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Warning: this book will thoroughly change your life.
As improbable as what you are about to read may seem – it is based on a true story. The provided solution is entirely new and it is a possible breakthrough that can help a lot of people with various complaints (muscle ache, fatigue, depression, food sensitivity, stress, …) if the complaints have a psychosomatic cause.
The secret research revealed in this book could mean a breakthrough for people with:
In part 1, I will disclose the story of my personal search for a solution to my complaints, and tell you how I came into contact with a mysterious man who presented me with the key to resetting my stress and to taking back control of my life. In part 2, I will share with you the result of my research on supplements, their application and effect, as well as other useful information that I encountered during my research. Once more, I want to stress the fact that I am not a certified doctor and that it is always worth consulting one before you begin or end a treatment. As I will also illustrate in part 2, chronic complaints such as pain and fatigue may have very diverse causes and therefore it is recommended to let specialists run the necessary tests to rule out severe diseases.
If your complaints turn out to be psychosomatic by nature (see part 2 for a definition of psychosomatic), the solution provided in this book will thoroughly change your life.
I was sitting in a waiting room, again. Sometimes I had the feeling that my life was a chain of waiting moments. For the umpteenth time I read the symptoms of diseases that were listed on posters. When you stared at those posters out of necessity for fifteen minutes, you started putting your own complaints into perspective – or you began believing that you had, in fact, all those diseases. I paged listlessly through the stack of old, dog-eared magazines. The latest summer hairstyles. Losing weight after the holidays. In love with my ex.
My gaze wandered towards the man sitting straight across from me. He was a tall, slender man, but he was not so tall or slender to make him stand out. His black hair was neatly combed back and his face was not unattractive, but certainly not strikingly handsome. In fact, there was nothing remarkable about this man. And yet he stood out to me. He stood out so much, that my gaze kept wandering back to him. He didn’t notice – or did he pretend not to?
‘Miss Green.’ The head of doctor Peeters appeared in the doorway. I stood up without thinking and shook his hand, even though I always considered it strange to shake my doctor’s hand. It seemed as though we sealed a pact with it, a secret deal that implied I agreed with everything he said.
‘What can I help you with, Carine?’
I stared at the pictures on the cabinet behind him. An intimate hug with his wife, the Eiffel tower in the background. A picture of his children together with Mickey Mouse. Underneath that costume there probably was an underpaid working student with stubborn acne, wearing a Metallica T-shirt. Doctor Peeters often replaced these pictures. And they were always holiday snapshots. Me, I hadn’t been abroad for years. Traveling wasn’t that much fun if you woke up every morning to the feeling of having been run over by a London double-Decker bus.
‘The question is whether you can help me.’ I laughed. Doctor Peeters didn’t. I was semi-serious. He knew.
‘Do you feel some kind of improvement yet?’
I shook my head. At my previous appointment, one month ago by now, he had prescribed a new medicine. With shaky hands I had handed the prescription to the pharmacist. At home, I placed the small container on the cupboard and looked at it for a long time. ‘A mild antidepressant,’ doctor Peeters had called it. The words echoed through my head. That night, I stared at the ceiling for hours, like I usually did. I didn’t want to take them. And yet I did. Half a pill a day. With a glass of water and the courage of desperation.
I wasn’t depressed. Several specialists had confirmed this. But the pills should be able to help control my symptoms, such as muscle ache and fatigue. Should be able to help. They weren’t even certain. For the umpteenth time, I felt like a laboratory animal.
‘You have to give it some time,’ doctor Peeters said, using the soothing tone I so hated. As if I were a child. Sometimes I wanted to scream. That my physical ailments had no influence on my IQ or the capacity to make my own decisions.
‘I’m so tired of hearing that sentence.’ Much to my annoyance, tears started to form in my eyes. Angrily I wiped them away with the sleeve of my sweater. ‘What if these pills don’t work either? I’ve tried so much already.’
Doctor Peeters pursed his lips. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Your body needs some time to get used to this new medicine. I will give you a prescription for a new dose. Do you need anything else?’
With that question, doctor Peeters invariably ended his consultation. And although it wasn’t an illogical question for a doctor, there was something about his tone that surprised me every time. As though we were sitting in a restaurant and he asked me if I wanted a dessert. I repressed the inclination to reply contemptuously. ‘I still have plenty of painkillers. And they don’t help anyway. They only give me a stomach ache.’
He ignored that last comment, shook my hand and steered me out of his office. The door fell shut behind me. He was rid of me again for a few weeks.
I took a deep breath and exhaled to calm myself. I started when someone lay his hand on my arm. It was the tall man who looked up at me from his chair next to the door. ‘Are you alright?’
It had been so long since someone had asked me that question and now that it happened, I didn’t know what to answer. ‘Yes.’ My eyes filled up with tears again.
The man looked at me with a face that didn’t show any emotion. ‘Doctors don’t have all the answers. And you shouldn’t expect them to.’
‘Then why do I pay him?’
‘Because you hope that he will one day be able to help you.’ He stared at me with an inscrutable look.
‘That makes no sense at all.’
He smiled affably. ‘Man is an irrational being, even though he likes to tell himself otherwise.’
‘Some are more irrational than others.’ It was a somewhat dumb comment.
The man, however, looked at me with a straight face. ‘Let me guess: you’ve been struggling with all kinds of vague complaints such as pain, fatigue, a bad digestion and insomnia. They can’t find a clear reason for these complaints. You’ve been to quite a few doctors, physiotherapists, and tried several different pills, but you still feel just as miserable.
Astonished, I stared at him. He had gray-green eyes. ‘How did you know?’
‘I can help you.’ He handed me a business card. ‘Call me.’
I was too surprised to react. Only when I reached the corner of the street, did I look at the card in my hand. J.P., it said, and a mobile number. That was it.
I wouldn’t call him. Why would I? I didn’t know this man at all. As far as I knew, it was some kind of serial killer. Or maybe he was trying to hit on me. For days I wandered through my house. Occasionally I took hold of the business card. Who in God’s name had a business card with nothing but their initials and a mobile number?
On the third day after my meeting with J.P., a letter arrived from my former employer. They had paid me too much for my vacation bonus and I had to repay the sum that was overpaid as soon as possible. In disbelief I stared at the letters that danced in front of my eyes. How dared they? I had worked in that call center for nearly ten years, and I had constantly answered phone calls of upset customers. Our conversations were recorded and timed. Every month, we were sent an overview of our times. That way, you could see your performance for yourself, but, more importantly, so could your colleagues. That was supposed to increase our urge to prove ourselves. And no matter how frustrated and tense I felt, no matter how badly the customers raged at me, I always kept smiling.
I started getting tired and my neck and shoulders kept hurting. It felt as though my bowels were all tangled up and day after day my stomach hurt. So I swallowed pills. When I forgot my pills, I borrowed them from my colleagues. We all carried half a pharmacy in our purses. I kept smiling.
I went to the doctor, who told me that I suffered from seasonal depression. A few months later, I had the winter blues, and then it was summertime sadness. I went to a physiotherapist. When he wasn’t able to help me, I went to see an osteopath. It helped. A little. For a short while. But the complaints kept coming back. I let them draw blood and underwent tests in two different hospitals. The doctors didn’t find anything. The complaints remained. My employer took over another company, which made the number of customers increase enormously. I kept smiling.
Until, one day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t work up the patience to deal with rude customers, my colleagues were working on my nerves and I started taking less and less phone calls. I asked my doctor several times to write me a sick note so I could stay home and afterward I felt guilty about it. My team coach asked me what was going on with me. I told him the truth: that I had no clue. A few days later, they fired me.
Now I’ve been sitting at home for half a year. Literally. I barely came outside. I just couldn’t bring myself to it. A new research had shown that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. At first I was relieved. Finally, a diagnosis. I wasn’t mad after all, I wasn’t imagining things. Then it turned out that they didn’t really know how to help me. That it was a vague affliction about which opinions varied greatly, even among different specialists. The doctor prescribed more pills and gave me tips on healthy eating. I had to be more active. The doctor just smiled contemptuously when I told him that being active is not easy when you’re suffering from muscle aches, and when you’re so tired that you can barely lift your arms.
The people around me didn’t understand it either. Things had been going bad in my relationship with my boyfriend, Koen, for months now. One day, he told me that I had to ‘get over it’. That comment resulted in a big fight and a decision that I had been postponing for months. I ended our relationship and was too tired and numb to really grieve. I had less and less contact with a lot of friends. People don’t like hanging out with someone who complains too much and who has no exciting stories about his or her cutthroat, yet oh so interesting job. More and more often I didn’t feel like getting in touch with people and I started pulling back into my own little world. I also hardly ever saw my parents. When I did force myself to visit them, my father regularly said things such as: ‘How come you’re still chronically fatigued? You don’t have a job, do you?’
The specialist who had diagnosed me made it seem as if it were all my own fault. I should have sounded the alarm bell sooner. I had gone past my limits for too long. With tears of anger in my eyes, I told him that I had been running from one doctor to another for years, but that I had never been taken seriously. That they had made me doubt myself, had given me the feeling that it was all ‘in my head’.
I carefully tore the letter of my former employer to tiny pieces, which I just left lying on the table. It was one of those days when I was so tired, that I could barely read, that I kept making slips of the tongue when I tried to talk and kept dropping things. It was eleven o’clock in the morning and I hadn’t even gotten to clearing the breakfast table. My gaze fell upon the business card of J.P. once again and before I knew what I was doing, I was dialing the number on my phone.
Virtually immediately, someone picked up the phone. ‘Good morning.’ His voice sounded neutral. Almost unnaturally neutral.
‘Um… hi. I hope I’m not interrupting. We’ve met this Monday in doctor Peeters’ waiting room. You gave me your business card.’
‘Yes, well, um…’ I felt my cheeks turning red and stared through the window at my small courtyard. The only plant I kept there, badly needed water. ‘You told me that you could help me and that I should call you.’
‘Indeed, that’s what I told you.’
I waited until he was going to say something else, but it remained quiet on the other side of the line. ‘What did you mean by that?’ I finally asked.
‘I will explain. Tomorrow, at three o’clock. In the Antwerp Central Station, at the sitting benches in the middle of the hall with the train tracks, on the ground floor.’
‘Tomorrow. See you then.’ He didn’t wait for my answer, but instead ended the call. I stared at the phone in my hand for quite a while.
When I walked into the Central Station through the entrance hall at the front of the building, feelings of doubt struck again. I didn’t know this man and could only guess what his motives were. The fact that he had suggested a busy, public place for our meeting had put me at ease at first. But I suddenly thought about an article I had read a while ago, about the bystander effect. The more witnesses, the less likely the odds that someone would intervene. But what could to happen?
The small bench felt cold through the thin fabric of my summer trousers. As a child, I really loved this building. The patterns on the floor, the broad stairs with their robust railings, the many arcs and details in the walls and ceilings. My mother let me pick candy worth twenty Belgian francs at the small stores by the platforms. She never spoke of the Central Station, but instead she invariably called it ‘de middenstatie’, meaning ‘the middle station’.
Back then there were only six platforms, which you could all look upon when sitting on a bench. Now there were more than twenty platforms. There were several floors, supermarkets, snack bars and escalators. The soul of the building had been lost. The grand clock above the name ‘Antwerpen’, written in golden letters, indicated that it was five to three. An electronic voice told me that the train to Essen-Roosendaal had a delay of twenty-five minutes. A girl with a sausage roll took a seat next to me. I brushed the back of my hand along my nose. I couldn’t tolerate fatty food and just the smell of a snack like that could make me nauseous.
Suddenly I didn’t feel like meeting up with J.P. anymore. I considered heading home, but just when I was about to stand up, I saw him. He was sitting on a bench a few meters further and he was looking straight at me. Startled, I wondered how long he had been staring at me. I had scanned the area around me before I had taken a seat and I hadn’t seen him. Hesitantly, I walked towards him and sat down next to him, making sure to leave about a meter between us.
He smiled mysteriously. ‘You’ve come.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, I have.’
‘Good.’ He looked straight at me for a moment. ‘This train station is a special place, don’t you think? Especially the older part. That’s where they kept the soul of the building intact.’
‘Sometimes I come here just to sit for a while and look at people. Only by looking at people when they don’t know you’re looking, you can see their true nature.’
I wondered once again how long he had been staring at me. ‘If you feel like you are being watched, you will automatically behave differently, because you become very self-conscious in an awkward way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you pretend to be different than you are.’ Why did it sound like I was trying to justify myself?
He thoughtfully looked at me for a moment. The little crow’s-feet around his eyes caught my attention. It was difficult to estimate his age. ‘That’s right. It’s part of human nature to act differently when we’re being looked at. Even animals behave differently when they know you’re watching. It remains an interesting fact. I come here often.’
‘You said you could help me.’ It sounded rougher than I had meant, but I didn’t care for small talk with a man I didn’t know, who takes delight in leering at complete strangers and who made me show up for some mysterious meeting. On top of that, there was something disturbing about the statement that he came here often. It probably meant that he didn’t live far from here. Neither did I. He smiled. ‘Right. I’ve discovered a method with which I can relieve the complaints of a lot of people. People like you. The question is whether or not you’re open to it.’
He was silent and I realized that he was waiting for an answer. ‘I’m open to it.’ Why did my voice sound so hoarse?
He looked thoughtfully at me again. ‘The first thing we should ask ourselves is what exactly is causing your complaints, how they originate and keep arising, no matter the treatment you follow and the medicines you take. Treatments that deal with the symptoms, but never the underlying cause. Actually, it’s really simple.’ He made a wide gesture. ‘Let’s say that this train station is your head. The different levels, corridors and escalators. Corners that aren’t well-lit. Maybe even places where you’ve never been before. Sensory stimuli, but also thoughts and memories.’
A student with a giant trolley moved towards us and was about to sit between J.P. and me but changed his mind at the last moment, maneuvering his suitcase on wheels to a bench a little further away. J.P. looked at me with a contemplating face. The student as well looked in my direction with a strange look on his face. I swallowed with difficulty. ‘Nice metaphor.’
His gaze now wandered across the hall of the train station. ‘These people will get on a train sooner or later or they will leave the station. They are passers-by. But imagine that they would stay, while more and more people kept coming in. That the electronic timetable signs no longer work, due to which travelers no longer know what train they are supposed to get on. People would keep coming in until it’s overcrowded and you can no longer get a breath of air. Picture that for a moment.’
I imagined it and stopped because I was starting to feel anxious.
J.P. cracked his fingers, a noise that invariably gave me goose bumps. ‘Now imagine that those electronic signs are neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transfer nerve impulses or stimuli between the nerve cells in your head. They are the essence: without those signs you can’t get people on the right train. What do you have to do then?’
‘Make sure that those signs work at their best.’
‘Exactly,’ he said, sounding like a school teacher who is pleased with the answer he received from his star pupil. He put a small note into my hands.
‘Phosphatidylserine,’ I read out loud. ‘What’s that?’
‘Why don’t you look it up. After that we’ll talk again.’
What was that supposed to mean? I felt myself getting a little upset. Was he playing some sort of game with me? And what did he gain by doing all of this?
He stood up and smoothed his trousers with his long fingers. ‘See you later.’
‘What does J.P. stand for?’ I blurted out. And, because he didn’t answer: ‘Does it stand for Jean-Pierre?’
‘No.’ A vague smile played on his lips.
‘My name is Carine.’
For a moment, he laid a hand on my shoulder. ‘Yes. See you later.’
My gaze followed him until he disappeared in the mass of people. Those people hurried past me, as though they were nerve impulses in overworked brains.
Loud noise and steam filled the kitchen. Just like me, my coffeemaker struggled in the morning to get going. Through the kitchen window, I saw how a turtledove landed in the middle of my courtyard. I had been awakened by an incessant cooing. It was a beautiful spring morning. I should be cheerful. Go to the city park and enjoy the sun. Sighing, I walked towards my laptop, holding a large cup of coffee. According to doctor Peeters, coffee wasn’t good for me, but it was the only thing that kept me going. This morning, I had been staring at the ceiling for half an hour again after my alarm had gone off, barely able to move. Sometimes it all just seemed so pointless. Waking up. Wanting to do things, but being too tired to do them. Coming up with a way to spend this day without having the feeling that I was just doing something to pass the time.
The note lay next to me on the table. PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE. He had written it in neat capital letters, exactly in the middle of the piece of paper. I typed in the word. It had been a while since I last looked things up on the internet. The first weeks after I got fired, it had nearly been a day job to find a solution for my ailment online, but I soon got lost on the internet, discouraged by the abundance and way too often contradictory information on pseudo medical websites, blogs and forums for people with similar complaints. Not to mention the usually heartfelt tips from friends and acquaintances.
Have you considered acupuncture?
Haven’t you just got a shortage of magnesium?
It’s all in your head. Go and see a good psychiatrist.
Buy a new mattress.
I felt myself becoming disheartened at the prospect of spending hours browsing the internet, but it didn’t take very long before I had found a website that looked reliable.
‘Phosphatidylserine is an important substance that can be found in a highly concentrated form in the brains and the nerve tissue. It influences an important neurotransmitter that plays a big part in the nerve system. It improves the transfer of stimuli. The glucose metabolism improves as well, which is important, because one third of all glucose in our body goes to our brains. Finally, phosphatidylserine also causes an elevation of dopamine in your brains, which, in turn, leads to a decrease of hypersensitivity.’
H’m, that sounded good. I had read about dopamine before. It allowed for having less impressions to process. I knew all too well what it was like to be engulfed in impressions. A few months ago, a friend took me to a lecture on hypersensitivity. I went with her to do her a favor, but I ended up listening with my mouth hanging open for two hours to the account of the woman who gave the lecture. That night I discovered I was hypersensitive. The over stimulation, the violent emotions, the wariness. That you took everything in and processed everything so much deeper. The need to isolate yourself regularly, even though you’re actually really social on occasion. The often nearly self-destructive empathy for others, that makes you put yourself second. With all its consequences.
