In the first of our #mentalstories Marija Novak (Ghostwriter name), a 25 year old, from Croatia reflects on her experiences in dealing with mental health difficulties from early childhood right through to university. Thank you, Marija for your #mentalstories.
Mental health… the first time I heard this term was when I was at university, which was also the first time that I learned that I have a generalised anxiety disorder with anxiety attacks. However, it started way before that, the first anxiety attack I can remember happened when I was 5 years old. My parents would take me to dance classes every week, but after we were introduced to a new trainer that yelled at us all the time I started feeling anxious before the classes and soon I started having full blown anxiety attacks, crying, shaking and uncontrollably throwing up every time they would take me to the studio. Back then it was just brushed off as me being ”too sensitive”.
Fast forward to high school, my anxiety got so bad to the point that I was having attacks almost every day. I tried talking about it to my parents and friends, but the only response I got was: ”You are just too sensitive and emotional, you need to toughen up.” It made me feel like I was going crazy like I was losing control over my life, because it was something that was happening to me almost on a daily basis, but no one could see it and no one understood. Finally, I had a nervous breakdown in school and they decided to send me to a psychologist, who to my surprise also told me I was just exaggerating and I just needed to toughen up. I spent nights and nights crying and trying to figure out what does it mean to toughen up, why am I so broken and weak that I can’t live like other people. Even though at this point I was going to therapy regularly, I couldn’t talk to anyone about my anxiety or the therapy because everyone just dismissed everything I said and thought I was just seeking attention. My therapist actually did, even more, damage, she didn’t explain what was happening to me and how can I deal with it, but rather tried to teach me how to toughen up, which made me close up and pretend that I was fine. The gap between how I was feeling and what I was showing just became too big after a couple of years and I broke down again, this time seeking help at the psychological counselling at my university with a psychologist I trusted. This was the best move that I could do because this therapist helped me understand my symptoms and taught me mechanisms how to deal with my anxiety and how to decrease the number of anxiety attacks. I would say that the topic of mental health is still a taboo in Croatia, and even from my experience if people had more knowledge about it, it would have been easier to get adequate help even earlier.
To anyone struggling with mental health: you are not alone and you are not broken or weak!