I just needed to hear… “Hold my beer!” — I told him and I applied.
Well, I professionally help people get into places… After taking a look at their website, it took me a few minutes to figure out what type of people they are looking for. Well, luckily for me, I am exactly THAT person! No wonder I soon received an enthusiastic response from the house crew, inviting me to stay around.
The Free Fall.
Still, getting there was not all as simple as it seemed, as my fears didn’t go away. Not for a bit.
I felt like sitting in a machine, observing that the engine is malfunctioning, and the machine slowly turning into a free fall. In such a situation, you are aware that if you don’t do anything, you will soon hit the rock bottom. And there is an island looming in the distance. So, you pull up and try to hold the machine up in the air… but you are not sure if you can hold on for long enough.
And this whole mental health issue did not appear all of a sudden, but rather, it was growing slowly but steadily for the past twenty years. I actually expressed some of these problems in the previous articles “The Primal Fear” and “The Doctor Manhattan Syndrome.”
In general, I am not mentally weak. I just didn’t work on the problem for the last twenty years, that’s all. The point is that mental health is not something that will fix itself. If you don’t brush your teeth for twenty years, you need a dentist. If you don’t exercise, you will get fat. And so on.
Taking care of your mental health should be classified as one of the “important, not urgent” tasks in Eisenhower’s chart. We tend to fall into the “urgency trap” and fully concentrate on what is to be done for yesterday, often forgetting about the things that are not all that urgent and require care and active scheduling.
So, I was focusing so much on my self-development by virtue of learning new things and helping other people, that I completely forgot about myself (as I also mentioned in the recent article “On Being Selfish”).
So, if you don’t do absolutely anything for your health for over twenty years, what do you expect?
Some Words Of Truth.
As trivial as it might sound, in times of high inflation, there is nothing better to invest in than yourself. Well… otherwise as well by the way. And so I finally figured that if I wouldn’t start investing in myself RIGHT NOW, I would waste my life completely.
Better times won’t just come. The rest of the world won’t bend to accommodate my fears. I pull others up career-wise; now time for other professionals to pull me up. There is no shame in it.
Where Does Anxiety Even Come From In First Place?
Many people think that anxiety has to do with impostor syndrome or simply the lack of self-esteem… Nothing could be further from the truth. It really doesn’t correlate with self-perception!
When I think of myself, I see someone awesome in every way. Frankly, if someone doesn’t see my value, I like to think that they are simply blind or stupid. Or both. Or, they just didn’t spend enough time around me to have a chance to experience my karma.
In either case, the anxiety has no source. It just habituates in my life, and I can feel it with every breath as it was gas sprinkled in the air that makes it hard to breathe. Anyways, after 20 years of struggle, I made a resolution that 2022 is the year when I finally win with my anxiety no matter what.
So How Does a Neuroscientist Fixes Her Own Brain?
You might be thinking, “Hey, if you are a neuroscientist, you probably know from the get-go which cord to strike.” Well, not really… Being a neuroscientist, you just know how complex the human brain is and hard it is to understand its inner workings. This is all your benefit. Other than that, you got no particular favours compared to other people.
Overall, I was trying really hard. I believe that solving your mental health issues is the same as with any other complex problem: you iterate, and test solutions, as long as it takes to come up with the ultimate answer to your central question. Which is, in this case: what happened to you, and what the antidote for the poison that is trembling you is?
In half a year, I took a number of different steps on my journey to approach the problem. In this article, I will review all of them, and describe how I came up with the final set of answers that I believe is correct in my case.
1. Wrong Priorities.
It so happens that my own Dad is a chess player and chess trainer by profession. He’s been playing chess for over 50 years now, and training juniors for over 30 years. He is an extremely gifted trainer. In his career, he trained multiple junior world champs and brought them from zero to a hero.
Funny enough, outside of the game, he is not competitive at all. He just wants to enjoy life, and live in peace and harmony. He is not materialistic at all. He won’t chase after a better car or a bigger house if he can spend the same amount of time giving himself a treat by having a good meal, reading an interesting book, or taking a mountain hike in the sunshine.
I talked to him on the phone multiple times this year. And, I came to the conclusion that I was too much of a minimalist after all. It is good not to be materialistic BUT I overdid. I did completely nothing for myself for a really long time. I was basically living, working, and sleeping in one room all this time.
I was also thinking a lot about my general assumptions about what it means to skillfully self-navigate.
In times of the corona crisis, we all suddenly became private investors, experts in personal finances, and social media personalities.