That had been a huge problem when I still worked at the call center. It hadn’t been so much my own stress that tripped me up, but more that of my colleagues and the frustration of the customers. All those emotions seemed to hang in the air and pushed down on me. In that time, I also discovered that my sense of smell and ability to hear were more developed than those of most other people. My ex occasionally joked that I could hear an approaching thunder storm even before the nervous whining of the dogs in the neighborhood began.
The discovery that I was hypersensitive made me view my life in a new perspective. Not only my present life, but also my youth and childhood. How often hadn’t I burst into tears because of a trifle? How often hadn’t I locked myself in my room for hours after my father had cried out that I was way too sensitive and that I shouldn’t overreact so much?
I read voraciously about the subject and learned to see the good side of my hypersensitivity as well. I had learned to be nice to myself. And I trained myself in ‘positive thinking’. Even though it remained baffling how you could think purely positively for more than a few minutes. Fretting was just part of my nature.
So it definitely sounded good, those effects of phosphatidylserine. However, I had read so much about supplements and tried out quite a few of them. I hadn’t experienced any really big results so far. Most supplements had mainly caused a stomach ache.
I took another large gulp of coffee and scrolled through the information I had found. Odd that I had never found anything about this during earlier searches. Had this all been backed scientifically?
In all respects, it wasn’t a new supplement, I read. Research had been conducted since the seventies which showed that phosphatidylserine had a positive effect on the memory and the mood.
Moreover, I read that the substance was gained from soy lecithin and the enzymes from savoy cabbage and that you can just get in a pharmacy. I sat up straight, emptied my cup of coffee and massaged my sore shoulder. Was this the solution I had been looking for for so long?
I was hungry again. I was nearly always hungry. The past years I had already gained a few pounds and it seemed that this trend would only continue. Before I had chronic fatigue syndrome, I was really active and got rid of all the excess calories with an intense training session. Ever since doing sports wasn’t an option anymore, the arrow of the scales kept moving further and further to the right. I cut an apple in four pieces and ate them one by one while I paced up and down the living room. When I had finished my apple, my phone buzzed. A text message of J.P.
Did you find it?
For a moment, I got the uncomfortable feeling that he knew I had just done research. Of course that made no sense at all.
So this phosphatidylserine is the solution you were talking about?
I was deliberately curt in my text message, if only because he was as well.
It took a while before he answered. The turtle dove on the courtyard was joined by a second one. I started when my phone buzzed in my hand.
That was all it said. A few seconds later it buzzed again. I considered deleting the message without even reading it and removing J.P.’s number from my phone. This game had been going on for long enough. However, my curiosity won over my feeling of indignation.
It’s a part of the solution. Tomorrow, you’ll hear about the rest. Ten o’clock, at the MAS.
Ten o’clock at the MAS? Who did he think he was?
I can’t tomorrow.
It didn’t take long before I got an answer. Of course you can. See you tomorrow.
I repressed the urge to throw my phone to pieces against the wall. The worst part was that he was right – I really didn’t have any plans the next day and even though I tried to delude myself into thinking that I might not be going, deep down inside, I knew all too well that I would be there. I opened the back door, which made a noise that reminded of two cats fighting. Frightened, the doves flew off. I walked to the middle of the courtyard and, with my eyes closed, went to stand in the small beam of sunlight that only managed to reach this place with great difficulty. When I opened my eyes, I saw someone watching me from behind one of the many windows of the apartment buildings at the backside of my small house. I regularly sat on one of the chairs in my courtyard and occasionally, I waved at the older elderly people who sat at their windows all day. Now it suddenly felt oppressive. I imagined that that someone was looking at me from behind every window. Every window became an eye. An eye that was aimed at me day and night. Suddenly the shadow of the apartment building seemed an awful lot like the shadow of a tall man.
Els was already sitting on a bench under the lime trees when I arrived. She squinted her eyes to slits in the bright sunlight and took me in from head to toe. ‘You’re late.’
I looked at my phone. It was 14:59. We were supposed to meet at three o’clock and it had been my idea. However, I knew there was no use arguing with her. ‘How are you doing?’
She sighed somewhat theatrically. ‘Not that well. Really tired. Lots of pain.’
I nodded. I hadn’t expected anything else. And even though I could perfectly picture what Els was going through – I had the same affliction after all – I had sometimes simply had it with her everlasting complaints. By now, I had known her for more than three years. All this time, I had never heard her say one positive thing. I studied her face. She did indeed look tired and seemed to have lost some weight. Her thin hair hung over her shoulders in an untidy way and appeared as though they hadn’t been washed for a couple days. She probably didn’t have the energy to do it. That was a sensation I was all too familiar with.
For minutes, she dwelt on her complaints and I made sure to nod in time, until I noticed Veerle, who approached us on the lawn. Barefoot.
‘What a lovely day!’ she shouted from afar. She put her shoes next to me on the bench and remained standing in front of us, with a big smile on her face.
Els pulled a long face, looking at Veerle’s tanned toes. ‘Since when do you walk through the park barefoot? If you’re not careful, you’ll step into a dog turd.’
‘Yes, well, that could happen.’ Veerle winked at me. I winked back. I had to keep reminding myself of the fact that she was ten years older than Els. Sometimes it seemed the other way around. Actually, we were a peculiar little club, the three of us. We had met on a CFS meeting and had stayed in contact. Because we lived near each other and had the same condition. That was roughly the only thing that connected us.
Els quickly brought the conversation back to the physical complaints, even though Veerle made a valiant effort to change the topic of the conversation to something more cheerful.
‘I’ve met a man who claims he can help me,’ I blurted out when there was a sudden silence. I immediately regretted my words when I saw Els’ face.
‘How so?’ she asked.
‘Well, I’m not entirely sure yet. I’m meeting up again with him tomorrow, at the MAS.’
Els furrowed her brow. Veerle grinned broadly. ‘Well, well. A man, huh?’
I quickly changed to a different subject, but while we were talking about our complaints, the exceptionally mild spring weather, Veerle’s compassionate husband and the disappointing results of Els’ fourteen-year-old daughter, my thoughts kept wandering back to my meeting with J.P. On the other side of the lawn, a jogger was running. Just when I realized that he looked a little like J.P., he turned his head in my direction. He didn’t look like him at all.
I was sitting on an uncomfortable chair on a terrace of one of the few cafes that opened here long before the MAS. The cafe was, unlike the more recent cafes and restaurants at ‘t Eilandje, not struck by the hipster virus. From where I was sitting, I had a beautiful view of the MAS, which, like a lighthouse, a beacon of culture, towered above the water. I have to admit that I, probably like a lot of citizens of Antwerp, had my doubts about the Museum Aan de Stroom. No one had expected that this sidelined neighborhood would evolve into a tourist attraction full of trendy spots to eat, where you usually couldn’t get past the door and the raised eyebrow of the waiter unless you had a reservation. However, when the museum opened its doors in 2011, I couldn’t contain my curiosity. And soon, enjoying the view from the building that rose above the city where I was born became a regular item on my schedule. The terraces of the cafes in the neighborhood, and especially this terrace, would seduce me now and then.
On the water, luxury yachts were moored that looked so pretty and new, as if they had been taken directly out of a boat catalogue. I sipped my tea and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, he was sitting opposite of me at the tiny, silver table. It barely made me look up. We greeted each other briefly.
That’s when a familiar voice called out my name. I didn’t bother trying to hide my dislike when I replied to Koen’s greeting. He was standing alongside our table, holding his expensive vintage bicycle with his hands. He wore his favorite pair of jeans and a T-shirt I had never seen him wear before. There was an image of a monkey on it. He had probably gotten it from his new girlfriend.
‘What brings you here?’ he asked in a voice that showed no actual interest at all. Apparently he felt obliged to talk to me because we just so happened to have had a relationship for three years. He didn’t even look at J.P.
‘Just having a drink.’
‘Ah.’ He grinned somewhat sheepishly and swept a hand through his tangled hair. There had been a time when I found that I-just-got-out-of-bed-look attractive. ‘And I see you’re going for rose hip tea again. Living on the edge.’
Months ago, I had resolved not to let anything that Koen said get to me anymore, but just the underlying sarcastic tone in his voice made me feel like throwing my hot tea in his face. ‘Right. Living on the edge. And I’d like to continue doing so. Goodbye, Koen. See you later, because apparently that seems inevitable.’
‘H’m, right. I see you still haven’t changed one bit.’
I sat up straight. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘We’re grown-up people, Carine. But with you, there’s always this, this – negativity.’
This negativity. He had dropped the word again. In the last months of our relationship, he had continuously blamed my illness on the fact that I was so negative. As if positive thoughts just came falling out of the sky and magically took care of every problem. I looked across from the table, at J.P., kind of embarrassed that he had to witness this. But J.P. was studying the menu with his full attention.
‘Well, thanks for sharing your opinion. Have a good day.’
Koen shook his head, swept a hand through his hair again and threw his leg over his bicycle. ‘Whatever, bite me.’
I cleared my throat. J.P. looked up from the menu. For the first time, real emotion could be detected in his look, but it was an emotion I did not like: pity. ‘It isn’t easy, this state of being ill. This eternal lack of understanding of those around you doesn’t make it any better.’
I stared at the metal table top.
‘That’s because the average person is about as empathetic as a cactus,’ he continued. ‘If they haven’t experienced it for themselves, they can’t sympathize with it. That explains the success of self-help groups and forums. It’s sad that people can’t just assume that you’re having a difficult time simply because you say so without them having to experience it first hand. That’s how you lose a lot of friends, when you have a chronic disease. People come and go, that’s just how life is.’
Was I imagining things or did I see a tear sparkle in the corner of his eye? ‘I have looked up that phosphatidylserine. It looks like an interesting remedy.’
‘It certainly is. Do you know what I’m thinking about?’
I shook my head. I honestly did not know what was going through this man’s mind and I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to know.
‘That the Red Star Line used to leave not too far from here. A total of nearly three million people took the boat from here to the United States and Canada. Three million people. Can you imagine that?’
I couldn’t imagine it.
‘It had to have been a tremendous hustle and bustle on the piers. People were checked first, their luggage disinfected. The waiting queues must have been enormous. And then the voyage! For weeks, on a boat, at the mercy of the… of the ocean. And all those people were hoping that they would live a better life in the New World.’
He paused rather dramatically. His gray-green eyes searched for mine, his thin fingers were resting casually on the table top. ‘They left everything behind they had, their family and friends, their homes, their place of birth. It was a big step. Not everyone had the guts. Occasionally, you simply had to take a leap of faith. Let go of things, even if they’re really precious to you. Stuff that keeps you ill, that keeps you from growing. Old habits and thought patterns. By throwing away those things you make room for new, positive things that are good for you.’
I nodded, even though I had no clue where he was going with this. I looked into his eyes until I realized that I had been doing so for quite some time. He smiled faintly and slid a piece of paper towards me.
‘What am I supposed to do with this?’
J.P. stood up. ‘Look it up. After that, we’ll speak again. And who knows, you might make the grand crossing soon.’ Before I could say anything else, he threaded away gracefully. The couple that had taken a seat at the table next to ours during my conversation with J.P., looked at me with plain curiosity. I stuffed the small note in my purse.
Rhodiola. I had read about it once. It was a herb that helped with depressions, which improved your energy level and gave your brains a boost. And it should also help you burn more fat. I kept walking but my mind was elsewhere. When I walked into my living room, I couldn’t remember anything I had seen on the way to my house. I immediately turned on my laptop.
‘Rhodiola boosts your endurance by increasing the number of red blood cells. These, in turn, deliver more oxygen to your muscles, which improves your sports performances and counteracts feelings of fatigue. It also helps against infections. Rhodiola is a good remedy against chronic fatigue and reduces the effects of sleep deprivation. It lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is released due to stress. When the cortisol level is too high for a longer period of time, this has a couple of negative effects on your health. The herb improves the general health of your brains by stimulating serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters. Because of its positive impact on your mood, rhodiola also helps well with people who suffer from a depression.’
I bit my lip. All right. That sounded good. But now what? Before I knew it, I had texted J.P.
‘Do I combine those two?’
He didn’t answer. My stomach grumbled. I made a rich pasta sauce with lots of vegetables. J.P. still hadn’t answered. I ate a big plate of steaming pasta. J.P. still hadn’t answered. I turned on the television and switched channels purposelessly until I came across a cheesy TV movie that looked like it had just started. The movie was predictable. Nevertheless, I kept watching. The titles announced that the story was based on true facts. J.P. still hadn’t answered. Not until I had started putting laundry into my washing machine, did I hear my phone buzz.
‘Tomorrow. Ten o’clock. Zuiderterras.’
I didn’t even bother answering. We both knew I would be there.
I was nearly twenty minutes early. Two tourists were taking pictures of the Lange Wapper, who looked down upon two petrified boozers from atop his pedestal in front of Het Steen. I strolled across the walking promenade at the square near Het Steen and enjoyed the panoramic view on the Scheldt and the apartments of Linkeroever on the other side. My mother had grown up in Linkeroever. Or rather: Sint-Anneke, as she invariably called it. When I was little, my parents used to take me to the Sint-Anna beach quite regularly. I would stir in the sand with sticks, built sand castles and watched the boats that floated on the water for hours. Afterward, we used to eat chips in a small restaurant that looked out upon the Scheldt. My mother always ordered mussels. According to her, the mussels in Sint-Anneke were better than those in Antwerp, although I couldn’t imagine them being different mussels.
In the middle of the walking promenade I halted. On my left, the Cathedral and the Boerentoren towered above the roofs, being the eternal identifying points of the Antwerp city scene. I knew that the tower was 123 meters high, making it the highest church tower of the entire Benelux Union. On my right, a large ship sailed past, slow and heavy, yet unstoppable. Maybe I was like one of those ships, which slowly but surely headed for an unknown harbor. There was a light breeze. I took a deep breath. The first tourists had already appeared. They were still a little sluggish due to a lack of sleep and an overly extensive breakfast buffet. Back in the day, you couldn’t walk around this place for five minutes without getting a camera shoved into your hands. Nowadays, tourists were equipped with a selfie stick and the locals of Antwerp had lost their role of being occasional photographers. I, for one, was not going to complain about it. I was a rotten photographer.
A cruise ship was just mooring. ‘Ocean Majesty,’ I read on the hull. I watched how a burly woman adeptly tied the ropes around the mooring bollard. On the deck, dozens of tourists were already busy taking pictures of the Antwerp skyline.
Maggy had suddenly popped up in front of me with her white bicycle with large, floral bicycle bags. ‘Taking a nice walk? Or are you meeting someone?’
Her voice sounded cheerful, but she had prominent bags under her eyes. I had known Maggy since kindergarten. She had been depressed her entire life, but I was one of the few people who knew. She worked part-time as a kindergarten teacher. Everyone at her work adored her because she was such a cheerful woman. She had told me once that she locked herself in the bathroom at least once a day to cry for a while before she got back to work. If she didn’t have to work, she sometimes didn’t leave her house for days. She always showed interest in others, but skilfully avoided questions such as ‘how are you doing?’ or ‘how are you feeling today?’ She smiled often, especially if there were a lot of people around. No one seemed to notice that her smile never reached her eyes. She hid her depression with cheerful clothing, a voice that was a bit too loud, and sweet, white wine. But I had seen her when she hit rock-bottom.
‘Just going for a stroll. I needed some sunlight.’ It felt horrible to lie to her like that and I wasn’t entirely certain why I even did so.
‘I know exactly what you’re talking about.’ Suddenly, she was talking a lot quieter. ‘I hadn’t been outside for an entire week, but now I really had to go to the store and I was thinking: let me just cycle around the block. And now I’ve discovered quite a taste for it. It’s lovely, this sun.’
We were making some more small talk. The wind had increased in strength and it cut right through my summer blouse. When I continued my walk towards the Zuiderterras, a chill went down my spine.
Though I loved the neighborhood, I never went out for a bite to eat at the Zuiderterras – or the RAS, as it was called nowadays. To me, it was too crowded with mainly tourists and people who had migrated to Antwerp, who inhabited a luxurious apartment with a view on the Scheldt and who idolized certain architects with unpronounceable names.
The face of the young waiter had the same color as his shirt: white. It was too much to ask for a smile. I ordered a rose hip tea and made sure not to smile either.
‘Not quite your usual habitat, is it?’
I looked up at J.P. who had appeared out of nowhere again. He was wearing gray pantaloons and a light, black sweater. He sat down in one fluent motion, took off his sunglasses and lay them down in between us on the table. He casually ordered an espresso before he whispered: ‘Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy this hustle and bustle either. But at this time of the day, it’s not too bad over here.’
He was right about that. I had to admit that I enjoyed the unrestricted view on the Scheldt and the skyline of Sint-Anneke on the other side immensely.
J.P.’s gaze followed mine. ‘Do you know why they call Linkeroever Sint-Anneke?’
‘Because of the Sint-Anna beach?’
J.P. folded his hands together. ‘The name is older than that. It comes from a fishing village that used to be situated on the left bank: Sint-Anna. Until the year 1923, that village used to be part of East Flanders, later on it was annexed by the province of Antwerp.
‘Really?’ slipped out of my mouth.
He was visibly amused by my enthusiasm. ‘My grandfather would go there by ferry boat to eat mussels. There were quite a lot of restaurants and casinos. There even were holiday homes. Sadly enough, the village has made room for apartment buildings by now. Even the old village church has disappeared.’
I looked towards the other side of the river that had played a big part in my life for 35 years. And all of a sudden, I no longer saw apartment buildings. I saw tiny boats that moored, men in their Sunday best and women in long skirts. I saw fishermen with weathered faces and hands who were trying to sell their catch of the day in the shadow of the church tower while seagulls were flying over them, screeching.
‘I’ve often heard my grandfather tell stories about Sint-Anna,’ J.P. continued. ‘With a vague smile around his lips. I think that a lot of Antwerp locals of his generation still think back to that village of yore with melancholy. Isn’t it crazy, how images and places are connected to emotions? That definitely counts for memories from our childhood years.’
The waiter asked us if we also wanted something to eat. J.P. politely but resolutely sent him about his business.
‘Now, what about that rhodiola and phosphatidylserine?’
