Katerina gives us an insight into her experience of growing up in Czech Republic, transitioning from an adolescent to an adult and being challenged by her mental health to the point of eventually getting a diagnosis…
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 21, however I observed the symptoms of this mental illness during previous two years. Before my diagnosis I hardly knew any information about bipolar disorder and mental illnesses in general. I regarded my mood swings as normal factor of every teenager while growing up. Although, I didn’t go through serious maniac and depressive periods, my mental illness affected my daily life and university and work outcomes.
The turning point came when I decided to go to Erasmus+ internship in Spain for 6 months. It was October and I found myself in a grave manic period when I was extremely active, with work and other activities. One day I ended up in the hospital because of the overall exhaustion and hallucinations I started to have. With support of my family, I realised I need to go home and start some specialist treatment.
In the beginning it was very difficult as I didn’t want to accept that I was mentally ill. Even though I was experiencing mania, having hallucinations and visions, I was feeling energetic, powerful and happy. I didn’t want to admit that this state is extraordinary and that I was not rational and “grounded.” I was feeling angry that my parents wanted me to stay at home and I was finding an excuse to come back to Spain and continue with my work. Thanks to my father, who took me to a psychiatrist (pretending it was a psychologist), I was told that I am suffering from bipolar disorder. It took some time but after few weeks of medication – “mood stabilisers” I stopped being in a mania and I accepted that I had a problem.
The first people who knew about my mental illness was my family. It took me some time to confide in to my closest friends as being mentally ill and visiting psychiatrist is kind of taboo in the Czech Republic and I was afraid that I could be seen as a fool or someone really strange. I was even afraid that I could lose my friends. After not being visible on social media as I used to be, I eventually started talking to my friends both in Czech Republic and abroad, who were accepting of my condition. Their first reaction was surprisingly positive. My best friend told me that it is not such a big deal and that I should take it as an opportunity to learn something and grow. Other friends commented it as they saw that something was wrong with me and that it is good that I have diagnosis now and I can handle it better.
My family were my main source of supporting during this difficult time even though it was not easy for them, as I wouldn’t accept it at the beginning, but I am so thankful they stuck to it and were constantly there for me when I needed them.
In the Czech Republic, mental health is much stigmatised. It’s actually a complete taboo. At schools it is not taught or discussed, expect for anorexia or bulimia. People see it as something unacceptable and tend to judge those seeing psychiatrists or even being hospitalised for their mental illnesses. The situation is improving– seminars and talks are organised at cafés or universities in bigger cities, but it is definitely not enough. The general situation does not support people with mental illness to deal with it.
To give advice to a young person struggling with their mental health, I would tell them not to be afraid. The best thing you can do is to talk about it and share the experience with others. Don’t think it’s the end of the world and try not to care about other people´s judgements. There are lots of us who are feeling the same way and people who love you, you are not alone.