All of a sudden, everyone is concentrated on aggregating wealth, building their future, and becoming a leader. Everyone has business hidden in the closet and a plan to rock the world with it. Everyone has a message to broadcast to the whole world.
Well then, if we are on our way to becoming ultra-rich superstars, then why are we all so stressed and burned out? I would say that there are two major reasons.
Firstly, inflation consequently eats your resources no matter what — at an alarming pace these days. Secondly, the vision of the Great Reset is looming in the distance. The government can always change the rules of the game, come and take your property — what can you do about that?
Also, once you try to build your following online, the rest of the universe works against you. Social media is always another entity’s ground and it is in their best interest to get you obsessed and make you spend as much money as possible — for instance by cutting down your impressions and prompting you today as Facebook used to do for years and years now. Not to mention that social media platforms can cancel you any time they please.
And so you take part in this rat race, crumbling, grinding day by day to increase your assets and following, and trying hard not to get bankrupt and forgotten.
…At some point, I concluded that this is a “numbers trap.” And I just decided to completely change the coordinates.
First of all, society is not a soup of people randomly bumping against each other. It has a modular structure, where hubs are a fast track to reach anyone else: You might be thinking, “Hey, if you are a neuroscientist, you probably know from the get-go which cord to strike.”
Well, not really… Being a neuroscientist, you just know how complex the human brain is and hard it is to understand its inner workings. This is all your benefit. Other than that, you got no particular favors compared to other people.
People are the best souvenirs you can keep after every project and every experience (as I mentioned in one of my previous posts, entitled, nomen omen, “People Is The Answer”).
And in fact, real human contact is an asset that no government and no corporation can take away from you. Similarly to your health and your skills. These are the only three things worth investing in.
Relations, health, and skills. Funny enough, unlike money and social media impressions, they are all uncountable.
So, in the end, I changed the coordinates for my self-navigation. I also finally decided to give myself a treat and come to Amsterdam for the whole spring. And it was, indeed, an awesome idea.
2. The Physiological Level.
At the end of the day, even with the right priorities on your mind, your mood is still a product of a number of chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters. You might think that you feel anxious for logical reasons. After all, you are overworked, you have a low income, you live in a foreign country, and you are isolated in the corona crisis.
But, at the end of the day, to a large extent, this “basic fear” has no source. It feels like primal, child-like anxiety that is always there no matter what. I actually tried to describe the feeling in the article “The Primal Fear (The Monsters Sleep Tonight).”
Unfortunately, in Poland, and especially in my family, mental problems are still stigmatized. If you declare that you need help, the reaction will be: “Just start taking care of yourself!” — just quite like you didn’t take care before or you did something wrong.
But this time, I was tough and I didn’t let other people talk me out of searching for help. At some point, I was so unwell that I was waking up with my stomach twisted every morning. Right before Christmas, I had enough.
It wasn’t easy to find any psychiatrist available. We literally found just one in the whole 5-million district and we had to make 70 kilometers to get there. Fortunately, in his view, my issues were quite common and curable in the long term. He said: “This is not a disease! It is a temporary state and you will get better.” That was a major relief. Finally, someone who told me that nothing is wrong with me…
Actually, my first reaction after taking the drug was unusual peace of mind — which might be a mere placebo effect, due to the fact that I finally did SOMETHING about the problem.
Unfortunately, over the course of the next few months, it turned out that the prescribed drug had some serious side effects. Namely, next to reducing my anxiety a little, it caused even more severe trains of thoughts than I usually experience (as I also described in the article “Content Creator Against The World: On Creativity, Eternal Struggle, and The Painful Process of Becoming a Leader“).
I was so hyperactive that I had 200 ideas per minute instead of the usual 100. I couldn’t rest and I couldn’t finish any task as I was starting another five tasks in the process. In this situation, I reached out for further help.
There was another psychiatrist, a young and ambitious lady, working in my hometown. She spent much more time talking to me than her predecessor and told me openly that I was hyperactive and behaved like a frantic maniac. She exchanged an SSRI drug with a mood stabilizer, and it worked out way better for me.
3. The Psychological Level.
With my Mum’s help, we found the same psychologist whom I had last met literally twenty years earlier, as a “difficult” 15-year-old teen. You might be asking: “Why would you even pay all the effort to look for that person from the distant past?”
Well, she was not like any other psychologist that would cross my path (and many psychologists did especially given that I am a psychologist by educating myself). Namely, she sees something more than a bunch of diplomas in me.
