A Trip Gone Wrong: Snow White and Several Personalities
Couchsurfing in North Macedonia, witnessing a melancholic love story.
Disposition. Intelligence was alive as this person succeeded in high school and then university. But it all went wrong. The “old” self went through “transition” into the “new”. I suspect, triggered by an overdose of a psychedelic drug, everything had to be reconsidered. Being predisposed to a personality disorder, more likely to show its effects in its early adult years, triggered by a drug trip, and coinciding with post-study misdirection and the extreme control of parents, the “new” man became ‘Michael’.
Michael. Transcending gender binary, is now ‘they’. Michael “doesn’t believe in education”, and doesn’t talk about whether he went to school or not. He doesn’t talk about his parents. He doesn’t believe in age. He doesn’t believe in politics or religion, although he has fantastically transcendental ideas.
Girlfriend. A lovely girl, dealt the worst cards in life. Father dying to heart disease before puberty, and mother’s mental issues triggering a later suicide when she was going through school. She didn’t finish school. She lived with her uncle, in a giant dishevelled house. Her other family in the USA and Australia tried to help her leave Macedonia, but quickly gave up. Depression falls on her for years.
Hospital. A deep depression leads her to hospital. An existential mental breakdown that no one today can actually describe or remember put the man in there too. The two meet and fall in love. The reborn ‘Michael’ also names his girlfriend ‘Snow White’. His ideology of forgetting the old self suits her, given that her life before they was so horribly traumatic.
Trauma. Despite their issues, she’s attracted Michael, probably because his personality disorder partly reflects her late mother’s. She becomes fully attached to Michael. Unfortunately, Michael’s mother’s control is reflected and applied to his own relationship with Snow White. Both, after being dealt bad cards, have issues passed on from one generation to the next. As “new” people, coming out of hospital, Snow White and Michael enter the world. He helps her form a few identity. This is enforced through forcing her to forget her old self. While admirable, he forgets that she didn’t experience the same drug-induced trip, nor possess the same mental patterns.
Deeper. Michael’s successful parents’ disapproval of their new relationship, overlooking the fact that the two literally complete each other in both pain and love, plus being paired with his mental desire to rebel from (or transcend) any form of social conformity or pressure, results in Michael and Snow White living away from Michael’s parents house as much as possible. This is because those parents are the knife trying to break a relationship borne through healing trauma, even though it may appear that they’re both bringing one another downhill. In fact, the knife of their rejection is so painful, that Michael completely disassociates themself from the parents, thus referring to them as housemates. Furthermore, the couple now live in her uncle’s house, for protection from the mental anguish of the parents. Snow White’s mental freedom comes through remembering the kindness of Michael’s parents. However bad they seem to be, having them is better than having none at all. But she keeps this thought a deep secret.
Cold. Living alone is difficult for any young couple, especially when both have mental disorders, and one refuses to both study and work. The system is what hurt Michael, so he must stay away from it at all costs. Their first winter together in the uncle’s house was joyous. A warm heater with the safety of each other’s company. But the bills became too high, and without work and only social benefits of €100 per month, they couldn’t pay. The power was shut off. And so in that most recent horrible winter, they lived in the cold. They preferred to endure winter’s snow in a derelict house without electricity, because if they asked the parents financial help, they’d certainly be shocked into not allowing them to stay in such bad conditions. Because for sure, if they no longer have this old run down house, their relationship couldn’t survive in the other one.
Application. The couple and I visit their friend shortly after we met. This woman’s mother died last year, and she got pregnant by a local drug dealer, and her house burnt down, all during covid. Michael and Snow White drink energy drinks as we sit chatting; the caffeine has no effect on Michael’s skinny white figure. It’s nearly midnight and they excitedly make coffee. They smoke. No, they need to smoke. Repeatedly. Caffeine and tabaco are not enough to quench their anxiety, that grows slowly by the day. But at least they’re no longer depressed, right?
Repression. When Michael goes outside to smoke, Snow White tells me some of the secrets I’m telling now. She knows her life is no longer normal, but she loves him. The narrative of “old” Michael is like a ghost in the conversation, mentioned frequently but without detail, because one knows his former self. “Michael doesn’t like me saying this”, she says constantly as her anxiety is as palpable as her physiological response to it. The psychological defence mechanisms all make sense. She says, “I think he might have a personality disorder”. In utter seriousness and validation, I warmly say, “I think you are very very smart to realise that”. After chatting some more, we return to their home.
Reflection. For them, despite the unbearable cold of winter, the snow remains white. It purifies, it freezes, it hibernates, their past. And when the warmth of summer comes, and the Macedonian people fill the streets to thaw their minds, the melancholic couple remain inside. For they come out only at night. And even then, Michael still wears a hoodie and gloves to cover his skin.
Me. Here I am in the cold derelict house. More filthy than any abandoned home I used to investigate, ironically with a fellow Macedonian friend, in Melbourne. I sleep on a couch whose blanket hasn’t been washed in years, in a kitchen whose floor has bits of old food left rotting for months. I wrap my emergency towel around my legs and feet so they don’t touch the blanket. I put my head on my other towel pack as a pillow, instead of using the mouldy one provided. To sleep, I even wear the sweaty clothes I used hitchhiking yesterday in the 30° heat, for their dirtiness covering me somehow made me feel clean amidst the environment I was in. Last night I briefly visited the lovely couple’s room; they invited me to stay and chat, but the coldness and dirt within that room itself triggered me to want to sleep in the kitchen. I feel uncomfortable, but also grateful, as I try to remember that they were here last winter, in filth and snow. I’m so lucky.
Here. I’ve joined their lives for a little bit of time, and they’ve given me all the kindness they can afford. A whole room to myself, the cleanest one too. As an outsider, the girlfriend sees me as a source of safety to divulge information. She’s so honest and has no desire to hide the blotches in her life, I was nearly brought to tears multiple times. I hope my inquisitiveness instead of denial, and words of validation, helped her. I hope my expressions of appreciation made Michael feel like he’s doing something good in this world.
Couchsurfing. In a way, this is the best and worst experience I’ve had. They’ve given me everything they have, which is almost nothing, including the trauma of their lives. I’ve also met their friends, so kind, but completely stuffed up from drugs. And I’ve slept in the worst conditions in my whole life, on my first night in The Balkans. I don’t know how I’ll write them a reference, because other travellers must know what they’re getting themselves into.
Reference. “Michael and his girlfriend are incredibly kind people. But their lifestyle and home may not suit everyone, particularly those who like comfort and cleanliness. If you just want a place to relax, their home is not for you; if you enjoy meeting beautifully unique and alternative people whose ideas and lives show you a new side of life, you’ll be very satisfied in their company. I’m very grateful to them for welcoming me so warmly.”
Leaving. I’ll leave now. I want to go to the next city and shower and fast as possible in my accommodation. I hope that my presence in their lives reminded them of the kindness of reality, so that they don’t need to depend on video games on psychedelics for healing. How selfish of me to leave. But could I really do anything to influence their path? Maybe they just need acceptance and kindness, without judgement.