I wasn’t even surprised when he slid another piece of paper over to me. This time I made no effort to hide my cynicism. ‘Even more homework?’
‘No. I think you’re just about ready to take the step by now. Follow the instructions meticulously and don’t deviate from the indicated dose. You’ll be surprised.’
‘Why are you doing this?’ I blurted out.
He frowned his eyebrows. ‘If you would know a secret that could help hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, to make their lives a great deal more bearable, wouldn’t you share it with them?’
‘Of course, but what’s the point of all this mystery? Why didn’t you just give me the formula straight away?’
‘I wanted to make sure that you would be open to it. Besides –’ He looked over his shoulder, even though there was nobody in the cafe apart from us and the waiter with the pale face. ‘Besides, I fear that the pharmaceutical industry isn’t very pleased with this discovery. Simple supplements that are easily available, that can reduce psychosomatic complaints for which you would otherwise have to take their medicines… No, they’d rather have you swallowing a load of expensive pills. Now you know the secret. Use it. Help yourself. Be staggered due to the results. And then help others. You probably know other people who suffer from CFS.’
‘Or a depression.’
Maggy, suddenly flashed through my mind. The idea to be able to help her, after everything she’s tried and been through, made my heart pound in my chest. ‘Does it also help fight depressions?’
‘Didn’t you read about that when you looked up the supplements?’
‘Good.’ J.P. stood up. ‘My work here is done. Now it’s your turn.’
‘But –’ I started. That’s when he did something that made me gasp. Like an ordinary magician, he pulled out a playing card, seemingly out of nowhere.
‘My grandfather also occasionally went to the casino in Sint-Anna. Sometimes you need to have faith, Carine. Take a gamble.
He laid the card in front of me on the table. It was a joker. He grinned at me, challengingly.
That same day, I went to the pharmacy around the corner to order the two supplements. She raised her eyebrows when I told her that these medicines would cure my CFS. ‘They’re not medicines and CFS is, as far as we know, incurable for the moment.’
For some reason, her doubt strengthened my belief in J.P.’s formula. After all, this was the same pharmacist that handed me painkillers and antidepressants with the announcement that they really weren’t as addictive and unhealthy as some people sometimes claimed.
That week I started taking the supplements. While doing so, I carefully followed J.P.’s instructions. Doubt occasionally struck me, but I told myself to be patient and try it for a few weeks. Sometimes I felt the urge to send him a text message, but I had no idea what I should tell him. Somehow I expected him to send me a message. It never came.
After a few weeks, I already started feeling better. I slept better and when I slept, I dreamed a lot, especially about things from my youth and childhood years. After such a dream, I felt relieved way in a peculiar way. As if I had distanced myself from something. The pain faded away and the fatigue also seemed to slowly disappear into the background. I didn’t immediately feel as though I could jump over a table, but after a few weeks, I suddenly had more energy and a stronger desire to go walking, a hobby that I just about given up a couple of years ago. At first, I didn’t get much further than a walk through the park or the woods close by, but after a while, I started going to places further away from my home. When I was sitting on a cafe terrace on a beautiful summer day, enjoying the afterglow of a seven kilometer walk through the heath in Kalmthout, I could no longer resist the urge to send a text message to J.P.
The supplements really do work. I’ve just walked 7 kilometers. It was lovely. How can I ever repay you?
I pushed ‘send’. A few moments later, my phone buzzed.
Failed to send.
I sent the message again.
Failed to send.
H’m, odd. Probably just bad cell phone reception. I put my phone in my bag and closed my eyes in the summer sun. It was time to tell Els and Veerle about the formula. It would probably help their conditions improve immensely as well. And Maggy. Just imagine that it would help Maggy. I drank the last of my iced tea. What was still stopping me? J.P. had even specifically asked me to spread the word. I just didn’t know how to convey the message. Whether or not they would believe me. Maybe I should just leave J.P. out of the story and tell them that my doctor or pharmacist had suggested this. The problem was that Veerle went to the same family doctor. She would immediately know that doctor Peeters would never suggest anything that wasn’t produced by some large pharmaceutical company. Later that night, I tried sending the message to J.P. again. Failed again. Odd. I selected the number and called. I simply had to thank him.
This number is out of service, a robotic woman’s voice announced.
It began with a scent that seemed familiar, even though I hadn’t smelled it for years and couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Together with the smell came the sensation of cold. Had I left a window open? I lifted my arm, searching for the light switch. A hand grabbed hold of my arm and pushed me back down on the bed. I gasped. There was someone with me in my bedroom. I tried to push myself halfway up, but I was immediately pushed down again. In the two seconds I sat upright, however, I had discovered a number of shocking things.
I wasn’t lying in my bedroom. There was not one person standing next to me, but several people. I was not lying on a bed, but on something that could be best described as an operating table. The familiar smell that I couldn’t put my finger on was the smell of incense. The man, who held my arm, was wearing a cassock. With all my might, I tried to pull myself loose.
‘Help me!’ shouted the priest. ‘Hold her down. The devil is inside of her!’
Someone came to aid him. It took a while before I recognized his face. ‘Just relax, Carine. This is for your own good. We have to get the devil out of you. This negativity. Then we can be together again.’
I wanted to shout at him, that I didn’t want to be together with him again. I wanted to shout that they had to let go of me. That they were all mad and that the devil was not inside of me. But it seemed as though I could no longer speak Dutch, as if I spoke some strange language that I myself didn’t even understand.
The priest bowed over me, his eyes wide with fear. ‘Aramaic! She speaks Aramaic! God save us!’ He sprinkled water on me while he murmured incomprehensible things. It sounded like Latin. His fingernails cut deeply into the skin of my lower arm. I wanted to scream that they had to let go of me, but instead, an unearthly sound came out of my throat, which echoed through the room. Koen and the priest recoiled. Finally I could get up. I was in the kitchen of my parental house, although it looked different than my memory of it. My parents were standing behind Koen and the priest. Maggy was there as well. She wore the red dress that I hadn’t seen her wear since the day of her sixteenth birthday. She didn’t look much older than sixteen either. She looked straight at me and suddenly my parents, Koen and the priest were gone and I was alone in the kitchen together with Maggy. Her arm was red with blood. She came walking towards me and reached out her hand. Blood was dripping from her fingers. Just before she touched my cheek, my phone rang.
Maggy. I read the letters on my screen, but it took some time before I was able to comprehend what it meant.
We were silent. My radio clock displayed in large, red numbers that it was 2:33am. I switched on the light to drive away the last remnants of the nightmare. Lately I had been dreaming really intensely, but I had not yet had a nightmare. And then this dream just now. About Maggy.
‘Where are you?’
‘At the quays.’
‘What are you doing there?’
‘Watching the water.’
‘Okay.’ I rubbed my eyes. It wasn’t the first time that Maggy had called me during the night. Sometimes she had been standing at a railroad, or on a bridge across the highway. I just had to keep her talking. Until the moment was over. ‘What do you see?’
‘That the water is dark. It’s probably cold. Really cold.’
I felt how the hairs on my arm suddenly stood on end. I saw the image from my nightmare before me again, how she stood there in that red dress. The last time she had worn that dress, was at her sixteenth birthday. Her mother had forced her to throw a party and invite her entire class. Maggy didn’t like celebrating her birthday. When she was nine, she told me that she did not understand why people celebrated the fact that they were one year closer to death.
The entire afternoon we had gossiped, eaten crisps, drunk Bacardi Breezer – the only alcoholic beverage Maggy’s mother allowed us to drink – and played on the Nintendo. And laughed really hard about the jokes Maggy kept making. When everyone had gone home, Maggy and I retreated to the tree house that her father had built for us when we were seven.
‘What a bunch of brainless idiots,’ Maggy sneered, while she was busy carving in the wood with a knife. ‘And they laughed with all my stupid jokes.’
I had laughed about her jokes as well. Yet I didn’t feel addressed. I looked through the window of the tree house – which, in fact, was not much more than a big hole – at the fields that lay behind the garden. The corn stood nearly a meter tall. As a child, Maggy and I had often run through the corn. I tried to remember what had been so much fun about it. Probably the fact that her parents didn’t allow it and the risk of getting caught by the farmer. And because her mother always claimed that corn was full of earwigs and we both did not want to admit we were afraid of them.
I watched how a bird of prey flew really low across the corn field, looking for a prey. Then I turned around and saw how Maggy cut her wrist with the knife. Her entire lower arm was red with blood. I could not utter a word. She stared at me with a dazed look in her eyes. ‘Peculiar, a thin, blue vein like this, which can determine the difference between life and death.’
The blood was dripping on the wooden floor. It took me a few more seconds before I moved. I screamed. Nearly fell, when I clambered down the weathered ladder. I will never forget the face of Maggy’s mother when I stumbled into the kitchen where she was busy doing the dishes and stammered: ‘It’s Maggy. Her wrists. Blood. Blood everywhere.’
Later that night, the emergency doctor would tell us that we were lucky that she hadn’t sliced in the direction of her veins. She also said that we were lucky that I was there with her. Maggy’s parents said that she didn’t really want to die. Then she would not have done it while I was there. I wasn’t so sure about that.
It was not going to be her last attempt. She took an overdose of pills. She jumped off a bridge. She slipped through the eye of the needle a few times. And every time, I was furious at her. With every attempt, it seemed as though she distanced herself more and more from me. In the end, it was me who distanced herself.
The past years she hadn’t undertaken any attempts, although she did call me every now and then during the night, when she felt the urge rising. The last time had been about a year or two ago by now.
‘You don’t really want to jump.’
‘Yes, I do.’ Her voice didn’t sound determined at all.
‘As you just said yourself, that water is ice cold right now.’
‘That’s exactly what I want.’
‘Says the woman who didn’t even dare to go into the sea when it was twenty degrees.’
She laughed. She had not forgotten about it yet. Our trip to Portugal when we had just graduated. It was exceptionally cold that week, especially according to Portuguese standards, and the beach was nearly deserted, but I wanted to go into that clear blue water at all costs. Maggy refused to put more than her ankles in the water, screaming that the water was ice cold and that I was bonkers.
We talked for a while longer and after she had assured me that she was on her way home again, I hung up. I sank back down into the pillows, but I could not catch any more sleep that night.
I chained my bike to Maggy’s and took a few deep breaths before I pushed the door bell. It took a while before she opened the door and once she finally appeared in the doorway, she looked somewhat skittishly at me. She was wearing a pair of purple jogging trousers and a long T-shirt with an image of Snoopy on it. Her curls were sticking out in every direction. It looked like she had just woken up. Maybe I should have let her sleep in.
‘Can I come in for a cup of coffee?’
‘Yes, of course.’ Her voice sounded surprised above all and I realized that it had been a long time since the last time I had visited her for coffee.
‘Sorry for last night.’ She poured me a cup with shaky hands. ‘I shouldn’t have called you.’
‘I’m glad you did.’
‘It’s a good reflex, at a time like that.’
‘Maybe it is. But I shouldn’t have woken you up.’
I forced a smile. It was not the first time that we had this conversation. ‘It’s all right. Really.’
She sat down, her face drawn in embarrassment. ‘It’s crazy. I haven’t felt like this in quite a while.’
‘You haven’t?’ It sounded more surprised than I had intended, but she did not seem to take offense.
‘I’m not going to say that it’s all been sunshine and roses the past few months, but the pills I’m taking at the moment do help a little. They take away the sharp edges, if you know what I mean.’
I nodded. I had stopped taking the antidepressants and I could hardly imagine swallowing them for years, but of course I was not depressed, even though Koen claimed every now and then that I was. He did not seem to grasp that there were a lot of stages between child-in-a-theme-park-excited and clinically depressed.
‘Then why suddenly this – this phone call last night?’
Maggy listlessly stirred her coffee, even though she had not even added sugar yet. ‘If I knew why, it probably would not have happened. Sometimes I really just don’t know what to do.’ Her eyes started tearing up. ‘Why can’t I just be truly happy for once, like normal people? Enjoying nice things, no more pessimistic thoughts, no longer listlessly lying down on the couch and not feeling like doing anything, no longer wandering through the house like a sleepwalker, but living – truly living.’ She angrily wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and took a few deep breaths. ‘Sorry.’
‘You don’t have to say sorry.’ I cleared my throat. ‘I know something that might help.’
Maggy looked rather resignedly at me. She probably was just as sick as I was of all the so called solutions that doctors, friends, family and vague acquaintances offer to you throughout the years when you suffer from a chronic condition.
‘They’re two known supplements that you have to combine according to a certain formula.’ I wrote the formula down on a piece of paper and slid it over to her across the table.
‘H’m,’ was all she said.
‘I’ve been taking it for one and a half month and it works perfectly to reduce my complaints.’
She added two lumps of sugar to her coffee. ‘You’re not depressed.’
‘That’s right. But it also helps against symptoms of depression. And they’re natural supplements that you can buy at any pharmacist.’
‘H’m.’ she undertook a futile attempt to tidy her curly hair. ‘I’ve been taking them for one and a half month and they work well for me,’ I repeated, as if I was mainly trying to convince myself. Because she had been trying to avoid my eyes all this time, I focused on the long, low cupboard behind her. On it, there were pictures of her when she was about ten years old, together with her parents. There were also some pictures of us together. Pictures of us as children and a picture frame with a few snapshots of our little trip to Portugal. Those frames had been standing there for years. There were no recent pictures. I occasionally asked her why she had not had a relationship during all these years, but of course I already knew the answer. It was not easy to have a relationship if you felt the urge to jump in the Scheldt every now and then. Every man would think it had to do with him and conclude that she was not happy with him and that it would be best if he ended the relationship. And even if he would not do so, it would be terribly difficult for him to live together with someone who sometimes just did not want to live anymore.
‘I’ll look into it.’ It did not sound very convinced.
‘I’ve walked seven kilometers last week.’
‘Really?’ She pulled at her T-shirt to straighten it.
‘At the heath in Kalmthout.’
‘It’s lovely there!’ She glanced stealthily at the piece of paper.
‘For years, I hadn’t been able to walk for more than half an hour.’
‘That’s right. Even though you really loved doing that in the past. Remember that one time when we went walking in that forest in the North of Limburg and got hopelessly lost because you didn’t want to stick to the hiking trails?’
I remembered. We talked for a while longer about everything except for Maggy’s suicidal thoughts. Smiling, we said our goodbyes, but it would not surprise me if she were sitting on her couch in five minutes, crying. That’s just what Maggy is like.
The days after that, I thought about her a lot, but something always kept me from calling her. Three days after her nightly call, I had an appointment with my family doctor. A monthly checkup is what he called it, but I no longer saw the point of it. The only purpose of my monthly appointment with doctor Peeters seemed to serve towards paying off his spectacular house.
‘How are you at the moment?’ he asked, using his usual, annoying, lighthearted voice.
Clearly, that was not the answer he had been expecting. It took a while before he answered. ‘Good to hear. So the new medicines are working, then. Maybe we should consider increasing the dose just a little bit more.’
‘You mean the antidepressants?’ I left room for a dramatic pause. ‘I’m not taking those anymore.’
Doctor Peeters restlessly shuffled back and forth on his chair. ‘What do you mean, you’re not taking them anymore?’
‘I’m taking rhodiola and phosphatidylserine now.’
‘You’re taking what?’
‘Rhodiola and phosphatidylserine.’
He looked at me, flabbergasted. The past years, he had undoubtedly wondered several times what in God’s name he had to do to help me, but now his desperation reached a visible climax. I was only barely able to hide the fact that I was enjoying it. ‘I take them according to a very specific formula that I received from a man. And do you know where I met that man?’ I looked him straight in the eyes. He stared back speechlessly. ‘In your waiting room.’
He blinked his eyes in disbelief. ‘In my waiting room. When?’
‘When I visited you the time before last time.’
He typed something on his computer. ‘That was May 3rd, right? H’m. And what is the name of this man you’re talking about?’
‘Why do you want to know?’
Doctor Peeters looked at me, displeased. ‘If someone is selling supplements to my patients in my waiting room, I think I have the right to know who this person is. Before too long, everyone might think they can simply start a business here.’
‘He hasn’t sold me anything. He just suggested some supplements. I have ordered them at the pharmacy myself.’
Doctor Peeters removed the stethoscope from around his neck and lay it down on his neatly tidied desk. ‘Then why did he do it?’
‘To help me.’
My family doctor stared at me taken aback. Apparently, someone helping others without expecting money in return was a completely foreign concept to him.
‘And I’m glad that he did. These products really do work. Better than any other pill I’ve ever taken.’ I had nearly said, better than any pill you’ve ever prescribed, but that was probably obvious. That was also how the message came across.
Doctor Peeters focused his attention on his computer screen again. ‘I only see women’s names that afternoon. What was this man’s name?’
For a moment I considered giving a false name, because I did not want to get J.P. into trouble. But maybe this was the only way to trace him again. ‘J.P.’
‘And his last name?’
‘I don’t know it.’ I admitted with some reluctance.
Doctor Peeters looked up from his screen. ‘You take medical advice from a man whose last name you don’t even know?’
‘I also let you advise me and I don’t even know your first name.’ I realized that it was a little childish, but I simply couldn’t hold it back. The past years, I had been bothered by doctor Peeters’ arrogance and that of certain other doctors I came into contact with. They all thought that they knew the truth about everything, that they knew more about my body than I did after examining me for a mere five minutes, but none of them had been able to help me.
Doctor Peeters still stared intently at his computer screen. ‘I don’t see the name J.P. here.’
‘They could also be his initials,’ I tried. ‘John Peeters. Something like that.’
‘H’m, no, nothing.’
‘It was the patient that came right after me.’
Now my family doctor looked straight at me. ‘There was no patient after you.’
‘Of course there was. What else was he doing in the waiting room?’
‘That’s a good question.’ Doctor Peeters rose from his chair. Automatically, I grabbed my handbag and walked towards the door. I realized that I had not paid, but it had been far from a conventional doctor’s visit.
He had already lead the next patient into his office, when he suddenly called out to me: ‘Wim!’
I turned around at the door. ‘Excuse me?’
‘Wim. That’s my first name.’ Doctor Peeters smiled. It was an odd smile and I did not quite know what to make of it.