And, she is a tough cookie. While most people get dominated by me in a conversation in no time, she has no sense of authority. She is a truth-teller and she has no mercy for me. She can punch the table and call me on my bullshit old and straight without sitting and nodding like everyone else. And I love it. “This is bullshit, Miss Natalia!” is her favourite line.
I initially wasn’t sure if she might still be available to conduct therapy given her current age. She must be way over 60 now! However, it turned out that she was still active despite her official retirement status. A real passionate… Funny enough, she also looked identical to 20 years before. And, she remembered some of my personal stories from childhood better than I remembered them myself. Amazing.
It was interesting that the scope of topics to discuss was quite similar to what was a matter of debate twenty years ago. It is amazing that people just don’t change… But that’s when I noticed that many problems went unsolved and under the radar for the past twenty years. No wonder my mental condition was only getting worse and worse…
Well, it was high time to start fixing my mind all over again. With a truth-teller on the line, it was way easier — although I knew that peace of mind was not something that would come quick.
4. The Immunological Level.
In the winter of 2021/2022, I also started getting terrible infections. For a few weeks straight, I had a fever almost all the time. At some point, I realized that it was something way worse than just the annual flu. I lost my immunity.
At first, I couldn’t really understand why. I was eating well, sleeping well, and exercising reasonably often. I highly enjoyed what I did for a living, despite it not bringing me much income just yet at that moment.
At some point, I found out about some experiments in monkeys that have shown that social touch and cuddling are crucial to primates. Unattended, non-cuddled baby monkeys were getting sick and dying.
No wonder I was getting infections all the time… For the whole corona crisis, I was sitting alone in one room, working around the clock. The only people I had contact with, were my parents — but we share the same genes and so, we have similar immune systems.
I started googling for solutions and found out that there is a professional cuddler working in Amsterdam, Elle. She looked friendly on the website, and she pointed to a “Strengthened immune system” as the top benefit of her practice.
Of course, there are cheaper, simpler, and more popular solutions to get someone else’s bacteria in your system, but are these solutions any better? Or rather, do they leave you with a bitter aftertaste and even deeper depression than before? Quite frankly, I don’t care what people think of me. I never did.
I was so intrigued by Elle’s services that I wrote to her. She sent me quite an extensive onboarding form back, and she persuaded me that ordering the signature 90-minute session would probably be the best choice for me.
I went for it… and I didn’t regret it by any means. She came to my place in Amsterdam. And she unloaded the awkward atmosphere right off the bat with laughter and jokes. It turned out that she is a Canadian, a bubbly personality, who consciously decided to become a professional cuddler.
She actually broke the system. She got herself two professionals in fact — namely, she is a professional cuddler and a professional wine taster. How cool is that! She monetized all the things she enjoys doing. She not only visits people at home and cuddles them, but also, organizes dedicated parties for cuddlers (also known as “cuddle puddles”) and wine tasting events — just not at the same time, as in that case, things turn out strange.
Anyways, cuddling with Elle was fun. This job is much harder than it seemed at first. However, Elle is really good at reading people and she soon figured out from which angle to best approach me. She is also talkative so she was telling me a lot about her job. Not that I didn’t bomb her with questions…
Nevertheless, when I was leaving Amsterdam at the end of May, I got the impression that people in my circles started hugging at events more than before. Well, I hope I left this city in a better condition than I found it in March when I came…
5. The Subconscious Level.
But the aforementioned solutions were not all it takes to get better! It was just the tip of the iceberg. Believe it or not, there were even more layers of issues to solve. Yet another component of my anxiety was the fact that I have low trust in people in general.
I was harmed and abandoned in many ways in the past. As a result, I always choose to go my own way, without being dependent on others. I bought a house by myself. I set up a company without any co-founders, and I am building it in a trustless way, always staying on my own ground and only working with partners and subcontractors.
I deliberately developed and nourish many friendships — whoever disappears from my life, I wouldn’t even feel the loss. So yes, I have many relations with people, but technically, absolutely anyone is disposable.
Nothing wrong with being independent, but lack of trust is a whole new story… In the end, I realized that if I don’t solve my trust problem, I will never reach my life goals. How can you even get pregnant if you don’t trust anyone?
And I knew that all the answers I needed were somewhere in my head, I just needed to find them. No drugs and no therapy would help with this one. I had to go for the ultimate confrontation with myself: step down into my own subconsciousness and find all the answers all by myself.
