My painting during a creative therapy session (while living in Africa) shows me that my fire of anger is being balanced by the golden rain of peace: I feel that better times are coming for me

My name is Marijke Tops. I was born on 21 March 1979 and raised in the Netherlands. I am the eldest of three siblings. My journey with inquiry started while living in Africa. I went from suicidal to peaceful in a short period of time. This is my story. 

I am 31 years old when we set foot on African ground. My husband works as a forest engineer and is sent to Cameroon. I have never been in this continent before. I also have never not worked before. I don’t speak the language. It’s very hot and filthy. My ego is still my best friend. You might imagine that I wasn’t in the best place ever…

I’m bored and unhappy. Old traumas arise. Unconsciously I start to belief that getting a child would solve my problems. So now I want a baby, but my husband says “no”. After three years I resent everyone and everything. I hate my life, my environment and my husband. I need a break. I want to go home!

Lying on the couch in my mom’s house in the Netherlands a book on the bookshelf catches my eye. It is called “Who would you be without your story?” written by Byron Katie. I start reading the dialogues and a deep understanding washes over me: I am believing everything I think! I can choose to believe my thoughts or not.

From now I go through my days as if Byron Katie is sitting on my shoulder. When a stressful thought comes to mind, she whispers in my ear: “Is that true? Can you absolutely know that is true, my dear?” I am blown away by the simplicity and profoundness of that question alone…

Soon I am hooked to this method. That same summer I attend my first 9-day intensive School for The Work in Germany. And then, after four months… I go back to Africa and my husband…

This might sound unbelievable and if I wouldn’t have experienced it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it either, but my experience of life had completely changed! I came back and I couldn’t believe that I had lived there already. Everything felt different: the house, the people, the heat, my husband. Even my desire for a child has disappeared after investigating the thought: “A child will make me happy”. For the first five months I am absolutely in lóve with my life. I feel so strong. On top of it all, after a while my husband suddenly announces that he wants to have a baby with me. I am drifting on cloud nine. I am convinced that nothing ever could swipe me off my feet again. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come…

After being repatriated due to attacks by an Islamic terrorist organization in our area, we are sent to Benin, on the other side of Nigeria. In the mean time I experience my first malaria fever. As the stress around the terrorist attacks and the move have lowered my “I-got-this attitude”, I am attending my 2nd School For The Work. Again, I feel enlightened. This time for about eight months.

​Then I get pregnant. I burst open with joy and love. Life is just too good. I attend my 3th School For The Work, this time as staff. So good as I feel, so bad my husband feels. A combination of danger (his job is to protect elephants from being poached in a national park), fear and stress drives him almost insane. In my fifth month of pregnancy we are repatriated to the Netherlands. Although I am very sad for our pets that we had to leave behind, I am happy to be in the Netherlands. I enjoy being close to my family and seeing my husband relax more and more.

The last few weeks before the due date I don’t feel well. Attacks of high fever. We have left Africa three months prior, so a tropical disease is not in our minds. After two weeks I am so worried that I end up in the hospital in the middle of the night: malaria. How? The parasites probably hid in my liver. Anyway, the most important news: the baby is okay. Malaria can’t enter the uterus.

But my dream falls apart. I wanted a natural birth at home in bath. Now I am clinical. I have to give birth in the hospital while being monitored all the time. I am scared. I don’t trust the doctors. I don’t want this medical circus. I have no choice. During delivery the baby seems not to be doing well. A last call C-section follows. Our baby ends up in the incubator for two days. Everything goes so fast. I feel no emotions: no fear, no sadness and also no love…

This is the beginning of a deep fall in inferno. Our baby is doing better and better, but I can’t prevent myself from falling. I see it happening, I try to grab onto everything I have learned: Byron Katie, A Course in Miracles, Eckhart Tolle, Mooji, Reiki, meditation, mindfulness, affirmations, family constellation, biodanza, osteopathy, creative therapy, journaling, angels… My mind and body just do not cooperate anymore. Anxiety attacks follow. Everything seems surreal and unreal, I am disorientated, it’s like another entity took over. This isn’t me…

My painting during a creative therapy session on 28 March 2016: two months and one day after the birth of my son. I feel the storm of depression coming for me and I see myself slipping in an endless loop of madness. I am absolutely petrified.

Diagnosis: postnatal depression and fringe psychoticism. Solution: a lot of medication. On top of the fear and confusion now shame, anger and frustration are building up: “Why me?! I was doing so well! What in the hell did I do wrong to deserve this?!” Guilt comes later, when I start loving my son: How could I have wanted him gone? Regret follows: I missed his first year as a baby…

Then we move to Vietnam. Very slowly I start to feel better again. I attend a 4th School For The Work. And just before our son’s 2nd birthday I feel so good that I come off the anti-psychotic pills. Again a year later, I begin to wean off the antidepressants. Very slowly.

That is where I get an enormous relapse. Within two weeks time I find myself back in fear attacks and caught up in the crazy mind. This time, besides increasing the dose of antidepressants a little bit, I search professional help from a shaman/healer. Within a few months I am back on my feet. I follow mindfulness courses. I want to learn how to deal with myself when my mind and body get taken over. Still I experience fear attacks and I am no longer suffering from them. I just sit with them now, knowing that they will leave at one point. Trusting that everything is ever changing.

Another move follows: this time to Java, Indonesia. And finally, due to the Covid-19 situation, we move back to the Netherlands. This is here and now, and so this is where my story stops. For now…

For now, because life is unpredictable. It got me realized that we can’t foresee anything. And more importantly: I realized that life isn’t about whát you go through, but about hów you go through it. There isn’t a higher or lower life, a better or worse life. The challenges have helped me to appreciate my life. To enjoy the simplicity of it. I have given up asking: “Why?” The answer is just another story, because we never really know… Knowing is not helpful. I find more and more peace in the unknown. In the trust. In the surrender. In staying out of life’s business.

Categories: Uncategorized


Ray Heffernan · September 10, 2021 at 8:32 pm

Wow. Hiya Marijke! What a rich journey you’ve been on since last week spoke, I’m happy to see you phoenixed!


Michelle · November 4, 2021 at 10:31 pm

What a beautiful journey you have experienced. I am touched by the support you gave yourself all the way through it and I love your paintings…..

Cecilia Hollick · March 17, 2022 at 5:55 pm

Like you, I turned to all sorts of practices to cope with my bipolar fears – New Age, reiki, spiritual healing, crystals, Thought Field Therapy, past life regression, TEK, orchid oils. And it wasn’t until the Work found me four years ago that I turned a corner and began to accept myself as is.

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