We had only just been sitting in the car and I already regretted joining them. ‘And what exactly is this bankri thing?’ I carefully asked.
‘Banki,’ Veerle corrected me as she passed by a lorry. ‘It’s a Russian healing method which helps really well against muscle aches.’
‘Ah!’ I looked at Els for help, but she was staring out of the window as she sat on the back seat. She was remarkably quiet. I turned on the CD player. An odd, high-pitched noise resounded in the car, combined with the sound of waves. ‘What kind of music is that?’
Veerle held out a CD box to me. The cover displayed a man who was swimming between dolphins in clear blue water. On the backside, there was a picture of a coral reef which swarmed with tropical fishes. ‘A CD with dolphin noises,’ I mumbled.
‘And whales.’ Veerle turned the volume up a little more.
It made me nervous rather than relaxed. I did not tell her. I did not feel like undergoing alternative Russian methods against muscle aches. I did not tell her. What I did tell her was: ‘I have been taking supplements for two months now, which have removed my pain and fatigue for the most part. They are natural remedies, that you can buy at the pharmacy.’ I turned around towards Els. ‘And it also improves your digestion.’
Els, who always complained about her bowels, looked up. ‘Really? And what kind of supplements are they?’
I explained to them what I had discovered about phosphatidylserine and rhodiola.
‘Did you learn that from the man you met at the MAS the other day?’
‘Yes,’ I admitted with some reluctance. ‘Do you want to try it as well? After a few weeks, you already feel an improvement.’
Els looked at me thoughtfully. ‘Maybe.’
I turned around to face Veerle. ‘And what about you?’
She gave me an odd look. ‘Let’s first see how the banki goes.’
‘Yes, of course.’ I bit my finger nails and concentrated on the landscape that passed by the window. Behind the fields, there were poplars of which the tops were filled to the brim with mistletoe. For a while, the only sounds in the car were those of whales and soothing waves. I felt a strong urge coming up to go to the bathroom.
Els parked her car in front of a terraced house in a residential area.
‘First time?’ the heavyset woman that led us into a badly lit room with a massage table asked. A large, framed picture of the Kremlin hung on the wall, as well as drawing of colorful mandalas and a painting of Matryoshka dolls. Large cracks ran across the wall and the ceiling. There was an odd smell in the room.
‘You’ll see, is relaxing.’ The woman spoke with a heavy Russian accent. At least Veerle had not lied about the origins of the treatment. Apart from that, it was still a mystery to me what was about to happen.
We let Veerle go first. It was the umpteenth time that Els and I were being towed along for what she claims would be a pioneering treatment. We had tried Bach flower remedies, had taken advice from a homeopath for a while and underwent a treatment with ear candles. My liveliest memories were those of a self-proclaimed ‘light therapist’, who had tried restoring our damaged auras by means of laying on hands.
Banki turned out to be a kind of glass lamps that were heated and placed on your back. Els and I watched tensely as the woman placed the warm, glass objects on Veerle’s back, but Veerle claimed that it was very relaxing.
‘Doesn’t hurt at all,’ the therapist, whose name was Agnessa, said about ten times. When she took the banki off of Veerle’s back, I saw that they had left dark circles. That explained the smell: it was the smell of burnt skin.
It was with some reluctance that I lay down on the treatment table. To my surprise, it really didn’t hurt. When Agnessa gestured for Els to lie down, she took a step back. ‘No, thank you.’
‘You don’t need be afraid. Is good.’
‘It really doesn’t hurt,’ Veerle backed her up.
‘I don’t even suffer from back aches. It’s my bowels that I have trouble with.’
Agnessa’s face lit up. ‘I know good remedy for bowels.’ She disappeared through a curtain of beads to an adjacent room. Els looked at me, somewhat scared. I wanted to comfort her, but I was not sure if it would be justified.
To our surprise, Agnessa returned with a glass of water.
Els took the glass. ‘Water?’
‘Not just water. Crystal water.’
‘Ah!’ Veerle uttered enthusiastically. ‘What crystal?’
‘Rose quartz,’ Agnessa said, visibly elated because of her interest.
‘And that’s what’s in the water?’ I asked rather dumbly.
‘No no,’ the therapist laughed. ‘Crystal lay in water during night.’
Els pulled a long face. I genuinely felt sorry for her.
‘Water has taken energy from rose quartz.’ Agnessa flashed a beaming smile to Els. ‘You must drink and your gut will heal. Good bowel movement too.’
She had no choice. Under Agnessa’s watchful eye, she drank the glass of crystal water. After the therapist had given us some more advice about crystals that help against muscle aches, and after we had paid her 135 euros for her services, we got into Veerle’s old Peugeot again.
We had barely left before Els said that she had stomach cramps. Five minutes later, Veerle told us that her back felt burnt and a little bit later, I felt it as well. We stopped at a roadside restaurant and hurried into the toilets, where we established that Veerle and I had blisters on our backs where the therapist had placed the banki. Meanwhile, Els stayed on the toilet for a really long time.
When we were having a cup of tea later, looking beaten, Veerle suddenly turned to me. ‘What are the names of those supplements you were talking about earlier?’
I smiled. ‘They are two supplements that you have to take according to a strict formula. They are known products: rhodiola and phosphatidylserine. They are only extraordinary when combined, because it changes and improves the effect of both supplements. You simply take 1 capsule of 500 mg of rhodiola and 1 capsule of 100 mg phosphatidylserine before going to bed. Then, you leave one day in between doses and then the day after that, you take both capsules again. It’s best not to exceed that dose, because then you risk constipation. After a few days, you will start feeling better and after about five weeks, you will really feel the effect.’ I wrote down the names and doses for them on a scrap of paper.
I had a splitting headache when I came home that night and my back still burned. I took a cold shower and carefully rubbed a gel against burns on my back, as well as I could. At a time like that, I did miss having a relationship. It wasn’t a laughing matter to have to smear gel on your own back.
I mindlessly switched channels, going past a whole bunch of annoying reality programs. Finally, I turned off the sound and called Maggy. She picked up nearly immediately.
‘Mum says hi.’
Maggy had broken all contact with her parents years ago, because they just could not understand what was going on with her. A feeling I was only too familiar with, even though I forced myself to visit my parents every now and then. ‘Did you talk to them?’
‘I’ve invited mum and dad over at my place.’
‘At your place?’ As far as I knew, they had never been there before.
‘Uhu. I’ve been feeling a bit better the past few weeks. Less sluggish and sombre. So I tidied up my entire home yesterday and cleaned it and then I invited my parents. I’ve even cooked for them.’
‘Wow.’ I looked at the television screen, which was currently showing a commercial for laundry detergent. For some reason, it looked even sillier with no sound. That nearly manic grin on the faces of the women who all became enthusiastic due to a bottle of liquid laundry detergent for dark clothes. A commercial like that could only have been created by a man.
‘I’ve been taking those supplements you suggested for a while now. I think that it’s because of them. I can’t imagine what else it could be, because I’m still taking the same medication and apart from that, I haven’t done anything different.’
She did go out and get the supplements! ‘Great. I’m so happy for you!’
‘My parents were also visibly happy, even though they didn’t say it in quite as many words. They hadn’t seen me for a long time and the last time they did, I was so down that I really couldn’t pretend to be happy. And although I didn’t hear anything from them or though they didn’t show how worried they were, they must have agonized over their only child the past years.’
I imagined her mother, sitting next to the phone, waiting on a message about a young woman who had drowned herself in the Scheldt. I had always really liked her parents, especially her mother. Of course, I also noticed that they acted nicer to me than they did towards their own daughter – just like my parents, who magically became more fun and more social when Maggy was with me – but I had always pitied those people. I couldn’t imagine what they had gone through all these years. Your child, trying to take its own life, has to be just about the worst nightmare of any parent.
‘They were probably very worried about you. Some people simply aren’t that good at expressing it.’ I thought of my own father.
‘Myeah. But remaining silent for years, that’s really extreme.’
‘But they’re still my parents. And with being a parent come certain responsibilities. Like occasionally contacting your children, even when they’re adults.’ I heard the anger creeping into her voice.
‘Yes, of course. Something like that is inexcusable. But it’s good that you took the first step. It shows strength. And it shows that you’re a better person than they are.’
‘I had been thinking about it for months, but I simply didn’t have the mental energy to do it. By the way, how are you doing?’
‘I’m well.’ It was the first time in years that I meant it.
When I put down my phone, a show had just started in which couples had to start up their own restaurants. I watched for some time how a man and a woman were shouting at each other in the kitchen. Then I turned off the television.
My father gave me a wooden yo-yo. It had a ladybug painted on it. I was afraid of ladybugs. Maggy always made fun of me because of it. My father did not like it at all. ‘No child is afraid of ladybugs,’ he had snapped at me once. And because no child was afraid of them, I was not allowed to be afraid either. That I didn’t get that, worried him. Everything worried him lately, especially if it concerned me. And now I got a yo-yo with a ladybug on it. It was not just some piece of wood with a string attached to it, it was a statement. A statement which I refused to take. My father was furious and sent me to my room. I stomped up the stairs angrily. I opened the door to my room and remained standing in the doorway, the doorknob still in my hand. All my posters of horses had been replaced with pictures of ladybugs. I opened my eyes, stared at the ceiling and realized that I had not visited my parents for months.
I took a few deep breaths before I drove onto the driveway. My mother had filled up the front yard with hydrangeas and violets once again. The windowsills were also completely covered in flower pots. The result was a cacophony of colors and shapes which was just the teensiest bit too showy to be really pretty. I could not remember our front yard looking any other way. During the summer, it had always taken my mother half an hour to water her flowers. Other favorite hobbies of her were the weekly mowing of the lawn to an exact height of 4 centimeters, as well as trimming the conifers into perfect, geometrical shapes. My father never got the idea in his mind to dig up the gardening tools. He would be signing his own death warrant if he did.
I parked my car next to my parents’ gray sedan, which, apparently, had just been washed. Their car always looked like that. That, on the other hand, was one of my father’s passions. Scrubbing the bodywork of the car with a soft sponge seemed to give him intense joy. Before pushing the doorbell, I took a couple of deep breaths. Less than two seconds later, my mother’s head, with its blonde dyed hair appeared in the doorway. I gave her a quick kiss on both cheeks.
‘Long time no see! How are you, mum?’
‘Take off your shoes,’ she gestured.
I unzipped my boots and quickly slipped them off. When I visited my parents, I always wore shoes that can be easily put on and taken off. I hated hopping on the sidewalk on one foot and I didn’t even think of keeping my shoes on. I wasn’t tired of living just yet.
My mother scrutinously watched as I took off my boots. ‘There’s a hole in your sock.’
There was indeed a hole in my sock. I hadn’t seen it, but the fact that it annoyed my mother did make it nice. I smiled contemptuously and followed her to the kitchen, where I had eaten boiled potatoes and Brussels sprouts with a pout for twenty years. I still didn’t like Brussels sprouts. My father was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper. He didn’t look up when I entered.
He didn’t react. I hadn’t expected him to. I politely said ‘thank you,’ when my mother poured me a cup of coffee without asking anything. It was no use asking whether or not they had soft drinks or if they could make me a cup of tea. When I went to my parents, I got a cup of coffee. I threw a quick glance at the back yard. Over there, it was a sea of flowers as well. Rhododendrons, sweet Williams and a lot of flowers of which I had forgotten the names – my mother had, to no avail, tried to train me to become a perfect housewife that could clean, cook and garden and remembering the names of plants had been a cornerstone of that education – fought over my attention. I knew from experience that you would get a little nauseous if you kept looking at them for too long. ‘The garden looks lovely, mum.’
She put the small, floral sugar pot down on the table and looked suspiciously at me. ‘Of course it’s lovely. I’ve worked in it every day this week. Several hours a day.’ She glanced secretly at my father. ‘Sometimes I just need to get out of the house for a while.’
For a moment I considered mentioning to her that most people would go out and have a drink with friends instead of planting hundreds of flowers in their garden, but I quickly gave up on that idea when I saw the look on my father’s face. ‘Is that another subtle gibe directed at me?’
My mother poured a dash of milk in her coffee. ‘No, dear.’
She only called him ‘dear’ when she was bothered by him. I slurped from the porcelain cup. ‘Good coffee.’
My parents both looked at me as though I had just said a swear word. I choked on my coffee. They did not move to slap me on the back.
My mother inspected her fingernails. ‘As you know, your father has retired last month.’
I did not know that at all. ‘Right! Are you keeping busy?’
He folded and closed his newspaper and looked at me with frowned eyebrows. ‘Of course. I’m not too old or too cripple.’
I took a biscuit from the round biscuit tin that my mother had placed on the table. ‘So, what do you do all day long?’
My father snorted loudly. ‘I’ve bought an electrical bicycle. And I finally have the time to go fishing again. And we’re planning a trip, your mother and I.’
‘A trip?’ As far as I knew, my parents had never traveled before. As a child, when I nagged that I wanted to go somewhere during the summer, like the rest of my classmates, my father always asked me what was wrong with Belgium that made me want to go to some exotic place.
‘To the South of France or Portugal. Maybe we’ll book a week in Turkey.’
At the other side of the table, my mother stared in her coffee.
‘Sounds fun. You definitely should.’
The telephone rang and my father promptly disappeared into the living room. The kitchen went silent. I cleared my throat. ‘When are you guys leaving?’
My mother dipped a biscuit in her coffee. ‘We haven’t fixed a date yet. Currently there’s too much work in the garden.’
‘Yes, I can see. And do you two often go cycling?
‘He may have bought that bicycle, but he has only ridden it once so far and it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t ride it again. A waste of money.’
I took another biscuit. My mother looked suspiciously at the crumbs I spilled on the table cloth while doing so.
‘Isn’t it odd that he’s around all the time?’
She looked a little startled at me. ‘Why would that be odd?’
‘He used to be working all the time and now he’s sitting here all day…’
‘Oh, but that doesn’t bother me, you know.’ She laughed somewhat nervously. ‘Usually he’s watching football or a race. Or he’s reading his newspaper.’
The room became quiet again.
‘You know, my health has improved quite a bit nowadays.’
‘That’s nice.’ My mother got up, picked up a dish cloth and started wiping the table with it. I didn’t dare take another biscuit. Why had I not eaten before I came here?
‘No, really. I’ve discovered a new treatment and now I’m much less tired and my muscle aches are a lot better as well. I regularly go for walks again.’
‘That’s good for you.’ My mother distantly stared at the living room, where my father had just hung up the phone.
We both looked at him as he walked into the kitchen again. ‘It was Pierre. He wants to go fishing tomorrow. What did I miss?’
‘Oh, nothing special,’ my mother forced a smile.
I emptied my cup. ‘I was just telling her that my health has really improved a great deal. So yeah, nothing special.’
‘Ah.’ My father opened his newspaper again. ‘So that means you’re working again?’
I took a deep breath before I answered. ‘No. But for the first time in months, I have the energy to look for work again.’ The truth was that I did not really feel like looking for work and that I was afraid that my complaints would quickly become worse again if I did go working again.
‘H’m. Good that you ended that phase.’
‘Phase?’ I bit the inside of my lip.
‘That chronic fatigue.’
‘H’m.’ I breathed in and out deeply a few more times. I had intended that I would not finish my first visit to my parental home with a fight. I made this resolution every time. Why did my father always have to make it so difficult to stick to it?
I started when my mother pushed her chair back, scraping across the floor. ‘I’ve planted rhubarb. Shall we go and take a look?’
I did not feel any need to go look at rhubarb, but I rose nevertheless and followed her outside. The scent of hundreds of blooming flowers hit me right in the face.
That night I walked into my parents’ garden, which suddenly seemed a whole lot bigger. Or maybe I had turned smaller? I looked around. The flowers almost looked like trees, towering high above me, with their brightly colored petals. I made my way through the trunks, some of which were wider than I was. The further I walked, the larger the flowers became and the closer they grew together, like an impenetrable jungle. The smell of all those blooming plants was overwhelming. Then I saw an open field in between the trunks. I heard a buzzing noise somewhere far away, which slowly became louder and louder.
In the middle of the open field, there was a fountain. I cupped my hands under the stream of water pouring out of it and drank from the water, which tasted fresh and remarkably sweet. It took some time before I finally noticed that it was not water, but nectar. I pulled a few scraps of paper out of the pocket of my trousers. Rhodiola, I read on one of the notes. Phosphatidylserine, another scrap of paper said. I threw the pieces of paper in the air, where they soon turned into colorful butterflies. First very small ones, but then they quickly grew until they were five times as big as I was. They drank from the nectar, before they flew away, flapping their beautiful wings. The buzzing became even noisier and was now really loud. It turned out to be a huge bee, which landed next to me and looked questioningly in my direction. In the spur of moment, I jumped onto its back. It immediately flew off. With the loud buzzing noise in my ears, we soared over the flowers. To our right and left, other people were also flying on the back of bees. I recognized Els, Veerle, Maggy and a girl I had been close friends with during primary school, but whose name I had forgotten. I waved enthusiastically. They cheerfully waved back. In the distance, at the end of the sea of flower, I could just barely discern the Cathedral and the Boerentoren.
I felt exceptionally cheerful that morning. Vaguely, I remembered the dream about very large flowers. Whistling, I baked an omelet, which I ate with three big slices of brown bread. I was still in a perfectly good mood when I was surprised by a rain shower during my morning walk in the city park. I had taken off my wet clothes and was just about to get in the shower, when my phone rang. It was Koen. Without thinking twice, I picked up the phone.
‘You have my book about Vespa motorcycles.’
It was typical for Koen to start a conversation in such a boorish way. Good manners were not for him. I moved my phone to my other hand while skipping on one leg, as I tried taking of my soaked sock. ‘Why would I have your book?’
‘Because I don’t have it. So it has to be over there somewhere.’
Typical Koen-logic. ‘I don’t have any stuff of yours anymore.’
He sighed audibly. ‘I need that book. I want to buy Laura a Vespa.’
