“How I found myself” by Yulia Kos (Ukraine)

Once upon a time, there was a girl with blond hair and green eyes. She liked nature, was smart, and had a huge amount of imagination. She dreamed to be a daughter of a king or a powerful witch. She dreamed about a different world where the magic happened. Her imagination brought her into wonderful worlds, where she was loved and cared for.

Many years later, this girl, and I hope you already understand that I was referring to me, decided to make plans for her life. No more imagination, but real plans!

For many, traveling is an opportunity to find oneself. For me, it was a way to find a better job. At that time, I didn’t have any money or parents who could help me with my future, and I wasn’t a brilliant student to earn a scholarship either. Therefore, I thought that a good level of English and experience abroad would be a good point for me to start building my career. To meet these goals, I needed to find a program that would provide me with money to live abroad. It was one of many logical decisions I made at that time. In general, all decisions I made were logical or at least, this is what I thought.

My first project was in Turkey. We were 12 young people coming from all across Europe to work working with children, clean beaches, create different games to promote an ecological way of life and save sea turtles. From my room, I could see and hear the sea. But most of the time, I tried to hide from people and wanted to go home. The project was as interesting as it sounds and people were wonderful, so why on earth did I desperately want to run away? Why didn’t I like anything about this trip?

After two months in Turkey, I returned back to Ukraine in December to take my exams. In August of the following year, I went to a camp to work with a Romany community, and in October, I started a new volunteering program in the Czech Republic. It was my last year at university, so I somehow decided to combine not so interesting university with not so interesting volunteering experience.

From the beginning, I realized I would not like my work or people there. While trying to work hard, to participates in interesting activities, to be happier, and to be better., the only thing I didn’t think of trying is to have personal contact with other volunteers. I had many reasons for my behavior: because I needed to write my thesis, because I didn’t feel a connection with them, because I never was a lovely girl from next door.

In my mind, the next-door girl is my ideal. Mostly because she has everything that I never have had. She is easy to speak with, everybody like her and wanted to be around her. On the contrary, I’m not able to be easy. I always have some theories and reasons to be difficult. My family is not easy. Nothing in my life has been easy.

So, I wanted to be easy and getting better. To be honest, I had no idea that being easy is connected with getting better. Maybe I just didn’t believe I could be easy. But to be better, to achieve more, I thought travel sounded like a good idea.

I tried to enjoy different kinds of activities I usually didn’t like, I participated in an international conference in Vienna, I passed all of my exams with the best marks in my group, I hitchhiked around Germany and participated in a training for camp leaders, I was in an Erasmus+ training, I traveled to Malta, I even did a couple of my own small projects.

Nevertheless, it was only a list of actions. Lovely actions for which I could call myself a good girl for some time. Behind all that, there were months when I was crying every day at 4 am. I came back from work in a good mood, then I started crying hysterically and thinking about suicide, and then, after 40 min I was fine again. I didn’t want to go anywhere but made myself do so. I booked tickets and went to new cities where I stayed in hostels for half of the day. I could have done more. I wanted to.

But I was drowning. I desperately wanted someone to rescue me. I was crying, yelling, I didn’t know what is going on.

This year, I found that being in a relationship helps. But every one of my relationships was tragicomical. One of them changed me completely. I felt so bad that I started to talk. I started visiting other volunteers and speaking with my new friends. And it helped! It helped me not to go completely crazy. It helped me distance myself from the window, from which I wanted to jump, and it helped put away a knife from my wrist. I wasn’t scared by the suicide itself. I knew I wouldn’t do anything to hurt myself, maybe only with pills, but I didn’t have anything enough strong. This year was a year of waves. There were periods when I did things that made me look and talk like a grown-up, confident person. And other periods that were killing me. When I couldn’t breathe. When all I felt was loneliness. In the end, I couldn’t even cry anymore, I screamed without sounds. All my body was screaming. It was agony, after which I could finally find peace.

It was impossible for me to control myself. But the funny thing is that for others, I was arrogant. People who liked me thought I am very self-confident. Those who didn’t labeled me selfish. One boy, with whom I had had a relationship, told me I’m cold and can’t hurt myself. He was so sure about that, and I didn’t dare to argue.

My life in the Czech Republic finished with me getting sick. Now I know it was a psychosomatic disease. Rationally, I wanted to travel and take part in another work camp. However, my body decided the other way round. I came back to Ukraine and stayed in a hospital for a week. I had insurance, so I could stay at a very fancy private hospital.

In September, I made the first visit to a psychologist. I was calm, told her about the episodes and thoughts that I had had. In the end, she told me something that blew my mind: “For all of your life, you have repressed your feelings. The first time in your life you felt comfortable, had enough money to live, and had no one from whom you felt attacked physically or emotionally, your defense mechanism started going and feelings started to show up.” How could it even possible? I knew myself, I’m a grown-up human being. I’m sure of who I am. I make plans. I have rules for my whole life, I know my strong and weak sides. How is it possible that I have some stupid defense mechanism?

In the next couple of months, I criticized and argued with my therapist. At the same time, I learned how to talk about my feelings, how to understand and feel them. I needed a couple of relationships, six months of therapy, one workplace change to understand that I had been feeling anxiety and fear almost all my life. I understood it all of a sudden.

It is the same fear I felt a long time ago when we had been hidden from my father under the table. When I could not run because my mum decided to sit there for hours and wait until he would either go to sleep or attack her, because I was too small for the corporal “punishments.”

It was the same fear that I felt around my drunk family members or men that my mum brought to my life in a selfish desire not to be alone. It is fear, my fear. It was staying with me for all my life.

And I realize that it was burning me from inside out. I could not breathe. I ran to my psychologist with a plea to help me. My controlled mood became uncontrolled. I took a decision not to continue with my life if I didn’t feel better. Around me, there was only loneliness. At that moment, I did not realize that my life can also be good and happy. I wished all the best to my friends. I wanted them to be as happy as I couldn’t be myself.

I decided the next step for me would be to go to see a psychiatrist. I had thought about it before, but the idea of hearing some bad diagnosis, to hear that I needed pills scared me. However, at that moment, I didn’t care. I already felt so bad that I didn’t care who would say what. I longed for feeling at least bearable. Not even good. Just bearable.

Shortly after the visit, the doctor told me I had high anxiety and he could describe me antidepressants. They would help to put away my suicide thoughts. So I started taking them. But it was a difficult decision. I felt perfectly fine with the fact that I was going to the psychotherapist. It was a sign that I was working on and developing myself. But the pills are proof that I’m a bad person. It’s was like a failure.

I don’t think I need to go into detail to explain why I became like that or whose fault was it. Life just happened the way it happened. What I really want to say is that I decided to feel better. And this is the reason I’m writing my story and sharing it with you.

When I was 24, I decided to spend my time and money for psychotherapists, because I didn’t want my moods to be badly controlled. At the age of 24, I decided to take antidepressants because I put away stereotypes and didn’t want to see only darkness any longer.

When I was 24, I decided to live. Not because I needed to. Not because my dead body would make someone unhappy. But because I wanted to.

When I was 24, I felt how it was to live a life without anxiety, to not be scared, to not feel a heavy lock near my heart. I felt the way I should have felt all my life.

Antidepressants are not magical. They didn’t bring rainbows and unicorns into my life. I’m not always happy and hugging everyone. From time to time, I can be happy, angry, sad, and scared. In fact, I feel scared at this very moment. I’m not sure about my career and my future. I have many doubts. But I’m not in the agony and I don’t feel trapped anymore. I can breathe and be the girl with blond hair, green eyes, and a huge amount of imagination.


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