Fortunately, another strange coincidence happened. It turned out that my friend from childhood, Nicole Nowicki, whom I met as a kid via my father, is now specialized in hypnotherapy. She spent the last ten years in Australia, and now lives somewhere in the countryside in Germany where she works as a waitress at a local restaurant and further polishes her skills in hypnotherapy after working hours.
We met online and she told me about her practice. Nicole is one of these gems whom you can’t even find online. She doesn’t even have a website or social media accounts. She is invisible unless you know someone who knows someone. I only get to know such people because I keep networking day in and day out, as I recently mentioned in my article “My Personal Approach To Investing (As Of Now).”
Anyways, when we met online, it was clear to me that she was kind of special. I talked to her for the first time in many, many years and I could clearly see how she grew up. Now she had huge, blue, piercing eyes, and her voice turned very low and deep, almost hypnotic in itself. Frankly, her bare accompaniment was intimidating.
Frankly, I was initially sceptical about the whole idea of hypnosis. I doubted its existence, despite I grew up watching Derren Brown’s shows. Plus, for a person with trust problems, hypnosis in itself is like a facepalm! It is like putting your body under external, remote control. Scary as hell! … But, somehow, she convinced me to try.
Nicole’s approach was that thoughts cause emotion, and emotions cause behaviours. By putting me under hypnosis and skillfully asking me questions, she aimed to uncover the original thought that caused my progressing lack of trust. When I was a kid, I was fearless. And so, our aim was to restore that fearless kid whom I once was.
According to Nicole, with proper preparation, even a single session could answer many of my questions and solve many of my problems. I myself can solve many problems for my clients during a single career coaching sessional so I had no choice but to trust her words. And so I did.
Interestingly, her hypnotherapy sessions happen fully online. I couldn’t believe at first that one can effectively hypnotize someone via the Internet. But apparently, it was possible.
While waiting for the session, I got some dim thoughts. What if the internet goes off during the session? Will I stay hypnotized for good? What will happen to my assets?
I decided to prank my own parents. Funny enough, as a 23-year-old undergrad just finishing my Master’s studies and still living in Warsaw, I felt that my life was just ending and I donated my egg cells at that point. Now it sounds silly, but back then I really thought that my youth was about to end and that I had to do something to capture the moment and leave a legacy.
I didn’t have any right to get my medical information before my kids would reach 18. But to prank my parents, I wrote down my “testament” where I declared that in case of permanent disability or death, my Plasma Bears should be donated to my biological children — if there are any. They would have an original hobby while retired…
The Big Day Comes
And then, the big day came. We were scheduled for the hypnotherapy session. I comfortably took a set on a chair in the kitchen, checked my internet connection and we started the session.
Well, apparently, getting hypnotized is easier than one might think. The human brain seems to have buttons that we just normally don’t press, so we don’t know about the channels and modes hidden behind these buttons. So it seems that when you look up as high as you can and keep on blinking you fall into hypnosis within seconds.
I indeed got into a deep state of hypnosis very quickly. Nicole “sealed” my eyelids and instructed me to walk down a dark staircase, deep into my subconsciousness.
And then, at some point, less than 20 minutes into the session, I got heatwaves and I started feeling deep anxiety, just as a few years back when I tried weed mixed with hash. I didn’t know what to do, as I was afraid that in case I say something, she will cease the session and I wouldn’t reach my goals. So, I tried to stay quiet and get through this phase without complaints.
But it was only getting worse and worse. At some point, my eyes got cloudy and I almost fainted. In the end, I slipped out of the wooden chair and fell to the ground like a log. I was extremely lucky as I almost lost my teeth, and ended up smashing my cheek instead. Well, I guess I spent too much time deliberating my Internet connection, and too little time thinking about putting something fluffy on the floor. Nicole didn’t even manage to start asking me questions about my childhood just yet!
Nicole was shocked too. She said she has never experienced anything like this with a client before. She said that creative people are easy to hypnotize, as they are responsive to all kinds of stimuli. Yet still, she did not anticipate THIS.
When she woke me up and I sat back on the chair, I was completely white on my face and my hands were shaking. I had to eat a jar of honey and drink a bucket of water on the spot to stop shaking.
Two hours before the session I had been on some date and I drank one beer, thinking that it wasn’t too much of a sin after all. Well, don’t mix hypnosis with alcohol and anti-anxiety drugs — just one more thing they don’t teach in grad school.
Many people asked me later on what happened to me. Some people in the streets were even poking me asking whether I am Ukrainian and needed help! Crazy. Anyways, have I ever mentioned that wherever I go and whatever I do, there is always the same movie tape coming back to my mind, like on a replay?