Laura. I still felt a stab in my stomach when I heard that name. Laura was the ten year younger woman whom he started a relationship with about a week after we had broken up. Vespas were not my sort of thing at all, and therefore I was absolutely certain that I didn’t have the book lying around, but he stood firm, so I promised him that I would look for it. He was just about to hang up when something crossed my mind. ‘Koen?’
‘Do you remember when you saw me at the MAS?’
It took a while before he answered. ‘Yes.’
‘That man, who was with me…’
‘The man who was sitting across from me, when we were busy talking.’
It was quiet on the other side of the line for a while. ‘There was no one sitting across from you.’
I felt as though he had just stomped me in the gut. ‘Of course there was.’
‘Nope. I’m perfectly certain you were sitting at that table by yourself.’
I stared at my naked body in the bathroom mirror. By going walking more often, I had lost a kilo or two. It looked good on me.
‘What did you want to ask, Carine?’
‘Oh, nothing. Forget about it.’
‘All right… don’t forget about my book.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t.’ I got dressed in a hurry and walked down the stairs, towards the cupboard in the living room. I opened the top drawer. In it were the notes of J.P. and the grinning joker.
I paced through the room. What was going on, in God’s name? Was I just imagining all of it? But how did I get the pieces of paper then, the playing card, the knowledge about the supplements? Was I going mad? I had to track J.P. again. He couldn’t just have disappeared off of the face of the earth. Maybe I should hang out at the places where we had met. The terrace at the MAS, the RAZ, the Central Station where he was secretly watching people so often. Sooner or later, he had to show up again.
I stood stock-still. He lived somewhere around here, in this city, not even that far away from where I lived. I turned on my laptop, surfed to the online telephone directory and entered J.P. and Antwerp as keywords. I took a deep breath before I hit enter. More than 2000 results for J.P. in Antwerp and vicinity. I scrolled through the impressive catalogue of names and addresses that had appeared on my screen. Was he somewhere between them? And how was I supposed to know if it was him? Some addresses showed two names. I could already scratch those. If J.P. had a wife, he would probably not meet up with strange women just like that. His wife would find out in no time. There were also some addresses that were some distance outside of the city center. It had to be close by.
My breath caught. While every other address also showed a last name, there was one address that only had the initials J.P. next to it. I stared at the address. A cold hand wrapped its fingers around my heart. I walked outside, without my wallet, phone or even turning off my laptop. Only at the last moment did I think of taking the keys to my house with me.
I recognized her immediately when she walked into the train station. She was waiting for me and I had nearly walked in her direction, unsuspectingly. I should never have told her that I came here often. It dawned on me that I had revealed much more to Carine than I usually did with people that I tried to help. For a moment, I considered approaching her, but I changed my mind in time and turned on my heels. I could not sympathize too much with my proteges. Always keeping a professional distance and, when the time was ripe, I had to disappear. That’s how things had been for years and how they would continue for years to come. I walked down the modernized Keyserlei, which was really starting to look quite nice, even though I had been one of the many people who had protested against cutting down the beautiful trees that had always made one of the busiest streets of Antwerp look a bit like a country road. The young, newly planted trees were looking bright green. It would take a while longer before they would reach the status of their predecessors, but the whole did appear really clean and modern. A lot had changed in Antwerp the past few years. I ordered a large cup of coffee at Exki and sipped it as I calmly walked on, being absorbed in the sea of people that was moving in the direction of the Meir. However, I turned left at the Leien. Five minutes later, I was standing in my living room. In the corner, there were still some unpacked boxes. Fortunately, I did not have that many possessions. Since I discovered the formula five years ago, with which I could help thousands of people, I had become a nomad. I never remained in one place for more than half a year and I was always ready to pack my things and move to a different address in a matter of days. The wooden floor creaked as I walked towards the window, still sipping my cup of coffee. I put the cardboard cup down on the granite window sill, opened the window and took a few deep breaths. This house was big and old and it had an incredible atmosphere. I closed my eyes to feel the energy of the room. That’s when I heard a creaking floorboard behind me.
A thin fifty-year-old man with a gray mustache stood in the doorway and was taking me in with unconcealed curiosity. I smiled and approached him lithely. He took a small step backwards and then extended his hand, which I shook firmly.
‘I’m sorry I just came barging in here like that, but you had left your door open and I thought, let’s go say hi to the new neighbors.’ He looked over my shoulder at the round dinner table, which only had a single chair standing beside it.
‘That’s right, I’m a bachelor.’
He awkwardly picked at his mustache. ‘I didn’t think – I didn’t want to… I’ve been married for eighteen years. You will meet my wife one day.’ He looked at the dining table. Apart from it, there was hardly anything in the room, except for a few small cupboards and a couch. I saw that my sketchbook was still lying on the table. He saw it as well. ‘Are you an artist?’
‘Oh no,’ I laughed somewhat exaggeratedly. ‘I just draw some flowers or a fruit bowl every now and then, that’s all.’
‘Oh.’ My neighbor took another step into the room, his attention still directed at the sketchbook.
I had to distract him. ‘And yes, I do want to have dinner with you and your wife tonight. I haven’t eaten croquettes in quite a while.’
My neighbor’s eyes opened wide. ‘How did you know what I was about to ask and that my wife would be making croquettes tonight?’
I looked straight at him. ‘Just a guess.’
‘Wow.’ The man laughed a bit nervously. ‘For a moment, I thought you could read my mind…’
It was not the first time that people thought so. I properly took the man in once more. He suffered from rheumatism. His hands were cramped and his back was a little crooked. ‘Do you believe in those kind of things?’
‘No.’ He took a step back. ‘Well, then I’ll see you tonight. Does seven o’clock work for you?’
‘Seven o’clock is fine, Georges.’
Now he was looking outright frightened.
‘I’ve read it on your mailbox earlier.’
‘Oh, yes, of course.’ Shaking his head, he left the room.
I carefully locked the door behind him, before I walked over to the old couch and opened the sketchbook. To an outsider, it would be a bunch of unreadable formulas, but to me, it was my life’s destination. I could still remember the day when I bought it, not knowing why in God’s name I purchased a sketchbook. Or why I had walked into a hobby store at all. During the forty three years that I had walked on this planet, I had never shown any talent for creative hobbies and now I was buying a sketchbook and pencils of some expensive brand. I took them home, laid the book down on the kitchen table and stared at that first page for a long time. Then I started drawing, writing, sketching, noting down formulas. It seemed as though my hands had a life of their own. I wrote and drew more than ten pages before I wrote down in big letters: rhodiola and phosphatidylserine. I connected them with two thick lines, pushing my pencil very hard. That was it. That was the reason. The reason why I had bought that sketchbook, the reason why I had been sketching like a madman for nearly two hours. For months, I had been looking for a formula to help my wife.
She came home late from her work that night, even later than usual. I walked up to her, wrapped my arms around her and told her that I had found it, the solution against her stress and all problems that stemmed from it. She looked emotionless at me. ‘I’ve found it as well. You’re the cause.’
I let go of her. ‘What are you saying?’
She shook her head pityingly. ‘You’re the cause, J.P. How long have you been without a job now? And then I come home and you’re just sitting there, mumbling about some magic formula that will make me better. It would be better if you vacuumed the house or cooked for once. I can’t deal with it anymore.’ Her eyes teared up. ‘I really just can’t deal with it anymore.’
She grabbed some clothes. I tried stopping her, shouted, begged, gasped for breath. She told me that it was too late, that she should have done this much sooner. That her father would come and pick up the rest of her things. The last thing she said, was: ‘You should go talk to someone. A psychiatrist, for example.’
Then she shut the door behind her. I sank down on a hard kitchen chair and stared at the floor. That night, I cried for the first time since the day my mother deliberately destroyed my Lego castle because I didn’t want to clean up my room.
During the weeks after that, I called her every day. I tried convincing her that she should take the supplements. She responded by asking if I had seen a psychiatrist yet. Whether or not I was working again. On a sultry summer day at the end of June, I decided to give up. Not being able to help her hurt more than the divorce which her lawyer had quickly managed to wrap up, but it could not go on like this. I had to go outside again, continue with my life, find a new purpose. Back then, I still lived on Linkeroever and took the tram to the city. Suddenly, a man sat down next to me who was in pain. I felt it. He was in pain, he was tired and his digestion was messed up. I told him I could help him. He was surprised and a startled, as always with people who I can sense. My wife once told me that it seemed as though I looked right through her. That was not true. I simply sensed what people wanted me to feel. That my wife was going to leave me, for example, I did not see coming.
The next day, I met up with the man and handed him a piece of paper.
‘Rhodiola,’ he read, surprised. ‘What’s that?’
I walked down the street, around the corner, down the street and around the corner once more. About halfway, I stopped. Number 21. This had to be it. I studied the doorbells of the apartment building. J.P. was written on the upper bell. Before I could change my mind, I rang the doorbell. A few moments later, a buzzing sound could be heard. I pushed against the door, which opened immediately. The door has been opened, a mechanical female voice announced.
Once I was standing in the elevator, I felt my heart pounding more and more quickly. This is not a good idea, echoed through my head. In God’s name, what are you doing? Go back.
The elevator door opened and I looked straight into the apartment where J.P. lived. The door was completely open. Carefully, I walked down the hallway. I remained standing in the doorway. The living room was empty, apart from a couple of paint pots and a decorator’s table. Amazement won out over fear and I walked into the apartment. There was a strong smell of paint. I walked towards the window. My worst assumption was confirmed: the window offered a beautiful view on the houses across the street, including my own. I had a full view of my small courtyard. I could even see my table!
A creaking plank made me look around. A short, thick-set man had appeared in the doorway to one of the bedrooms. ‘Good afternoon, miss Cuypers. You’re early, but that’s all right. I’m sorry for the smell.’ He opened a window. ‘The painters have only put on the last layer yesterday afternoon. I hope you like the colors. If not, you can always paint them yourself, but we would like to ask you to talk about it to us before doing so. In the bedrooms we’ve made an accent wall with wallpaper. That’s really trendy nowadays.’
Only now did I see the bundle of papers he had in his hands. I recognized the logo of one of the largest real estate offices of Antwerp. ‘Follow me, please, so I can show you the two bedrooms.’ I followed him to the bedrooms. The windows of the biggest bedroom offered a good view of my house. The broker did not seem to notice my dismay and continued looked around him, smiling contently. ‘More spacious than you would expect, isn’t it?’
I just nodded a bit and followed him to the kitchen.
‘Someone still has to come and take a look at the dishwasher, but apart from that, the kitchen is first-rate, as you can see. The owner had a new kitchen and bathroom placed here three years ago and the previous tenant took great care of it.’
‘The previous tenant? Do you mean J.P.?’
The broker looked at me, a surprised look on his face. ‘Do you know him?’
‘Yes, he’s a –‘ I hesitated for a moment. ‘An old acquaintance.’
‘I see.’ The broker looked at me with sparkling eyes. ‘The world is small times, is it not?’
‘You have no idea.’ I looked at the window of the living room, which offered such a magnificent view of my little house. ‘It’s crazy to think that he lived here until recently and that I might be moving in here now. Do you by any chance know where he went?’
The broker frowned his eyebrows. ‘No idea. Shall I show you the bathroom?’
‘Yes, go ahead.’
He disappeared as he made his way towards the bathroom. Just as I was about to head after him, my eye fell on something lying in the corner of the room, partly hidden under a plinth. It was a playing card. A joker. With shaking hands, I picked it up. Something was written on it in handwriting so small that I had to strain my eyes to be able to read it.
Now it’s your turn.
There was no reason at all to assume that this message was meant for me. And yet, that was the only thing I could come up with.
The face of the broker appeared in the doorway. ‘Didn’t you want to see the bathroom?’
Quickly, I stuffed the joker in the back pocket of my black jeans trousers and forced my face to show a neutral expression. ‘Of course I do. Is there a bath, or only a shower?’
The first thing I did when I arrived at home was shutting the curtains at the back of my home. I browsed the web again, looking for the online telephone directory and scrolled through the list of names. Maybe I had overlooked something. My breath faltered when I reached the J.P. again, whose apartment had a view on my courtyard. There was now a different address than earlier. It was an address that I knew really well. That is, because I had been living there for ten years.
Twenty minutes. That’s how long I would sit here, and not a minute longer. It was too crazy for words, but I simply had to have tried. One time, today, and then never again. It was busy. In the train station of Antwerp Central, the rush hour lasted all day.
In vain, I looked in my shoulder bag for a peppermint. A skinny lady asked me if I had a light. I shook my head and looked over my shoulder at the clock.
I looked around me, pretended to be waiting for something or someone. I was. I was waiting for Godot, and it seemed that Godot was not going to turn up.
Maybe it wasn’t even true, that he came here regularly. Maybe nothing he had said was true, except for the part about the effect of the supplements.
I rose. This had taken long enough. With my head bent down, I walked through the main hall of the station, towards the Astridplein. At the entrance of the modernized zoo, a long queue of people was waiting. A mascot dressed as a bear was very popular with the waiting children. Suddenly I saw Veerle walking. She saw me at about the same time, skipped in my direction and gave me three kisses on my cheeks. ‘Well. Aren’t you in a hurry!’
‘I’m not, really.’
‘Oh, good, because I wanted to talk to you about something. That’s a colorful bag!’
My shoulder bag was definitely colorful and fit her wardrobe better than mine. ‘Bought it in the Offerandestraat. For 10 euros.’
‘Nice. I should go by there sometime. But that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.’
‘I figured as much.’
‘I wanted to thank you, Carine. Those supplements are great. I can really feel it, that they’re doing something to me. It’s a shame I didn’t get to know them sooner. How much different my life would’ve been if I had!’
I felt warm inside. ‘I know the feeling.’
Veerle lifted the strap of her handbag, which had sunk down, back onto her shoulder. ‘And do you know what the crazy thing is?’ She laid a hand on my shoulder and moved her face closer to mine. ‘This was predicted.’
She grinned when she saw my face. ‘I saw a fortune-teller a couple of months ago. I know you’re rather skeptical when it comes to things like that, but I was at a paranormal fair and I was really at wit’s end. So when I saw a fortune-teller sitting there who gave consultations for free, I took a seat in a spur of the moment. And did you know what she told me?’
Veerle awaited my response, but continued: ‘She told me that a man would come, who would change my life. I told her that I was happily married, but she shook her head. It had nothing to do with love, she said. There was something else, something to do with my disease. The solution for it, that’s what this man would bring me.’
Preoccupied, I stared at the yellow facade of the Radisson Blu hotel, with next to it the red facade of Aquatopia. ‘All of that is a bit vague, though.’
‘Do you think so?’ she asked, surprised. ‘I thought it was rather clear, though. You’ve learned about those supplements through J.P. and they have changed my life. And she could tell very specific things about him.’
‘Like what?’ I asked eagerly.
Veerle shrugged her shoulders. ‘Of course I’m not sure if it’s all right, but she said that it was a tall, slender man, who was not too unpleasant to look at, and that he lives in Antwerp, but hardly ever on the same address for a long time.’
I got a knot in my stomach. That did indeed sound very specific. ‘That’s about right, I think.’
‘She also said he was an artist.’
‘An artist?’ I could imagine it, J.P. as an artist.
Veerle laid her hand on my shoulder again. ‘Well, you know, she didn’t literally say he was an artist, but she did talk about a sketchbook.’
The terraces of the cafes at the Groenplaats were filled to the brim. Muttering, Els agreed to have a seat on one of the terraces. ‘It’s really not that warm.’
I looked over her shoulder at the Groenplaats, the statue of Rubens who looked down on the tourists and other passers-by. ‘It’s 73 degrees.’
Els wiped off her chair with a paper tissue before she sat down. ‘Not in the shade, it isn’t.’
Anke, Els’ adolescent daughter, timidly looked around her.
‘Is everything alright?’ I asked politely.
She pulled a long face. I noticed that she had the same manners as her mother.
‘She just wants to make sure that none of her friends see her together with her mother. She’s quite busy with her image lately.’
Anke threw her handbag with a rather theatrical gesture down on the ground. ‘I’m not busy with my image at all! I just don’t want to be seen with two –’
‘I think it’d be best if you didn’t finish that sentence, young lady.’ Els put her index finger up into the air, as if she was scolding a toddler.
‘Yes, probably,’ Anke mumbled.
In the middle of the square, a group of punk guys with brightly colored Mohawk haircuts and leather coats gathered. They carried huge backpacks with them and drank beer from a can. Around them, a few dogs ran about, busy sniffing every paving stone. They seemed to have fun. More than me, in any case. But Els had insisted she bought me a drink.
‘How have you been lately?’
Els’ face lit up. ‘Better.’
‘Well, that’s new.’ Anke said, tauntingly.
I felt the urge rise to put her in her place, but she was right. It really was something new. ‘Did you start taking those supplements?’
‘Yes, that’s why I wanted to meet up this afternoon. To thank you. The formula really works, I can feel the difference. The first weeks, I was still really tired, but my gut is finally starting to understand what its function is and lately my fatigue seems to be slowly fading away as well.’
‘That’s great!’ I made a gesture at the visibly stressed waiter, who immediately made way in our direction.
‘What would the ladies like?’ he asked, sounding fake.
‘An iced tea,’ I said.
‘A coke,’ Els nodded.
‘Red Bull,’ Anke said, with a mean glance directed at Els.
Els frowned her eyebrows. ‘She’ll have a coke as well.’
‘Mum!’ Anke hissed, but the waiter had already left again. ‘Now you’re embarrassing me again.’
A pigeon pecked passionately at some crumbs lying between the tables. On the terrace of the pub a little further, loud laughter could be heard.
‘You know what I told you about Red Bull.’
‘And coke is healthy then?’
Els’ face turned red. ‘Don’t act like a smarty-pants.’
Anke stuck out her tongue, sunk further into her chair and looked around again.
‘Relax. Your friends really aren’t around,’ Els hissed.
‘Unless they’re standing over there.’ I pointed at the group of punk guys.
‘Ha, ha,’ she said sarcastically, but she could not hold back a grin. Then she pulled her phone out again, which entirely took up her attention.
