I survived a war as a child, but life doesn’t owe me anything

This First Individual column is written by Nadja Halilbegovich, a writer and child survivor of the Bosnian War who moved to Canada in 2002. For additional info about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ

as the pandemic enters its third yr and not using a indication of wrapping up, i will be able to style a familiar cocktail of dread and anxiousness made more sour by the truth that another yr has begun. i have been compelled to guzzle down this foul cocktail prior to, at 13, 14, and 15, every time ringing in a new yr at the same time as dwelling underneath siege in my native land of Sarajevo.

I’m Going To admit to one thing proper off the bat: Having lived via a war as a child, having been wounded at 13 and compelled to escape my usa on my own at SIXTEEN, I THOUGHT life owed me a string of non violent decades. Certain, I’d need to face challenges which are an inevitable a part of lifestyles equivalent to an damage or an sickness, the lack of my oldsters, in all probability monetary or marital struggles, but someplace in the mystery annals of my thoughts was once the next narrative: i’ve suffered enough. For Sure, life wouldn’t placed me thru any other huge-scale, cataclysmic experience.

Cue the pandemic.

Like many others, my losses have been various and numerous, starting from painful to simply inconvenient. Two of my loved ones died from the virus, while a dozen others suffered, however pulled thru. i have not travelled, hugged a chum or eaten inside a cafe for two years. but the such a lot insidious damage of all has been the attack on my psychological health and my already hyperactive amygdala, which even before the pandemic instinctively clocked threats, both large and miniscule, with breakneck precision. The pandemic simplest gave me more reason why to revert to the ever-cautious siege mentality which i’ve labored so arduous to subdue.


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IN THE fall of 1992, I spent weeks wilting interior as explosions thundered all around us. In Spite Of Everything, an extraordinary non violent October morning lured me outdoor for only a couple of minutes of crisp air and sunshine. All At Once, an artillery shell exploded most effective a few ft away. A hail of searing shrapnel sprayed both of my legs. What adopted had been weeks and months of painful healing. At 13, I needed to discover ways to walk once more with the assistance of my ski poles, due to the fact crutches have been briefly provide. 

Soon, the first iciness of the war descended upon us, and unbeknownst to any individual, I had some other secret narrative taking part in inside my thoughts: No Doubt the blanket of snow will act as a cushion for any mortar that hits the ground. The carnage will forestall and we will all be secure again! It sounds absurd now, but for a kid it used to be a powerful narrative which helped me push in the course of the recovery and summon the courage to stroll outside once more. i used to be a wounded fowl, spooked by the smallest sound, but by some means trusting that life would be kind. 

I survived a war as a child, but life doesn't owe me anything

the duvet of Nadja Halilbegovich’s diary that she revealed as a 14 year vintage living in Sarajevo under siege. (Nadja Halilbegovich)

The First time I noticed deep scarlet splatters towards the sparkling snow, i stopped lifeless in my tracks and watched the closing remnants of my youth melt sooner than my eyes. For a moment, I grieved my loss, but in addition for the unknown passerby who should have been struck through a bullet or some flying shrapnel. In the next a long time, I’ve had a lot of other illusion-dispelling realizations, even though none as dreadful as that speckled trail. 

in this pandemic, as the reality was more unhealthy and unsure, I felt tangled in anxiousness regardless of taking each and every precaution. I pay attention myself narrating the entire time: that is not safe. Cautious! Test that again. Wipe this again. Wash your hands another time. Don’t cross there! Why is this taking place to me? i may die. My family may die. On and on it plays, once in a while smartly into the night, robbing me of sorely-wanted sleep. 

i have made nice efforts to challenge stale and manufactured narratives that misinform me, hurt me, or at their such a lot benign, now not serve me. it’s very tough as a result of many of those self same narratives played a life-saving role through the war. In View That I Could Not watch for when a mortar shell could strike or a sniper may crackle, being wary — even being overly cautious — used to be a way to outlive. After being wounded and figuring out i may have simply been killed, my brain realized from the trauma and went into protecting overdrive. Possibly it even stored my lifestyles on greater than a few events — that I Will by no means recognise. 

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What I do understand is that alternatively many parallels there are between a lifestyles underneath siege and a existence in a pandemic, it’s merely not the similar. The re-emerging narratives of conflict keep announcing: “you see, I advised you not to chill out, the arena is bad, people are dying,” however those handiest tangle me deeper into nervousness and make an already demanding enjoy even more onerous.

there’s a technique i exploit nearly on a daily basis. It Is known as bad visualization and in the beginning it sounded like it would make my anxiety worse, not higher. It’s different for everybody after all, however i have found it useful. I take a seat for a few minutes and write out a unmarried page with one-sentence situations that may have came about or that experience took place to other people i know, or other people I Have heard of. I all the time get started like this: “i may be lifeless. i’ll have by no means been born.” Then, I proceed with more than a few statements: “i may have died during the siege. i may have misplaced my legs. i’ll had been wounded more than once. i could had been orphaned.” I let myself fill the page: “i may be within the hospital at this time, waiting for check results and getting a foul analysis. i may be hungry. i may be homeless”. 

I survived a war as a child, but life doesn't owe me anything

Nadja Halilbegovich, age 18, is pictured together with her parents after she returned to Sarajevo for a visit. (Nadja Halilbegovich)

After I end writing, I learn the whole thing out loud ensuring those eventualities in reality sink in. I in brief believe what it would be love to live them. These fates may have so simply struck me. as an example, i may were wounded more than as soon as. in truth, my neighbour, a girl a bit older than i was back then, was once wounded two times. After transferring my standpoint in this means, i am full of gratitude, now not dread. i’m wakeful and conscious of how fortunate i’m.

For a couple of moments, I contemplate the truth that for every trail of loss and harm i’ve had to go back and forth, there had been and always are, innumerable different thornier paths, of whose sharp pricks and brambles i have been spared and for which i’m immensely grateful. My gratitude is not simply for the nice and the pleasant in my existence, but also for the absence of the limitless hurts and sorrows that could had been mine. 

Now I consciously replay a new narrative in my mind: Lifestyles doesn’t owe me the rest. no matter how much ache I Have experienced or at what age, for every story of loss or tragedy there’s another persisted via another person which is similar or worse. And even supposing our catch 22 situation steadily feels unique, it’s by no means singular in that ‘lifestyles has it in for me’ type of approach. it’s merely the tale of being human. 

If i’m lucky sufficient to be alive decades from now and will look back on this pandemic the best way i will glance again on my formative years under siege, i hope i will be able to feel as proud as i’m of the resilient child who noticed and felt on her personal soft flesh the darkest, most painful truths of existence, however who nonetheless believed that life may also be sort. As A Result Of in so many ways it used to be — and it is.

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