Anyways, neither Nicole nor I planned to give it up! Not at all. Instead of giving up, she invited me to visit her at her place next to Bremen, Germany, and stay overnight so that we have plenty of time for the session in person, and she makes sure that I lie down on a couch next to her for the whole time and nothing can happen to me.
We also rethought the strategy. The point was that perhaps, as a visualization setting, the staircase was too dark and scary for me, and it would be better to exchange it with something else. She rewrote this part of the screenplay s that instead of walking down the staircase, I would awl down the dune on the beach in the beautiful scenery. She was also planning to make my hypnotic state a bit milder this time.
I came to her place by train three weeks later. It was a beautiful summer day, somewhere in the countryside in Germany. I invited Nicole to dinner in the local restaurant. No surprise, our main topic was “how to commercialize Nicole’s talent and maker it world-famous.” A professional quirk I guess; I just cannot help it. It is a pity that talented people often have no social media presence and no drive to “make it” in the public space. No wonder they often live and work for a lifetime as hidden gems.
Then, at some point, we went back to her little house. She put me on the bed and, just as promised, she kicked off the session mildly by the visualization of a beach and walking down the dune towards the seashore.
I won’t say anything in detail about Nicole’s method, as it is her achievement and her bread, but it is interesting. She is like a little detective who tries to pull the truth out of you by asking tons of unexpected questions in unexpected ways.
It is interesting how a mind of a child can work. When you are just a few years old, different things become traumatic than when you are an adult. As an example, when I was 8 years old, I lost both my best friends within a few months’ time.
One of them, Basia, was murdered. The other one, Ania, betrayed me by going to our teacher behind my back and saying some bullshit about me so that my grade in behavior was lowered.
Now it turned out that in my subconsciousness, I don’t have any trauma related to death. But I have trauma related to betrayal. And so on, and so forth.
Anyways, the session started innocent and got heated towards the end, just like a good movie or a game. At some point, it went quite wild — the story unfolded like in “Mother!” by Aranofsky or so. Among other things, I started talking to my own body parts and negotiating with them. I think Nicole would be quite successful as a writer for body horror movie scripts.
I adore people who subvert all the expectations, but this was one of my favorite turns of events ever. When I open my eyes after the session, my first words were: “You know what, you should charge more for this!”
In fact, Nicole did an incredible work putting together all the things she learned about me — with all my plans, desires, and motivations — and wrapping up the session with a 20-minute session of mild auto-hypnosis written especially for me, so that I can self-administer this session every day.
Overall, this whole experience lasted for about 2.5 hours… but I could tell that she put much more effort into this! Her whole desk was covered with piles of notes made specifically for this session. I hope one day she gets world-famous. I sincerely do.
And then, since it was a summer Friday night somewhere under the stars, and we were done with all our duties, we spent the evening at a pyjamas party. We opened a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates, and we were talking about life, business, guys, and all sorts of things, big and small. I guess all the things that childhood friends use to do together.
By the way, this whole mind verse is so much more interesting than Metaverse! Finally some games worth playing. When I woke up the next morning, I felt just great. I wanted everyone to feel the same way — always.
And I could see many reasons why hypnotherapy might work from a neuroscientific point of view. Under hypnosis, on the subconscious level, alpha waves get induced. Your view of the world on this subconscious level is different from the conscious level. Paired with professional guidance, prompting you to exhibit emotional rather than rational reactions to a past event, and then analyze these reactions, it just becomes powerful.
Coming back by train from Germany, I was happy. But I was also sad about the fact that gems like Nicole don’t have any exposure and cannot properly build their careers. Why? Because, while others sit on social media, they work really hard. And so I pledged to help Nicole with her business, in whichever way I can.
By the way, I sometimes ask myself: would I go to Nicole’s place in Germany if not this blog? Would I be so determined to explore every painful avenue of my own mind if not the fact that I want to describe the experience? I sometimes feel that this blog is what really keeps me going…
6. The Entitlement Level.
Believe it or not, this still wasn’t the end of my mental health issues! There were more layers of the problem left to solve. Yet another issue was the fact that as much as I negotiate deals for other people like a lioness, I don’t fight for myself well enough. Not even close.
I never use elbows, unless I have to help someone. In general, I am a strong advisor. Quite magically, people around me land good jobs, become millionaires, get married, and travel to places they dreamed of. But when I try to help myself, I always fail. I would just give away everything for free and stay quiet when I want something. I recently wrote a separate article on this topic entitled “On Being Selfish.”