I watched the cameras that were now present in a lot of places in Antwerp. There wasn’t a lot you could do in Antwerp without being seen. The city council had hung them up as they were convinced that it would visibly reduce criminality, just like it had done in New York, and the first numbers did indeed appear to confirm that the cameras made Antwerp a lot safer. Myself, I had never really felt unsafe in my city of birth.
‘I’m so glad I finally found something that really helps,’ Els said, before she sipped her glass of coke. ‘A few months ago, I would have really done anything to get better.’
‘Like drinking crystal water.’
Els covered her stomach with her hands. ‘Don’t remind me. And that wasn’t even the weirdest thing I had tried.’
‘Haven’t I ever told you about that time I did floating?’
‘Floating?’ I pricked up my ears. I loved stories like this, even though they usually weren’t that much fun for the storyteller.
‘I had to lie down in some sort of tank, which had warm water in it. Then they closed the box and I had to remain in it for twenty minutes. It was dark and warm and I couldn’t hear a thing. After a while, I really started seeing things, as though I was dreaming.’
Anke looked up from her smart phone. ‘You were just tripping, mum. I think that woman had just given you LSD.’
‘It’s because you can’t see or hear anything,’ Els continued with a serious voice. ‘Your senses go crazy, create images of their own. It’s a really strange experience.’
Anke focused her attention back on the screen of her phone. Els took another big gulp of coke. ‘I felt just like Alice in Wonderland. I can’t remember the exact images that well. The only thing that is still clear in my mind is that I, all the way at the end, just before they opened the tank, saw a big, black moon appear.
‘Afterward, I felt really relaxed for a couple of days, as though I had just left a sauna. And yet, I’ve never done it again, that floating. It was too weird.’
‘Oh no!’ Anke looked up, startled.
She nearly pushed her screen against her mother’s nose.
‘Deborah just checked in @Groenplaats, Antwerp,’ Els read out loud.
‘Who’s Deborah?’ I asked.
‘My best friend,’ Anke moaned. She pulled her hood over her head. I almost felt sorry for her.
I had walked past the modernized Pomphuis so often, yet I had never entered the restaurant. I had automatically assumed that the prices would be too high for my modest income. One glance at the menu told me that my assumption had not been entirely unjust, but since Maggy had insisted to buy me dinner, I tried to ignore the prices and focused on the delicious dishes on the menu. I told Maggy that I had watched a documentary a while ago about the renovation of this harbor-based building from the start of the twentieth Century, by the Iraqi architect Hadid, who had passed away by now.
‘It really is a nice building,’ Maggy nodded. ‘It’s great that they managed to preserve the industrial atmosphere so well. And then those tall windows.’
The windows were gorgeous, indeed, and they made the large room with its high ceilings bathe in light. ‘Have you ever had dinner here before?’ I asked her.
She suddenly stopped moving. ‘Myeah. With Gino.’
‘Oh.’ The name did not ring a bell at all.
Maggy stabbed at a pea with her fork, which was not easily caught, however. ‘That was during the period we – didn’t see each other that often.’
For a moment, an uncomfortable silence descended. I started when Maggy laughed out loud. ‘He was a crazy guy, that Gino. Gosh almighty.’
‘God, he was just so, so – different, you know? He taught meditation classes for pregnant women, went everywhere on his cargo bike and his clothes were made of hemp. And he could dwell on topics such as philosophy, religion and literature for hours, yet normal small talk with people just didn’t work for him. Half of the time, I had no clue what he was talking about. At first, that was exactly what attracted me to him, but after a while, I started to wonder why a normal guy couldn’t be interested in me for a change.’
‘Maybe it’s because you’re not normal either.’
She took a large gulp of wine. ‘That’s never crossed my mind, believe it or not.’
‘Do you know what the straw was?’ She gestured to a waiter to fill up our glasses again. ‘That he one day wanted to help me get rid of my depression with some Indian ritual.’
Maggy waited until the waiter had disappeared again before she answered: ‘An Indian ritual, I swear.’ One day he announced incredibly enthusiastically that he had discovered a solution for my depression. The husband of one of his pregnant meditation women was a real shaman.’ She made air quotes with her hands. ‘So, after a lot of pushing, I went with Gino to this guy. Turned out he played shaman in his garage. It stank of motor oil and there were cobwebs in the corner. I had to sit down on a chair, while this shaman started dancing around me, feathers on his head and mumbled a bunch of things in some language he had made up.’
I roared with laughter. ‘No way! You weren’t able to contain your laughter, were you?’
‘Trust me, it was all so alienating that laughing was not on my mind. It was incredibly scary. That man claimed that since my childhood, a curse has rested on me, most likely due to something I had done in a previous life, and that he would lift this curse. And then he suddenly started making a fire, to cleanse the bad spirits with smoke. I thought we were all going to choke in that miserable garage, but Gino kept saying that I was overreacting, that the shaman knew what he was doing. That same night, I broke up with him. He didn’t even understand why and kept saying that he had helped me.’ She tapped with her index finger against her temple. ‘Only then did I realize I had been seeing a complete lunatic for months. It really makes you think, doesn’t it? The fact that it had taken me that long to find that out.’
I laid my hand on hers. ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself. Love makes you blind.’
We then both laughed so loudly, that several people around us turned to look, all of them looking annoyed. This was clearly not the type of restaurant where you went to listen to other people’s laughter.
‘And did you have to pay for that Indian dance?’
Maggy tilted her head. ‘What do you think? And it wasn’t particularly cheap either. Before he started his exorcism, I had to sign a paper that said he declined any responsibility and that it was all pure entertainment. See, something like that really doesn’t make you feel safe.’
‘I can imagine.’
‘You know what was most frightening about the whole situation?’
I shook my head, still laughing.
‘That this man had just impregnated a woman. What got into her head that drove her to make children with a man who thinks he’s some Indian voodoo doctor who can heal people with a circle dance?’
‘Maybe she thought she was Pocahontas.’
Maggy choked on her wine.
‘Imagine that their children want to dress up as cowboys during carnival…’
Some more angry glances were directed at us, but they had the reverse effect: we couldn’t stop roaring with laughter. The rest of the evening, Maggy and I continued the small talk, as though we were best friends again who saw each other every week. It was the first time in years that I had the feeling she was truly cheerful and didn’t just pretend not to ruin the mood, like she sometimes told me during our student time when we returned home from a party where she seemed to have had a good time. After a delicious three-course meal with a few glasses of white wine, we sunk down in our chairs, contently.
‘There was too much chocolate in that cake.’
‘Too much,’ I laughed.
She looked at me, her expression fake shocked. ‘Don’t say such a thing. There’s no such thing as too much chocolate.’
The waiter asked us if we wanted anything else. ‘Another one of those three-course meals,’ I said spontaneously.
For a moment, he seemed to doubt whether or not we were serious and I didn’t blame him. Once Maggy and I were on a roll, we could eat incredible amounts of food. Once, we had almost given the chef of a macrobiotic restaurant a heart attack by both ordering two chocolate mousses for ourselves for dessert.
‘Or maybe you’d like a cup of coffee?’ he asked with a demure face.
‘Coffee sounds like a great idea. To make room for that three-course meal.’
‘This time I’d like soup instead of a starter!’ Maggy backed me up.
The waiter turned his head left and right, looking at our beaming faces, grinning as though he was hurting somewhere, before disappearing promptly towards the kitchen. Earlier, it had been busy, but by now, people were slowly starting to leave. I loved being part of the last guests in a restaurant. We enjoyed the waiter’s facial expression when we both ordered another cup of coffee and, with a wink, asked him whether he could give two instead of one of those delicious chocolates to it.
Outside at the Pomphuis, we had a nice view on the modernized harbor building.
‘Peculiar piece of architecture,’ I mumbled.
‘I think it’s lovely! It both represents a ship and a diamond. It’s the first thing people see when they get off their cruise ships.’
‘They sure try hard to modernize Antwerp, even the zoo and the Groenplaats are getting a makeover. Actually, it’s mind-boggling how much this city has changed since we were children.’ I quite liked all of it, especially neighborhoods such as the Koningsplein and the Eilandje had absolutely improved, but I had always been somewhat nostalgic of nature and I liked holding on to familiar things.
Maggy seemed to be in a nostalgic mood as well. ‘The koekenstad, city of biscuits, that’s how we used to call it as a child.’
‘God, we’ve gotten old.’
We both laughed about it, but it wasn’t heartfelt. The past years, I had had the feeling that world had been passing by me, even though that probably had more to do with my condition than with my age. That was going to change now. I could feel it, that I had already taken the first step back into the real world. Apparently these supplements also influenced my social life. I had isolated myself from my family and friends, the previous years, and being unemployed had surely not helped with that. Sometimes I had felt ten years older than I actually was. We walked along the docks, watched a large container ship which slowly sailed past us, waved at the crew on the deck like little children. We laughed as they waved back and walked on, arms hooked together. The city of biscuits greeted us with light and laughter.
‘Imagine you’re holding a balloon.’ The thin, sinewy instructor held her arms over each other, which made the hand of her lower arm be positioned below the elbow of her upper arm. ‘Or the sun.’ She moved her hands so they were at the same height, some distance between them. Her hands seemed to be holding an invisible ball as she did so. Then, she moved her arms back to the original position, but this time, her arms had switched places. It was a very simple movement. Yet, it took me some time before I had it down. I had the feeling I was in secondary school again, where our gym teacher was continuously trying to teach us silly dance moves. I was invariably the last one to get the hang of them.
‘Especially make sure that the balloon stays the same size during the entire exercise. Yes, Veerle. You’re doing great.’ She looked in my direction, seemed to want to say something, but changed her mind.
We repeated the movements a couple more times. She then moved her hands down and rocked her imaginary balloon from the left to the right. ‘Now we’re going to rock the sun to sleep, so the night can start.’
I had never felt the urge before to rock the sun to sleep, but once I had figured out the movement, I did find pleasure in it. It felt as though it loosened something up in my shoulders. Els flashed me the occasional cynical glance and she rolled her eyes when the teacher digressed and began discussing our chi and the importance of it, but she obediently did all the exercises with us and seemed to relax gradually. Veerle was enjoying all of it visibly, in her pink tank top and her harem pants.
‘For our next exercise, we let our hands wave as though they were clouds,’ the teacher said with an exaggerated smile. It made me think of my previous job in the call center, where we had to talk with a ‘smile in our voice’. The tai chi instructor would have been hired in no time. The exercise was so easy that even I immediately had the hang of it. Suddenly, I felt a hand against my elbow. The small woman to my side looked at me, her face bright red. ‘Sorry!’
‘That’s all right,’ I laughed.
She stopped doing her exercise and smoothed her blue T-shirt. ‘I’m just such a complete klutz.’
‘Join the club. Is this your first time as well?’
‘No.’ She laughed out loud. It was a contagious laugh. I stopped laughing when the teacher came standing in front of me, still with that same manic smile on her face. ‘Ladies, I find it perfectly fine that you’re talking and laughing, but try to keep moving in the meantime.’ She looked straight at me for a moment. ‘And to keep up the tempo.’
‘Sorry!’ my neighbor and I said in unison. Els nudged Veerle, who was grinning at me. The teacher remained in front of me, so I tried my utmost to keep up with the others. It was against my nature to move so slowly.
‘Very good. Mind your breathing, though.’
‘I’m glad I can still breathe at all,’ my neighbor laughed.
The teacher ignored that comment, but went back to the front of the class. ‘For our next exercise, I have a little trick: imagine you’re holding a shopping trolley. With both your hands.’ She moved her hands upwards. ‘Now you slowly turn your upper body from the left to the right. Just your upper body.’
We tried. I thought I was going to manage, until the teacher looked in my direction, smiling broadly. ‘Your knees are moving as well, Carine.’
‘Of course my knees are moving.’
My neighbor exploded with laughter. The teacher came standing before her. ‘Is that how you hold a shopping trolley?’
She put one hand in her side and blew her blonde hairs out of her face. ‘I wouldn’t know. I tend to use a shopping basket.’
Now everyone laughed. Even the instructor sniggered.
‘Well. That was quite nice, wasn’t it? Are we doing this every week from now on?’
Veerle and I looked surprised at Els, who was sipping her cup of tea surprisingly cheerfully.
‘That’s fine by me,’ Veerle said immediately. ‘By the way, Carine, your new best friend is sitting over there.’
I followed Veerle’s gaze and saw the small, cheery woman sitting alone at a table on the other side of the cafeteria of the sports hall. Veerle resolutely stood up. ‘Let me go and ask her if she’ll come sit with us. She has a great sense of humor. I mean, if you can even make Els laugh, you’re good.’
Els looked up for a moment. ‘That’s true.’
The woman’s name turned out to be Melinda and it was her third class. ‘For the moment, I don’t really notice an improvement when it comes to my performance.’
‘Oh dear,’ I laughed.
‘Ah well, we’ll learn, sooner or later. I’m just doing it to relax my muscles anyway.’
‘Are they bothering you?’ Veerle carefully asked.
Melinda sighed resignedly. ‘They have been for a few years and they only seem to be getting worse. And seeing a physiotherapist doesn’t really work either. I’ve been to the doctor’s for a lot of tests the past few years. So far they’ve found nothing. Next week, I’ll be tested for fibromyalgia.’
‘We’ve got CFS.’ Veerle blurted out. I was usually a little reserved when it came to talking about my disease to people, because such a label seemed to have the same connotations for some people as the word ‘leprosy’ had during the middle ages.
‘All three of you?’ Melinda laughed somewhat nervously. ‘I’m sorry.’
Veerle smiled. ‘We got to know each other on a CFS meeting. Otherwise it would’ve been a really big coincidence, three friends with CFS.’
‘Or maybe it’s contagious?’ Melinda demonstratively pushed her chair back quite a distance.
‘You’ve already got fibromyalgia anyway, so you can handle a bit of CFS.’
Melinda’s contagious laughter echoed through the cafeteria. Several people turned to look at her, most of them with a grin on their faces. Veerle and I looked at Els, taken aback. We had never heard her make a joke before. We talked on for quite a while longer. I noticed how cheerful Els was. Would all of that really just be because of the tai chi, or were the supplements bearing fruit? In the end, they also helped against Maggy’s depression.
Veerle’s husband arrived to pick her and Els up. I had come by bicycle and had just ordered a cup of coffee, so Melinda and I were the only ones left. She pulled an agonized face while she massaged her shoulders. ‘My physiotherapist had suggested tai chi, because it was just about the only kind of sports that I could do without hurting.’
‘But it does still hurt, doesn’t it?’
‘Terribly.’ She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. ‘Every little movement hurts. Even my fingers are cramped. I really don’t know how to go on like this. This is no way of life.’
I had almost told her:[_ I wish I could help_], when I realized, I could.
It was a sunny day. I stood still for a while to watch how a varied group of tourists from all around the world posed with the statue of Brabo, the brave Roman legionnaire who, according to the legend, chopped off the hand of Antigoon, the greedy giant. I had read recently that the myth about the giant Antigoon had probably come into being when the inhabitants of Antwerp found whale bones centuries ago. They had probably never seen a whale before and therefore they must have assumed that the bones belonged to a giant, just like the ancient Greeks claimed that the remains of prehistoric animals they found were in fact one-eyed giants and animals from fables. Behind our heroic hand-thrower, the facade of the city hall arose, which was also a popular place for tourists to take pictures. Since I had grown up in Antwerp, I had wondered for years why people found the outer walls of a building so special.
Until, one day, a South African ex-colleague told me elaborately and enthusiastically about the wonderful building she had here in Europe. I told her, surprised, that I thought the nature in her home country was much more impressive, but she held her ground. ‘We have no old buildings,’ she said. ‘Not like here in Antwerp, or Brussels and Bruges. You have so much history.’ When I walked across the Grote Markt, the Great Market Square, later that week, I stood still for a long time and looked around me. They were indeed beautiful, those trusted facades, and suddenly I saw something I had never seen before. I did not see bricks and pretty windows; I saw history. Centuries and centuries of history, people who had walked here before me, who had stood in the exact same place, but who had been wearing entirely different clothing and who had completely different thoughts and worries, typical of their own time. As of that moment, I looked at the city with new eyes, with more wonder.
I strolled past the full cafe terraces at the Grote Markt towards the Hoogstraat, where I stood still every now and then to look at a shop window. This was one of my favorite streets in the city center, especially on Sundays. Most of the stores were simply open, but not all tourists and day trippers seemed to be aware of it, which meant you could look around in peace. Most tourists were now at the Vogeltjesmarkt, the Bird Market, which was once really a market where you could buy birds and other animals, but now it was mainly a tourist market where you could buy all sorts of accessories and knickknacks, which seemed to attract mainly Dutch people, both buyers as well as sellers.
I quickly entered the store with the nice vintage clothes at the Hoogstraat and hesitated at the bookstore. No, I did not have time for that. Whistling, I walked on. Not so long ago, I had to plan trips like this. More than two trips in the same week were simply impossible, and even when I did those, I was completely exhausted afterward, as though I had run a marathon. Even if I felt feelings of doubt creeping up on me when thinking of what I was doing, then that realization was enough to make my doubt disappear. That and the joker that J.P. had left for me. I did occasionally wonder what had happened to him, but slowly I was letting go of the hope of ever seeing him again. Of course I knew it was better like this. In the end, did we still have anything to say to each other? A lot of questions remained unanswered, but I was convinced that I wouldn’t have gotten the answers from him, even if I would see him for another hundred times. Who was this mysterious man, where did he come from, where had he gone and how had he discovered the formula that had changed life, as well as that of my friends, so thoroughly? Was he really an artist, like the fortune-teller had predicted to Veerle? I absolutely did not believe in fortune-tellers, but the past few months, a lot of things had happened that could not be explained in a logical way. Maybe I just was not supposed to look for an explanation, and instead simply enjoy the result of this peculiar chain of events. J.P. had popped up in my life at the exact right moment. And now I had to do so for others.
Melinda was already sitting on the pub’s terrace where we were going to get together. I did not know why I had asked her to come here instead of to some prestigious place, like the modernized Eilandje. I just loved this bar, where I enjoyed blues performances every now and then, and where the regulars all seemed like typical villagers who reminded me of days gone by. She waves enthusiastically at me, even though I had already seen her from afar.
