Vesna Avramović: The lessons I have learned from Liceulice

Recorded by Dragana Nikolitic, Liceulice

I heard about Liceulice about five years ago, when the magazine was attempting to build relationships between the mental health services beneficiaries and their family members, and a group called Dusa [Soul], that I had become a director of sometime earlier. I wasn’t able to be involved in promoting Liceulice immediately, but as soon as I had some free time, I became a part of the team.

At the beginning, I experienced a particular kind of panic, which was caused by my personal health problems. Knowing that I have anxiety attack issues made me afraid of my own reactions – such as when I am rejected or when somebody is being rude to me – and, on top of everything, I’ve never had any confidence in my own communication skills.

Gradually, as I got more closely involved, not only did my fears lessen, but I also started understanding the broader mission of Liceulice. It is not just a magazine, even though it is so well-designed; it is about financially supporting marginalised groups and showing them the way to come out and be proactive. Selling and promoting the magazine brings vendors self-esteem and communication with buyers gives us opportunities to learn from each other. It gives me a chance to have a cup of coffee with someone, and also to make new friends. When I read the magazine, I also become aware of different socially engaging topics. Thus, I can really say that Liceulice has many facets.

Over time, I’ve developed a skill for talking to different individuals in a special way. As my anxiety lessened, I became more open ­– first of all with myself. Once I realized was able to do that, I was able to be open with others as well and the people around me became more open towards me too. Now, I smile at every potential buyer and they smile back at me. Even if they don’t buy a copy of the magazine, they do it apologetically. It’s nice to be nice and it’s all about exchanging positive energy with each other.

Nowadays, I can even crack a joke if someone is complaining about the price of the magazine. But people spend money on all sorts of rubbish! When you buy Liceulice, not only are you broadening your horizons, but you are also being humane. That is what I say to them! Sometimes, I lend someone the magazine to read for a week, under the condition that is has to be returned to me – but that has never happened!

One particular episode has stuck in my mind. I was selling Liceulice on Knez Mihajlova Street when I was approached by a girl in a wheelchair. She started talking to me in English. She wanted to know what I was talking about while I was selling the magazine, so I explained that to her. And she also bought the copy, even though she didn’t understand Serbian and even though she was in a worse situation than me. That episode was very moving.

Vesna Avramovic [Credit: Sara Ristic]

Speaking from personal experience, selling the magazine has revealed something that I was not aware that I possessed. I have a great sense of humour and my buyers react very positively to my humorous remarks. It has also helped me to control a certain pattern of behaviour from my childhood: I can now control my inner feelings when there by is conflict and not react in anger. Becoming angry is something that I won’t allow to happen, because it isn’t only about my personal reputation: it’s also about the reputation of the magazine.

I had my first severe anxiety attack during my first year at uni. After I finished secondary school, I enrolled to study world literature. However, I constantly doubted myself and didn’t know if I would be able to go through with everything. I dropped out of uni, even though I had passed several exams. Then I enrolled to study sociology and it all went swimmingly, until I started losing my concentration during the third year of my studies. I was overwhelmed with indifference, had a lack of willpower and suffered from irrational fears–fears that I had suffered from in their weaker form during my secondary school years. I was no longer able to follow the lectures and prepare for the exams, so I dropped out of my sociology studies.

That was when I realized that a person can have two personalities: one that is busy at work and the another that is completely absent-minded. I was a diligent worker when selling goods on Bulevar Revolucije Street, for example, but when I had to study, nothing worked. Later on, I was hospitalized at the Dragisa Misovic clinic, of which I have unpleasant memories. On the other hand, I can praise the conditions in the Dr Laza Lazarevic psychiatric clinic in Padinska Skela. I have been their outpatient for over ten years. There is a fantastic atmosphere there: I have met lovely friends and we talk about different topics, so it makes me feel that we are all part of a club that and we are not in a mental institution at all.

I met my life partner at the Laza clinic. He is my rock ­– apart from my mother and my sister, whom I live with. I live with my mother and sister because my partner and I can’t afford to live together. He has been supporting me from the very start. Back then, my mental crises were reflected in my physical state. I had neither the will nor strength to move on and he would come to see me every day: he would take me the arm and we would walk hand in hand, step by step. He offered to sell the magazine with me. I rejected his offer, because I knew that I was the only one who could confront my phobias and my fears and fight my inner conflicts. Mental health is precious to everyone and physical activity plays a massive part of it. I have been learning all my life long; that ability is the wind beneath my wings.

Translated from Serbian by Katya Ven-Vujetic