Anyways, living the abundance and hoping that the universe would notice my value one day clearly wasn’t working for me. I realized that if I don’t learn how to stand my ground and negotiate better terms for myself, I can never get rid of my fears.
This is why I found Albert Schiemann, who was not only an expert in sales and business development but who was also personally interested in what I was doing. He even read a few articles from this blog and contacted me to have a friendly chat. I thought this was a perfect combination of knowledge and personal interest that might lead to huge progress, just as it was with Nicole.
Frankly speaking, I didn’t even have these consultancy sessions with Albert just yet. I booked them for the fall as I am extremely busy right now. But, I already feel much better knowing that someone out there has some empathy for me and is on the phone in case I need his help.
7. The Family Relation Level.
And now we are coming to the sad finale of the story. At the end of June, I went to Poland for a wedding of a friend. Classic Polish wedding among mountaineers, just lovely.
But while having this visit to my hometown, I realized a few bitter things about my own family. I came here in a great mood like every time. I was about to visit my friends, it was a beautiful summer, I committed to working a little bit less… I was overly happy. But when I was going back home 11 days later, I felt completely broken. Like I do every time.
Never-ending criticism, patronizing comments, calling me “childish,” “a dirty pig,” “immature,” “helpless,” and “ridiculous” at home, only to brag about me in front of family and friends later on. Sure, I am so helpless. I finished three Master’s and a PhD, travelled through five continents, bought a house in a foreign country, set up a company all by myself, and wrote four books. I am so helpless indeed.
Every single time I come back from a home visit feeling sick. My fears always start at home, where I am scolded all the time. For a long time, I was blaming low-quality, acidic tap water, polluted air, and all the other possible factors that might influence my physical and mental health. While in fact, the reason is one and the same every time — toxicity in the family.
This time, it became more obvious than ever. I invited my parents to a restaurant and asked them at the table why they don’t even praise me at home. They started mocking and ridiculing me. They both called me a spoiled child. My father said that “I am not a full package because I don’t cook or wipe floors at home.” I am not allowed to wipe floors as a guest in the house, by the way.
Instead of saying openly that this is sexist, my mother took his side and started yelling at me. And it was not just one stupid thing said with strong emotions. They were both laughing and yelling at me for two hours.
At that moment, I realized that I have to do with a wolf pack. Except, I am not in the wolf pack; I am sitting on the opposite side of the table. My sister left this family a long time ago and I felt that it was time for me to go as well.
Coming back to the Netherlands, I was exhausted. I started talking to friends and discovered that at least half of all the entrepreneurs I know also had narcissistic, unsupportive parents. And it came to me that the more I achieve in the future, the more aggression I would experience at home. If I don’t say, “Stop!” now, it will only get worse and worse.
In the end, I told my Mum that I was not about to get back to ever visit family home if she didn’t go to therapy first. She was initially protesting, but two months later she decided to go for it, and we started slowly rebuilding our relations.
8. The Nervous System Level.
Then, I moved to California for the whole two months, to look for new avenues for my company and make new connections that might turn out useful in the future. I described some of my findings as a business developer in the article “Startup Culture in Bay Area vs Startup Culture in Amsterdam.”
Anyways, in California, I got some unique opportunity to go to Burning Man festival, the legendary event happening annually in the desert of Nevada. I described my whole experience in a separate article, “Let It Burn! I Went to Burning Man and Here Is What Happened.”
Anyways, Burning Man is not only a source of entertainment such as concerts, art, and booze. It is much more than that. It is a special event where professionals of all kinds come to present their extraordinary skills and gift other Burners by using their talent and knowledge on behalf of others.
The other evening during the festival, I was just passing by my camping when some young man from our camp stood in my way, saying, “Please hurry! We have an acupuncture session run by a a lady with 25 years of professional experience here. The session will close in 20 minutes, and we still have a free bed. Are you in?”
Acupuncture is a branch of alternative medicine originating from China. It is the whole family of various practices in which the peripheral nervous system is stimulated by inserting thin needles into the body, in the proximity form certain nerves stimulating specific brain parts. Acupuncture is generally used to support other forms of treatment rather than as the main form of treatment.
In Western medicine, acupuncture is still considered a pseudoscience, or even a quackery, as it is not based on peer-reviewed research studies. It is most often applied as a remedy for pain relief, though acupuncturists claim that it can also help in a wide range of other conditions.
So, in general, I am afraid of needles, veins, blood, and anything related. At first, I was disgusted at a bare thought that I could voluntarily go for a torture like this. On the other hand though, how can you just say “no!” to practice that you have never tried before? That’s an approach not worthy of a scientist.