We both ordered an iced tea, as though we had talked about it in advance.
‘I’ve practiced those new moves for an entire hour yesterday,’ she admitted.
‘Me too,’ I said truthfully, even though I had felt a bit silly doing so. I had the annoying urge to want to do everything perfectly, even if there was no reason for it, except for feeling elated when the teacher came standing in front of me, her head tilted and her hand in her side, sighing because one of her pupils couldn’t quite grasp her instructions, even after she had explained them quite clearly. It almost felt a bit like doing homework when I practiced those movements in front of the long mirror of my wardrobe. And it looked silly too, training next to an unmade bed, trying to get the hang of Eastern kinematics.
‘We are model pupils,’ Melinda said solemnly.
We cheered for that. One of the regular barflies, a skinny man with dreadlocks who had once told me abundantly about all the precautions he had taken in his home to save water – he washed his socks in buckets which he put around himself when taking a shower – grinned, showing his brown teeth, when he saw me. Melinda noticed and she burst out laughing, holding her hand in front of her face. ‘I see why you enjoying coming here.’
‘Oh, there’s just a special atmosphere here. Hanging around this place for one night would give even the worst writer enough inspiration to write a bestseller. If you want, we can meet up at a fancier location next time. We’re near the RAZ.’
‘Are you mad?’ Her eyes sparkled. ‘I love it here with all these character faces. The people here are more colorful than the average cartoon character.’ She then leaned closer towards me and continued in a quieter voice. ‘I’ve looked it up, that rhodiola. Seems worth a try.’
‘The rhodiola is only part of the solution.’ I slid a scrap of paper over to her.
‘Phosphatidylserine,’ she read out loud. ‘What’s that?’
‘Look it up. Afterward, we’ll speak again.’
‘Oh.’ The disappointment on her face was visible.
‘It’s better to do this step by step. It may all seem a bit weird right now, but I’ve also discovered it like this. You’ll understand later on.’
At that moment, the sun disappeared behind the clouds for some time. It also seemed as though a shadow had passed over Melinda’s face. Then she smiled again. ‘You do enjoy acting mysterious, don’t you? Is this some kind of secret drug made by the FBI?’
I automatically joined in when she laughed.
I should have visited him sooner. When he was still in the hospital, for example. That’s what kept going through my mind while I was on my way to Guy. I attached my bicycle to a lantern pole, told my mind to be quiet and rung the doorbell. I was here now. That’s what mattered.
He grinned somewhat dumbly when he saw me. I grinned rather dumbly back at him. Then we gave each other a high five. That had been our way to say hi for fifteen years now. We had barely seen each other these past few years, but every time we did, it seemed as though we had still seen each other the day before that. We just picked up the thread again.
‘You’re looking good.’ He passed me a bottle of Jupiler.
I immediately put it to my lips. ‘Could you try to say that with less surprise in your voice?’
‘No,’ he answered with a straight face.
I punched him on the shoulder. He grimaced from the pain.
‘No worries,’ he grinned. ‘I guess I just don’t have to be such a wally.’ He demonstratively waved the bottle of water he was holding. ‘And I won’t be having any alcohol anytime soon either.’
‘I wouldn’t have minded a glass of water either, you know.’
Guy rubbed his temple. For some reason, I always thought he looked attractive when he did so. ‘Since when?’
‘Since I’m no longer a student.’
‘Right.’ He took another large gulp of water. ‘Well, you get used to it. As long as I don’t drown.’
We were just joking. Guy was a man of small talk and often predictable jokes, that weren’t always as funny. And yet you always laughed about them. Because it was Guy. When there was a silence, I asked: ‘Tell me, what has actually happened?’
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Oh, nothing.’
‘You don’t end up in the hospital due to nothing.’
‘My kidneys were blocked, that’s all,’ he said nonchalantly.
‘Just out of the blue?’
‘Because of the pain killers.’
‘Why were you taking pain killers?’
Guy grinned. ‘Against the pain.’
‘Ha ha,’ I uttered sarcastically.
He ran a hand through his hair, seemed to hesitate whether or not he would continue, and finally took a seat on the couch. I sat down next to him, ready for whatever would come. Guy preferred standing up when he talked. When he sat down, you knew something serious was coming.
‘I’ve been suffering from muscle aches for a few months. According to the doctor, it’s psychosomatic. No clue what he means by that, but I can assure you, it’s darn annoying. So, even though I was skeptical at first when my doctor prescribed me heavy pain killers, I did decide to take them in the end. I mean, this pain – it starts eating away at you. I don’t have to tell you about it.’
Indeed, he didn’t have to tell me. I laid my hand on the tattoo on his arm, which I had always liked. He smiled faintly and looked past me. ‘Jesus, Carine, the past months, I’ve began to realize just how much you must have suffered all this time. To be quite honest, and I hope I’m not being too harsh, but I had no clue. I thought that, that –’
‘That I was exaggerating? That it was all in my head? That it all wasn’t that bad?’
‘No. Yes. I do know you’re tough and that you’re not crazy or anything. But I just couldn’t imagine how bad it really was, how this pain really turns your life upside down. If I had known, I would have supported you more. And then that prick, Koen, who left you.’
I pulled back my hand. Koen was a colleague of Guy, I had met him through Guy. ‘I don’t want to talk about Koen.’
He pulled a long face. ‘Me neither, trust me. I gave him a piece of my mind not too long ago, by the way. He didn’t take it that well.’
‘Let me guess: he called you negative?’
‘Something like that. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about me not being able to deal with the pain. I’m not as strong as you are, Carine. I’ve learned that much. I was taking heavy pain killers for months. I had my doubts, though, whether that was such a good idea, and when I consulted doctor Google, I discovered that you can never take painkillers for a long period of time. When I told that to my specialist, he got angry. He assured me that a lot of people took these pain killers and that there were no noteworthy side effects. When I expressed my doubts, he angrily asked me if I had ever studied medicine.’
‘What an arrogant man.’
‘A real jerk. But anyway, I had no choice either way. Without those pain killers, I couldn’t get any sleep. So I kept taking them. Until they had to take me to the emergency service due to a kidney blockage. It was bad. After more than a week, I was allowed to leave the hospital. Now I’m seeing a physiotherapist, where I’m having therapy on an andullation mattress, amongst other things.
‘On a what?’
‘One of those mattresses that vibrates. It helps you strengthen your muscles.’
‘Ah, I see.’ I had heard about those once, during my many searches on Google.
‘You know what the weird thing was? At a certain moment, the doctor who was treating me asked me why I had taken pain killers for such a long period. When I told him my specialist had assured me that it would cause no harm, he grabbed his phone and called him, right then and there. He was furious. He called my specialist a murderer.’
I laughed. ‘Damn.’
Guy looked at me seriously. ‘He was right, though. If things went differently, I might not have been here anymore.’
I stopped laughing. I laid my hand on his arm again. We both looked at it. I would tell him about the supplements later, but right now, I just wanted to enjoy his presence.
In the labyrinth, in which I saw years
passing me by
I fumbled in the dark
wandered, stumbled, walked around
again and again, the same corner
past myself. corridor after corridor
now slopes at the horizon
for the first time a day.
In this light, I shine, blink
my eyes, just barely see
how my Ariadne
rolls up the wire, smiling.
By combining the vegetable based substance of the rhodiola and the phosphatidylserine in the correct way, according to the formula described in part I of this book, you boost the resilience of your brain. By managing certain substances (neurotransmitters), you help your brain reduce the effects of long-term stress. That’s how you push the reset button all by yourself and how you wipe out the mental and physical effects of stress.
These are not drugs, but supplements. This is why we definitely advise you not to suddenly stop taking other medicines. However, this combination could be a good and efficient addition. Should your complaints disappear completely, you can, of course, discuss reducing or stopping the intake of medicines with your doctor. Also make sure to stick to the dose described in part I. If you take a higher dose, complaints such as constipation may occur.
The combination of rhodiola and phosphatidylserine may help with a series of ailments, provided that they have a psychosomatic cause. These can be very diverse. Just think of:
However, often these complaints could also have a different cause than a psychosomatic one. This is why we suggest you to always consult a doctor first and to do the necessary tests as to rule out other causes and severe diseases. When nothing can be found, the specialist will judge whether or not you are suffering from psychosomatic complaints. When your complaints are indeed psychosomatic, they will disappear after applying the formula described above.
What exactly are psychosomatic complaints? ‘Psyche’ stands for mind and ‘soma’ means body. They are, in fact, physical complaints that have a mental cause. Because of this reason, doctors can’t find a physical explanation for your complaints. Even though there still appears to be a taboo around psychosomatic complaints – I’m not crazy, am I! – it’s an everyday phenomenon, which we all encounter one way or another. Who has never come home after a long day’s work without a headache?
An additional difficulty of psychosomatic complaints is that the link between the physical and the mental complaints isn’t always very clear, let alone demonstrable. Stress, for example, can be the cause for aches in your head, your neck and your back, but all these complaints can have a whole series of other explanations as well.
Just about all of the bodily functions can exhibit pseudo symptoms. Because of that, it is quite easily assumed that it’s all ‘in your head’. Usually the solution is looked for in medicines such as antidepressants or in relaxation exercises like mindfulness or meditation. Healthy eating, practicing sports and alternative therapies also form a source of hope for a lot of people with psychosomatic complaints. Although some of these things do definitely result in the alleviation of some complaints, the true cause is not dealt with: the blockade in your brain doesn’t get removed.
Rhodiola rosea is a herb that grows high in the mountains in the north of Asia and Europe. It is an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens help your body adapt to the feeling of stress, no matter whether it is caused by mental, physical or environmental factors. Rhodiola is the most efficient herb of this group of adaptogens. Because of this, the herb is also sometimes called ‘the golden root’. Rhodiola is famous because of its ability to help you burn more fat, to make you feel energized and to give your brain a boost. Back in the day, the Vikings already used the herb to increase their physical strength. The Sherpa people – a people that originally hails from Tibet and that has been living in the highest region of Nepal, the Himalaya, for five centuries and is known for being mountain guides to tourists – use rhodiola to improve their mountain climbing performance. The Russians have been using the plant for more than seventy years to improve their working performance and physical endurance during sports and as a remedy against insomnia, depression and fatigue. Rhodiola contains a lot of active components which together generate some remarkable benefits for our health.
1) Burning fat more quickly
Rhodiola causes the fat that is stored in your body to be used for fuel. That way you can deal with stubborn fat such as stomach fat. We owe this effect to the active component called rosavin. This is a so-called cinnamyl alcohol glycoside, which in turn stimulates the hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), an enzyme that plays a big part in burning fat. If you combine the intake of rhodiola with light physical strain, your stomach fat will burn even more quickly. This has been proven repeatedly by clinical studies on people.
A research with 130 overweight patients that took place at the Georgian State Hospital showed that taking rhodiola could lead to a weight loss of up to 19 pounds and a decrease in the body fat percentage of up to 11%, while a placebo group only lost 8 pounds. During the research, both groups followed the exact same diet plan.
2) Increasing your energy and performance during sports
Rhodiola causes an increase of the erythropoietin (EPO) in your body, a hormone that is produced in the liver, kidneys and macrophages and which affects your bone marrow and boosts the production of red blood cells there. This increase of red blood cells is important, considering that red blood cells take care of the transportation of oxygen to your muscles. This way, rhodiola helps in increasing your endurance and resistance. Because of this, your performance during sports may improve drastically and fatigue will be postponed. After all, EPO is known for a reason, since it is sometimes administered used as a doping drug, more specifically in cycling.
A study, published in 2004 in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition, has shown that rhodiola also works against inflammation and helps restoring the muscles after physical strain.
People who don’t practice sports, however, also seem to gain quite a few benefits from taking rhodiola. The supplement has a proven positive effect on our endurance, not only for top performance during sports, but also with everyday activities such as working, studying and performing household chores. Furthermore, it nullifies the effects of sleep deprivation on your body. Especially this last benefit is very interesting for people with chronic conditions, which often have a direct, negative influence on one’s sleeping pattern.
3) Reducing cortisol levels
People who have experienced emotional or physical stress during a longer time are at great risk of having high cortisol levels. Cortisol makes our bodies enter the so-called ‘fight or flight’-mode. Walking around with high cortisol levels for a long time can have a lot of negative effects on your bodies, such as:
As you can see, keeping your cortisol levels under control has quite some benefits for your health. It also helps by counteracting premature aging. Scientific research has found that too high cortisol levels cause premature aging and symptoms of exhaustion in the long run.
4) Beating depressions and improving brain functions
Rhodiola also plays a big role in improving the health of your brains and at fighting depressions. Rhodiola heightens the sensitivity of the neurons in your brains and nerve system, including those of the important neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. These, in turn, cause an improvement of your ability to concentrate; they stimulate your mind and heighten your ability to experience joy, as well as improving your mood. In addition, dopamine helps fight your craving for sweets and addictive substances, while also keeping our brain from processing too much information at once. This is how over stimulation can be avoided, which, for example, comes in handy for people who are highly sensitive.
For this reason, rhodiola is already being prescribed by a lot of doctors nowadays as an alternative medicine instead of antidepressants. During a clinical study with 150 people who suffered from a depression, the symptoms disappeared completely for two thirds of the patients who had been given rhodiola for a month.
The intake of rhodiola can be done through capsules. It’s a completely vegetable based product that is simply available at the pharmacy.
Phosphatidylserine is a natural substance that can be found in a highly concentrated form in our brain and in nerve tissue at the inside of cell membranes. The substance is categorized as a food supplement and is completely vegetable based. Phosphatidylserine is naturally present in small amounts in various types of food, such as oily fish, beans and brown rice. Because of the work of a team of Israeli researchers, it can now be drawn from soy lecithin after treating it with an enzyme found in biological coleslaw.
Phosphatidylserine causes an increase of phospholipids in your brain cells, essential substances that form the base of all biological membranes. Our brains are continuously working and therefore consume a lot of energy. Because of this, like any other organ that requires a lot of energy, the brains are susceptible to damage caused by free radicals. Diverse researches have shown that phosphatidylserine represses free radicals in our brain cells and acts as an antioxidant for the brain cells.
Phosphatidylserine works both for acute and chronic stress and reduces students’ exam stress by 30% according to recent studies.
Chronic stress causes more cortisol to be released into our body. These stress hormones cause a higher blood pressure, among other things and may lead to over strained nerves, aggression, fear and other neurotic symptoms. Phosphatidylserine will improve your mood and improves your cognitive capability, as well as making you less likely to overstep your body’s boundaries.
Therefore, as the list of effects above illustrates, phosphatidylserine is not just something that can be used to help people with a chronic condition caused by stress. Already since the seventies, the effects of phosphatidylserine have been researched worldwide. As of the eighties, there have also been tests on people, including on healthy elderly people, people with senile dementia, as well as Alzheimer patients. Older people naturally tend to have a much higher cortisol level. Both European and American researches have shown that the daily intake of this supplement can help you preserve your cognitive abilities when getting older. The dozens of researches all present positive effects, for example when it came to remembering names, faces and numbers, concentration, orientation and other cognitive functions. To measure the improvements, they used widely recognized memory tests.
An example of this is the double blind clinical research conducted by doctor Jacob Gindin, head of the Geriatric Institute of Education and Research of the Kaplan hospital in Rehovot (Israel). He followed a group of healthy elderly people consisting of 72 persons between the ages of 60 and 80 for a period of three months. Half of them received phosphatidylserine while the other half received a placebo. After the research, they had to take cognitive tests and were checked for symptoms of depression. There were striking improvements in the group that had received phosphatidylserine, especially regarding their memory and mood. A sudden, positive side effect was the fact that the placebo group did suffer from the usual winter depression, which did not occur in the phosphatidylserine group. They showed no symptoms whatsoever.
This also appeared to be the case in a research conducted in 1994 by Crook, in association with the University of Stanford and the Vanderbilt University. In this research, 149 healthy older people between the ages of 50 and 75 received phosphatidylserine for twelve weeks, except for a subgroup that received a placebo. Their finds show that especially people with memory problems experienced the positive effects of the supplement.
Researchers also took note of substantial benefits for people with Alzheimer in diverse scientific researches, such as the one of doctor Gindin of the Kaplan hospital in 1996. For example, improvements were seen in their ability to recognize faces and persons and in restoring the normal day-night rhythm, their mood and sanitary needs.
By now, there are a lot of doctors who prescribe phosphatidylserine for a number of complaints such as cerebral infarction, consequences of a coma, dyslexia, study problems, whiplash and damage to the brain after an accident.
Apart from phosphatidylserine, every capsule also contains other phospholipids such as choline, lecithin, ethanolamine and phosphatidic acid. It is suggested to continue taking the supplement, because the positive effects will otherwise gradually disappear. During the many researches that took place during the past decades, both on people as well as animals, no negative side effects have been found.
The only side note would be that taking phosphatidylserine could lead to a mild stomach ache for some people who have a sensitive stomach, because the supplement gives off the substances acetylcholine and dopamine. When you take it during or immediately after a meal, this risk disappears.
Just like a computer, our brains can exhibit a blockade, much like a computer virus. This overload originates due to long term stress. When you look at the computer in a superficial way, there is nothing to be seen. This is because there’s nothing wrong with the screen; it’s the drivers where the virus is located. The same thing happens to our body when we suffer from psychosomatic complaints: on the outside everything seems to be all right; it’s the drivers in our brain that are causing the problems. These ‘drivers’ manage all our bodily functions. There are thousands of them. Because the cause is situated in your brain, you can’t see any clues regarding the condition when inspecting the body of a person suffering from psychosomatic complaints. However, this does not make the physical complaints any less real or serious.
The incomprehension of the environment doesn’t make things particularly easy for people with a long-lasting illness. People tend to judge rather easily that the patients themselves cause their own problems and often make remarks such as ‘eat healthier’, ‘lose weight’, ‘don’t be a baby’ or ‘focus on the positive things’. Sometimes, even the existence or the severity of the condition is called into question, because on the outside there appears to be nothing wrong.