She was there, she was experienced, and I was a troubled enough to search for any new ideas for how to heal my mind and body. So, I just said, “OK then!” and I walked into her tent.
To my surprise, she started the session from asking me a few questions about my health and mental health. And so I told her the story of my anxiety attacks, the treatments I had tried so far, and their results, all from drugs to hypnotherapy.
While I was talking about the topics that bothered me, she kept on nodding in silence and staring at me with her big brown eyes. When I finished, she only said one word: “Kidney!” According to her, my kidneys were too weak and that was the primary reason for all my troubles.
Then, she put me on one of the beds and gently wiggled 14 ultra-thin needles into my body, mostly into my head, palms, feet, and knees. Then, she let me stay in one position for 20 minutes.
I’s also like to mention that she forgot to take off one of the needles from my body. So, unaware of the fact, I walked out of the tent with some disgusting little needle sticking out of my left knee. What a perfect situation for someone with a phobia of needles! Remember: trust your acupuncturist but still check their work.
Do I believe that this whole session might work? Well, as a neuroscientist, I can tell that Western research mostly focuses on the brain, while we still don’t know much about the peripheral nervous system. Who knows, perhaps 5,000 years of Chinese tradition of sticking needles into human body led to some interesting discoveries.
And indeed, from my current perspective I can say that I feel better than I used to feel just a few months ago… But I also tried so many practices in the meantime that its hard to tell that the original cause for this state of well-being is.
In either case, I would recommend trying acupuncture, especially when you have an occasion like this. I have never met anyone who would experience by-side effects, so why not? Even if it happens to be a placebo, it won’t harm you and you will still enjoy a relaxing session in a nicely arranged studio, listening to relaxing music and smelling oriental scents.
9. The Self-Knowledge Level.
During my visit in the US, my anxiety attacks came back, probably mostly because my doctor changed the drug right before my trip.
However, my visit in the US was overly intensive and eye-opening overall. As mentioned above, I was staying in quite a famous place, a villa known as the Rainbow Mansion where about 12-15 people lived together. I shared a bedroom with a few other people, and worked in a tiny office corner which was not secluded from noise either.
Within that time, I learned a lot about myself. For instance, I figured that I was much more introverted than I had thought. After two months without virtually any time for myself, I felt mentally exhausted. This made me think a lot about my future plans.
For a long time, I had been planning to build a career center in the distant suburbs somewhere to live and work there, as I described in the article “Dreamers Gonna Dream. On Personal Goals Baked During the Pandemic.” Now, I was confused to say the least. Would I even handle this, mentally? And if not, then what IS my life plan?
Would I even handle developing a “normal,” mundane family given how much I love silence, peacefulness, and freedom of choice for what to do with my time? After all, I am a highly functioning single solopreneur who has ton of friends and who is never really alone and never has “grumpy days.”
I would say that these thoughts would necessarily cause yet another wave of anxiety, but rather, they made me feel numb. If there are no long-term plans whatsoever, then why to even rush with anything in the first place?
If I don’t have long-term plans, then technically, it doesn’t matter if my company becomes successful next year or in ten years. That’s the downside of being a minimalist; if you don’t need anything, how to find the energy to influence the world with your work?
It was a sort of an internal combat that was going on and on for weeks. I didn’t even know what I could call “home” as I described in the article “House Is Not Home: How My Travels Influenced My Thoughts About Life.”
At the end of the day, it came to my mind that to a large extent, this lack of energy and motivation is caused by fatigue after travel, dim and cold weather around, and lack of exercise. “When in doubt, go to sauna” – I thought to myself and after spending a few evenings sweating like a pig in 90 degrees, I soon felt better.
10. The Chemical Level.
In October, I visited the beautiful city of Kraków to give a guest career workshop at the local event, Brainhack Kraków, as well as a guest workshop for startups for the local Jagiellonian University Innovation Hub.
By that occasion, I went to my family hometown to visit my parents and my doctor. I told my doctor that I experienced my anxiety attacks again. The problem was: while the first drug that I was prescribed in the beginnings of the year was great for combating fear but made me hyperactive, the second one that I got in the summer calmed me down but didn’t help for anxiety.
The doctor came to the conclusion that we should combine the two. At first, I was skeptical. How many drugs can you take at a time? On the other hand though, I had to try something as the former measures clearly did not work.
In the end, I decided to try, and indeed, this treatment worked like charm. I was peaceful, all anxiety disappeared, and I could also properly focus on work. Again, it is hard to say if this outcome is due to taking this measure alone, but I’d like to believe that it greatly helped.