An often heard complaint is over-tiredness. After all, the body is continuously working to solve problems on the inside. Our brain can no longer normalize the situation and becomes overworked. Because all attention goes out to the inner normalization, the normal contacts with the outside world get seriously disturbed as well. People who are tired all the time, often exhibit procrastination simply because they are ‘too tired to do it right now’. Some people confuse this with other conditions or speak of ‘closed chakras’.
Stress also has a big influence on our digestion, because it changes the bowel structure. The bowels function as a kind of ‘second memory’ for traumas and long-term stress. People with CFS and other similar conditions often have a disordered eating attitude, due to which they will eat more, and less healthy, which often leads to overweight. Unhealthy food, such as sugar, but also artificial sweeteners, only increases the digestion problem. Artificial sweeteners may cause irritation in the bowels, especially when the bowel structure has altered due to stress. Furthermore, artificial sweeteners increase the appetite even more.
Rhodiola and phosphatidylserine are natural substances that help the body normalize its own condition by stimulating important neurotransmitters, both regarding the brain activity and the intestinal flora. By taking these two supplements according to the formula described in this book, you help your brain lift the blockade and clear out your body. In a matter of a few months, your body, which has paralyzed itself due to virtual viruses, will be freed from this zombie-like condition.
We remember emotions as images. The first thing that happens when you start taking rhodiola and phosphatidylserine is that this group of images is being organized, removed and replaced by neutral images. Your brain is being scanned and bad experiences are systematically being removed.
The sorting out and removing of images happens during our sleep. People who have been taking the supplements for some time will notice that they will have lively dreams and will wake up more often. The dreams are especially about the youth and childhood. The images that we dream about are attached to certain emotions that you have to let go to be freed of the psychosomatic complaints. By removing the emotion, the image will fade away as well. As these emotions are being released, the tension in your body will disappear. You will feel this in different areas, among which will be the muscles and the bowels.
After a few months, you will notice that the psychosomatic complaints disappear. Just think of digestion problems, excessive sweating, aching muscles, melancholy, … In a last phase, the exhaustion will also disappear. This takes some time, because the body will remain tired for a while longer, as it is working very hard on the inside during the stress reset. When the processing has been completed, the energy can be used for ‘external’ activities. Your personality will systematically change as well, you will feel less down, look towards life more positively and be more open to social contacts. In the end, this will benefit your social life.
Recovery of the intestinal flora
An important effect of the stress reset is the recovery of the intestinal flora, which causes a better digestion. With ‘intestinal flora’ we mean all the microorganisms that can be found in our stomach and bowels. We’re especially talking about the bacteria. A healthy, grown-up person has about 10 billion bacteria in their stomach and intestines with a total weight of 1 to 1.5 kilogram. Even though the composition is different for everyone, approximately 100 to 600 different kinds can be discovered in most people.
Food sensitivity, unhealthy living habits and long-term stress may have a negative effect on the health of the intestinal flora. Healthy food is different to everyone. However, what’s the same for everyone is the fact that milk and yoghurt lay a film on the bowels, which hinders the digestion. Milk in combination with foods that are difficult to digest, such as raw vegetables, may be the cause for a lot of problems.
The intestinal flora plays an important part in breaking down substances that are hard to digest such as tough fibers and long sugars and to produce amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins such as vitamin K. On top of that, a healthy intestinal flora helps to deal with traumas and long-term stress. The bowels are also responsible for producing hormones that influence your brain. For example, no less than 95% of the serotonin in your body is being produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin plays an important part in counteracting the symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that 35% of people with irritable bowel syndrome suffer from depressions and anxiety disorders.
A depression is a mood disorder that causes a loss of lust for life and/or heavy dysphoria, together with quite some mental and physical symptoms that change the life of the patient drastically. Depending on the severity of the type of symptoms of depression, a treatment with antidepressants may be appropriate. This is why we certainly don’t advise against it and recommend you to always consult a doctor first, in case you want to stop taking antidepressants.
On the other hand, the decision to start taking antidepressants is not to be taken lightly. Antidepressants may in some cases, just like sleeping pills, cause certain inhibitions to disappear. And this isn’t entirely without danger. A lot of testimonies were recorded of people who did things that they normally wouldn’t do while under the influence of antidepressants. Ironically enough, antidepressants increase the risk of suicide. For example, there have been car drivers who took antidepressants and who said that they felt the urge to crash their car into the wall when they drove through a tunnel. Antidepressants are also often at the base of overweight, which is also the case for other medicines made of cortisone and the contraceptive pill.
Data from the RIZIV (Belgian social services) have shown that the number of antidepressants being taken in Belgium keeps rising. In 2014, the number of daily doses has increased with 13 million compared to the year before. According to data from the Institute of Pharmacoepidemiology of Belgium (FEB), 314 million doses were prescribed in 2015, a rise of another 2.7% compared to 2014. If we compare the numbers of 2015 with those of twenty years ago, the number of prescribed antidepressants seems to even have tripled.
The Belgian Minister of Health Maggy De Block has confirmed once again in 2016 that antidepressants ‘are not always the best solution’ and has been looking into ways to convince doctors to prescribe less antidepressants. In the Netherlands, they already came to this insight a few years ago. Over there, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has decided to limit the reimbursements of antidepressants as of 2011, with which he hopes to attain a more efficient use. In practice, this means that for example people who only suffer from a mild depression will no longer have the right to be reimbursed for the antidepressants.
When you’re in a lot of pain, especially for longer periods of time, painkillers may seem like the only course of action. This is why most doctors will prescribe them rather easily and some substances can even be acquired at a pharmacy without a medical prescription. Because of this, you might conclude that taking pain killers is safe.
Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of experts, such as the German Migraine and Headache Society, advise not to reach for painkillers straight away. Ironically enough the use of painkillers can lead to habituation, which could exactly be the reason for chronic pain. If you do take painkillers, there is a general rule that says you can’t take the medicine for more than ten days a month, not more than three days in a row and not longer than three months. In case the painkillers are used for longer, there is a high risk of severe side effects such as chronic pain, tinnitus, irritable stomach and bowel syndrome and constipation. Furthermore, constipation causes extra pressure on the heart.
The problem with medicines is that they are used to treat a certain part of our body and to fulfill their task over there. Inevitably, however, other organs are also confronted with this medicine and its effect. The result of this are the so-called side effects. Actually, the term ‘side effect’ is not correct: they are all effects, causes of the same medicine. Especially the combination of different medicines can lead to dangerous and often unknown reactions that can even be fatal in extreme cases.
This is why we, in general, advise you to be careful with medicines. You might ask yourself the question where the border lies between medicines and drugs. A lot of pharmaceutical companies have promoted medicines for years that were later regarded as drugs. Alcohol and caffeine, on the other hand, are examples of legal drugs that consumers do not consider as drugs. Nevertheless, it has for example been proven that some people suffer from hallucinations after no less than four cups of coffee.
At the end of the 19th century, the pharmaceutical company Bayer developed the medicine diacetylmorphine. In 1898, the company registered this medicine under the brand name heroin. People though they had found a less addictive alternative for morphine, which was a very popular medicine at the time. In the end, however, it turned out that heroin was even more addictive. By now, everyone has agreed that heroin is a harmful, dangerous drug.
In military circles, the use of drugs, both as a pain killer or to heighten the endurance, is a very common practice. When the Germans invaded France at the start of the Second World War, they distributed no less than 35 million doses of Pervitin among the soldiers. The active component of this medicine is methamphetamine, better known as the very dangerous drug crystal meth. The allied soldiers, on the other hand, took speed. When American pilots fought in the Korean War five years later, they were also often under the influence of speed. A more recent example is that of American drone pilots, who are allowed to take the so called Go-pill, which is legal amphetamine, during their work. In Afghanistan, American soldiers use incredible amounts of Modafinil, a drug that increases wakefulness and concentration. And truck drivers in the Middle East use the drug Captagon, a medicine that doctors here no longer prescribe, to counter the effects of exhaustion.
Another poignant example of the sometimes very thin border between medicine and drug is methylphenidate, sold in Belgium under the name rilatine. It is prescribed by doctors and child psychiatrists for children who they think suffer from ADHD. It is supposed to help against forgetfulness, to increase concentration and to get impulsive reactions under control. It should make the patient calmer. However, it is also abused, for example by students who see it as a kind of magical performance pill during the exam period.
There are a lot of supplements on the market. Specifically people who have been dealing with vague complaints for years enjoy experimenting rather often with all sorts of different supplements. However, it is advisable to thinking through how to handle these supplements. They are not all equally effective and sometimes the use of supplements may cause stomach and bowel problems. The food supplements that are sold most often are all sorts of vitamin preparations that often have to compensate for unhealthy food and an unhealthy way of life. Sadly enough, they are not wonder drugs and the concentration of the vitamins is unnatural. The fact is that in normal foods such a high concentration of one substance or of some substances is very rare, which results, for example, in a possible risk of overdoses in some supplements. Because of this, side effects may arise such as nausea and fatigue. Another possible side effect of vitamin tablets: a lot of pills contain artificial sweeteners. These increase hunger, which increases the risk of excessive eating.
Another theory that has not been proven is that vitamin supplements protect us against cancer. In several studies, they barely saw a difference in the development of cancer in people that did or did not take multivitamin tablets every day. They did, however, prove that healthy, varied nutrition can reduce the risk of getting cancer by no less than a third, so says for example the Diet – and Cancer Report of the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund. Therefore, always consult a doctor before you take certain supplements and try to implement a healthy eating pattern and lifestyle.
The past few years there has been quite a fuss about the andullation mattress, a mattress in which there is a motor with a vibrating function and of which certain parts can be heated electrically. The therapy is said to help with a large series of conditions, especially muscle aches. It’s a painless method of treatment without requiring any medicines, which has already been applied by quite some physical therapists and hospitals.
An adulation mattress generates mechanical vibrations at a frequency of 25 to 50Hz. You can lay the mattress on a separate bed or on a massage table with a hard surface. Due to the twenty built-in motors and the infrared lamps, different programs can be hard-wired, depending on the application. Andullation therapy can help relieve certain chronic conditions, which can make the patients cut down on pain killers and which can improve life quality significantly.
The vibrations have a muscle strengthening effect and result in a better blood flow, metabolism and an enhanced immune system. Since our body cells start vibrating as well, the mitochondria are stimulated to produce more energy. For this reason, andullation can be a good addition to the combination of phosphatidylserine and rhodiola, as described elsewhere in this book. Clearing out the blockades in your brain during the treatment particularly temporarily requires additional energy.
In this regard, it should be noted that andullation does not have a healing effect for chronic, lower back ache, which is caused by infections or rheumatism of the vertebral column, metastases, fractures or pain such as the one that results from ailments of stomach organs. With a lot of chronic conditions, andullation therapy can form a good aid to reduce certain irritating symptoms. Typical for these conditions are a disturbed blood circulation, a reduced flow of lymphatic fluid and a badly functioning vegetative system (which can be noticed by the following symptoms: dizziness, sleeping problems and fluctuations in the blood pressure).
Apart from the known blood circulation, there is another bodily function that takes care of the transportation of blood through our bodies: the lymphatic system. It has fine branches across our entire body, through which the so called lymph (fluid) flows. And just like we have two blood circulations, we also have two different nerve systems: the somatic one, which is controlled by our own will, and the vegetative one, which operates autonomously, outside of our will. The combination of supplements suggested in this book supports the vegetative nerve system, as it cleans up unwanted drivers in our brain. To this, andullation also forms a good addition.
Talk to your doctor about it and let the andullation be carried out in a hospital or at a recognized physical therapist.
Typical for homeopathy is the dilution of the active component of a medicine to such an extent that it can’t even be measured anymore. Homeopaths claim that water has a memory and that a substance can become stronger when diluting it with water. Despite the lack of any evidence of this effect, even after all the countless studies that were conducted on the subject and the billions of euros that have been invested in the research, it is still a million-dollar business with a lot of people all around the globe resorting to homeopathy.
Only the placebo effect may be noticeable with some patients: because people really want to believe that it works, some complaints may diminish somewhat. And apart from that, there are of course certain conditions such as a cold that pass all by themselves in the course of a few days or weeks. As a result, the patient will ascribe this recovery unjustly to the homeopathic cure. Furthermore, homeopathic patients are advised to stop drinking coffee. Whether or not this could explain possible improvements during the period the medicine is being taken, has never been researched.
Former Nobel Prize winner Montagnier published a number of controversial studies in which he wanted to prove that water has a memory, which can retain data and information, even after it has been distilled multiple times. To homeopaths this was proof of the effect of homeopathy, but Montagnier himself denied that his findings were applicable on homeopathic medicine.
The American chemist Yvette d’Entremont was so convinced of the fact that homeopathy doesn’t work, that she took no less than fifty homeopathic pills at once in 2014. She reported that she didn’t feel a thing.
Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine and is based on the principle of ‘vital body energy’ or chi. This would run through fourteen meridians (channels) to all the important organs in our bodies. Illnesses are ascribed to a disturbance of this chi and acupuncture would be able to restore it. During a session, the person treating you will stick needles of stainless steel into the skin. This is said to help with conditions such as chronic muscle ache, migraine, problems with high blood pressure, impotence, deafness, stomach and bowel problems, addictions such as smoking, …
Up until today, there is no proper scientific evidence that can confirm the so-called positive effects of acupuncture. On the other hand, there are quite a lot of studies that illustrate that there were no improvements with patients who received the treatment. Furthermore, scientists warn people for the dangers of badly performed acupuncture treatments. These could go from fainting and local bleeding (because of perforated blood vessels) up to pneumothorax, spasms, damage to the nerves and even infections or hepatitis B due to using needles that weren’t sterile.
The National Council Against Health Fraud of the United States has conducted a thorough research on acupuncture. They have concluded that there is no evidence whatsoever that proves the positive effects of the treatments and that it is based on premises from the primitive medicine , which is not founded by the current scientific knowledge. To them, it has not been proved that acupuncture might remedy or alleviate any illness or ailment and that the effects that have been experienced and told about by people, outside of scientific experiments, are the result of the placebo effect.
General scientific health studies
Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB), http://www.vib.be, (e.g. studies of intestinal flora by Dr. Raes)
Hellhammer J, Fries E, Buss C, Engert V, Tuch A, Rutenberg D, Hellhammer D. “Effects of soy lecithin phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine complex (PAS) on the endocrine and psychological responses to mental stress.” juni 2004;7(2):119-26
Sakai M. , Yamatoya H. , Kudo S. “Pharmacological effects of phosphatidylserine enzymatically synthesized from soybean lecithin on brain functions”. J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol 1996; 42 : 47-54.
P. Monteleone, L. Beinat, C. Tanzillo, M. Maj, D. Kemali.” Effects of phosphatidylserine on the neuroendocrine response to physical stress in humans.” Neuroendocrinology 1990, 52, 243-248.
P. Monteleone, L. Beinat, C. Tanzillo, M. Maj, D. Kemali. “Blunting by chronic phosphatidylserine administration of the stress-induced activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in healthy men”. Eur. J. Clin. Pharmacol, 1992, 41, 385-388.
Zakir Ramazanov, Z. et. Al. “New secrets of effective natural stress and weight management, using Rhodiola rosea and Rhododendron caucasicum”. ATN/Stafe Goods Publishing, CT, 1999.
De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. “Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Juni 2004;14(3):298-307
Abidov M, Crendal F, Grachev S, Seifulla R, Ziegenfuss T. “Effects of extracts from Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola crenulata (Crassulaceae) roots on ATP content in mitochondria of skeletal muscles. Bull Exp Biol Med. december 2003;136(6):585-7.
Provalova NV, Skurikhin EG, Pershina OV. “Mechanism underlying the effects of adaptogens on erithropoiesis during paradoxical sleep deprivation”. Bulletin Experimental Biology Medicine. mei 2002;133(5):428-32.
Lishmanov luB, Trifonova ZhV, Tsibin AN, Maslova LV, Dement’eva LA. “Plasma beta-endorphin and stress hormones in stress and adaptation. Biull Eksp Biol Med.april 1987;103(4):422-4.
Brown R, Gerbarg P, Ramazanov Z. “Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedicinal overview.” Herbalgram. American Botanical Council. 2002;56:40-52.
Depression and antidepressants
Verweij G, Houben M. “Depressiviteit en antidepressiva in Nederland.” Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Den Haag/Heerlen. 2013.
Volkers A, de Jong A, de Bakker D, Van Dijk L. “Rapport over het doelmatig voorschrijven van antidepressiva in de huisartsenpraktijken.”, NIVEL. 2005.
Godart S., 1977, Etude de la microcirculation lymphatique dans divers tissus normaux et dans les brûlures, thèse d’agrégation, Faculté de Médecine, U.L.B, Bruxelles, 240 p.
Geysels Y., (1990), Contribution expérimentale à l’étude morphologique des procédés de régénération vasculaire par greffes de peau autologues. Etude microcirculatoire et lymphoscintigraphique, thèse d’agrégation, V.U.B. Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie, Institut Supérieur d’Education Physique et de Kinésithérapie, 161 p.
Lohman, E.B., Petrofsky, J.S., Maloney-Hinds, C., Betts-Schwab, H., Thorpe, D., (2007). The effect of whole body vibration on lower extremity skin blood flow in normal subjects. Med. Sci. Monit. Medical Science Monitor 13 (2), CR71–CR76
Maloney-Hinds, C., Petrofsky, J.S., Zimmerman, G., (2008). The effect of 30 Hz vs. 50 Hz passive vibration and duration of vibration on skin blood flow in the arm. Med. Sci. Monit. 14 (3), CR112–CR116.
© Carine Green and Beefcake Publishing
Cover Design Wannes Daemen
For years, the Antwerp born and raised Carine Green (34) has been suffering from physical complaints, for which she canâ€™t find a solution. Thatâ€™s when she meets a mysterious man, J.P. He claims heâ€™s able to help her. She meets up with him and, little by little, he shares his insight with her. Itâ€™s an insight that will change her life for good as well as the life of anyone who reads this book. The cause of pain, of being unhappy, is revealed and a solution is presented to deal with the physical and mental effects of stress and to use the resilience of your own brain to push the reset button.