At the end of the day, your feelings and emotions are only a product of the chemistry in your brain, sadly. When good diet doesn’t help, you’ve got to try extra weapons against anxiety, and I believe there is no shame in it.
11. The Psychological Level.
Then, I came back to the Netherlands.
Do you think that after experimenting with therapy, hyphotherapy, SSRIs, meditation, and Chinese paramedicine, do you think that there is nothing else one can try? Ha, you are wrong!
The truth is, YouTube knows answers to any possible question. On YouTube, you find a movie that will heal you from stress and fear, energize you, make you fluent in Arabic, make you a funny person, a good lover, a millionaire — you name it. Whatever you want to become, YouTube will make it happen. You don’t need to pay any effort to get there, you basically just need to sleep with the sound switched on.
The other day, it finally said, “Show me what you’ve got, YouTube!” and I searched for solutions. I soon found interesting footage, namely subliminal affirmations. It works very simply.
The background sounds might be relaxing music, the sounds of nature such as crackling fire or flowing river, artificial beats, or whatever else. The authors of the footage use software that mixes the chosen sound with affirmation statements that are so quiet that you cannot consciously register them with your ear.
The message underneath the sound is supposed to work on your beliefs and attitude on the subconscious level. You can read all the affirmations in the description of the movie so that you are aware of what kinds of affirmations you receive.
I read many of the comments below the movies, and they were so overwhelmingly positive that in the end, I decided to try. After all, I have nothing to lose, right? “This treatment is free and I can apply it from the comfort of my home. So, let’s do it!” — I thought to myself.
And I have to say that this way of stimulating yourself works as promised, as least for me. I especially enjoyed the energizing 9-hour affirmation “Wake Up Full of Energy” for the night from the Minds in Unison channel, and the 3-hour “Raise Your Vibration | Fire Crackle” for the day from the Celestial Subliminals channel.
And I don’t know what the long-term effects will be. But for now, I will continue exploring this form of energizing and healing myself.
12. The Physical Level.
In the end of November I came back to my parents in Poland. I visited my Dad in the hospital as soon as I came to the city. He had not been doing great recently, and his health was slowly degrading. He was coughing day in day out, and he was so weak he could barely walk. I was feeling so sorry for him!
But at the same time, I thought to myself: if you don’t start taking proper care of your health, you will end up in the same way: physically disabled from functioning before you even hit 70. And perhaps, unlike your Dad, you won’t have a caring spouse who can visit you at the hospital every day. You might be left alone with your all problems.
This gave me a boost of motivation to finally start properly exercising. I eat and sleep well but I was always lame with exercising regularly. Occasionally, I would experience motivation to do so for a period time to then forget about it for weeks or events months.
Now, I said to myself, “Stop this shit! You’ve got to improve.” And I promised to yourself that from now on, I will intensively exercise for at least 10 minutes a day, wither riding a bike, jogging, or doing some other type of aerobic exercise.
13. The Oxygenation Level.
Lastly, I thought to myself” “What does the act of living truly mean?” Isn’t “living” the same as “breathing”? Your energy level depends on your breathing technique and the sheer volume of your lungs. So, why don’t you exercise precisely that?
In the end, I went for a yoga class and I discovered that breathing exercise is exactly what I need to complement my self-care plan. After 90 minutes of body contortions and breathing in and out in all kinds of weird positions, I came back home and the next day I felt like a newborn. This was exactly what I needed!
The Cold Aftermath
What can I say after all that happened this year? Well, if you leave a major problem unattended for twenty years, don’t expect easy solutions. You will need to go through a living hell to get back on track. You will need to stay on the battlefield and fight with bare fists till the last monster is down.
After this year, I can certainly admit that I did ALL IT TAKES to recover. And I am proud of myself. The effort was worth it; you only have one life after all and you’ve got to love yourself.
Also, don’t believe social media too much. What is there might be true — but it’s usually not the whole truth. People’s lives are not as ideal as they seem at first. But, I do my best to go forward. I am just resting in Poland, a few weeks are left before I get back to California in early 2023. Do I feel better now? Certainly way better than just a year ago. How will I be able to use the lessons I learned this year, and what will happen next year? Well, only time can tell.
Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2022, December 5th). The Piano. Retrieved from: https://nataliabielczyk.com/on-playing-a-piano-and-the-paradox-of-authenticity/
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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of ValueⓇ where I write posts dedicated to these topics.