“My name is Vilma, I am 25-years-old and I am a small-town girl. I live in a beautiful country in the heart of Europe – Lithuania. I grew up with only my mom. She was left by her parents as a baby. My father disapproved of me being born and was never in the picture. To some people I looked odd and strange and their actions towards me made my mind anxious. Growing up I was bullied like millions of other kids. It wasn’t physical but it was daily and unavoidable. It happened playing with friends outside, at school or just by simply walking in the park. I felt threatened all of the time. We were also very poor. There were times when we struggled with food and bills. Sometimes we were on the edge of being homeless and my mom did all she could to provide for us. This took a toll on her. She had mental struggles of her own. The last thing adding to this three-course meal was constant bullying. It followed me from kinder-garden to school, from school to various work places. It shaped my understanding of self-worth and debilitated my ability to cope and deal with struggles in life.
Growing up was tough; always feeling threatened and worthless caused hysteria. I have some health issues and they started to show in my early teens. Attending school became difficult but keeping up with my education was even harder. It’s easy to fall into cycles. We don’t notice them at first and to get out of them we sometimes need help. Especially when we are kids. Our society still can’t overcome the image of happy, blissful red-cheeked children without any worries in life. We turn our heads to suffering teens more and more and it’s great, but we forget that mental issues stem from early experiences too. I was one of those kids. There was no one to look my direction during hard times except my struggling mom. I was uncomfortable being around my classmates and teachers. I knew that. It made me try to please people so they would accept me. But pursuit doesn’t always show confidence, on the contrary. And that is the beginning of a cycle. It expands and grows and often consumes us whole. Like thought patterns. My mom always repeatedly told me ‘this is just school, this will pass’, ‘you will laugh at this when you grow up’, ‘it is not that bad, it is all in your head’, ‘you overreact’. And let me tell you – you do not need anyone to validate your emotions. Nobody needs to make them look less important, less actual, less real. They are a part of all of us. You are not a villain for having them. People just don’t know how to help you, so they try to minimize what you feel to help themselves cope. That should not be the way.
Anxiety and depression are raw and chaotic, dark and overpowering. You feel hopelessness, worthlessness, hateful of yourself, wishing you weren’t you or that you weren’t here at all. This came to me when I was 10. I remember being outside with kids, playing this game we made up. Our yard had a small area not more than 7×10 ft of tiled surface. The rules were simple – one of us has to catch all others while staying on tiles. One time it just came to me that I was always the only one catching. It always sounded like ‘Vilma is the catcher! Everyone run!’ I was never allowed to run around, just to stay in that zone. They would never let me catch them. No matter if I did, they would say I cheated, that I did something and I deserve to be in that position. I understood right there and then that they are picking on me, that we are not regularly playing. After that it became clear I was always comic relief. My best friend at the time would treat me well while playing indoors but once we stepped outside, she would make fun of me all the same. No-one wants to be an outcast. Some of those kids became my classmates. This isolation continued throughout all 12 years of school. When we outgrew ‘let’s play outside’ stage they found other ways to show me ‘my place’. Me missing school due to often being sick, big ears and having curly unmanageable hair was mostly it. Fast forward to latter years I got a nickname ‘boar’ because of them. Bullying never got physical, but it was a constant cycle of ‘what are they going to say today?’ I started using my health issues as an escape and excuse. I faked being sick as much as I was. I missed almost 2/3 of two school years and my teachers never batted an eye. No one acknowledged this unusual behavior. No teacher defended me in a public humiliation. By the end of middle school my life felt surreal, tense like stretched out elastic. It felt hollow and dark. I thought ‘this will never change.’ But there is some beauty in all of this. It does get better with time. Later I found two of the most wonderful people – my best friend Dile and my boyfriend Ethan.
I remember my first chat with Dile on Skype. We chatted about homework and somehow, I sensed she wasn’t okay. That there was something darker about her than usual. Just a simple phrase ‘you know if you ever need to talk, I am here’ became the foundation for one of the strongest relationships in my life. This tiny amount of kindness sparked something beautiful. She felt safe and opened up, I opened up too and something very powerful bloomed between us. We still have this strong connection. Evolving and growing through the years it became a safe-haven for both of us. Support from someone you hold dear cannot be measured. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Of course, it wasn’t peachy forever. We went to different universities and my financial struggles got the best of me. For the first time in my life, after countless hysteria attacks, I experienced a full on panic attack. After that they became more frequent. I couldn’t keep up with studies. At that time, Ethan and I started dating. Our love story is not magical like in the movies, but our connection is real and true. Being apart felt wrong, loneliness kicked in again and I couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t remember much from that time, but I remember I started smoking heavily, eating junk food, drinking alcohol and almost never slept more than 5 hours. It felt surreal and I couldn’t keep my head above the water.
After dropping out I learned hard truths about life – finding jobs isn’t always easy. My insecurities and low self-esteem shined through my hard shell of self-deprecating jokes and my supervisors started the bullying wagon again. I was shouted at, threatened, I even got a ‘if you don’t suck it up, I will punch you in a face’ from one of my managers. Ethan wasn’t lucky with jobs either so we barely could make ends meet. Stress got so bad I started overeating and gained a lot of weight that I struggle with to this day. There were only a few things that helped me feel happier at least for a moment and food was one of those things. As well as heavy smoking and drinking. There was no explanation of why I was in such a deep hole. I was not aware I had any mental issues. I thought ‘this is just my life.’
Fast forward to last year when everything changed. It takes time to realize things. It takes time to change them too. I don’t smoke or really drink anymore, I am on the path of self-acceptance, love and healing. This came to me when I realized I am not allowing myself to heal, if I hold onto addictions. As I couldn’t work for others because I was always mistreated and underpaid, I started my own business. I found peace and serenity in my hobby and I am trying to make it into a living. It made me think, learn and pursue things that now make me not only happy but as wholesome as I can be. I collect crystals and make gemstone jewelry. Crafting became my therapy and my dream. I believe in healing powers of art and hobbies. With my work I want to spread one message ‘no one is healing you except you. You have a power to be who you are, not what others make you believe.’ I never sought help and never was diagnosed because I was unaware there was something misbalanced about me. After I did, I feared the stigma. Trying your whole life to fit in makes it very hard to pursue mental help. And I truly believe this has to change.
If you could gather anything from my story, I want to share a message that mental health problems do not have to come only from severe trauma, that it can be a gradual process, that it can be something we are born with, that it is a spectrum of human experience. It does not make any of us dealing with mental issues any how undesirable, unlovable, unable. On the contrary – it shows us the complexity of our minds and hearts, helps us to relate and overcome the biggest obstacles in life. Although it might look difficult, it is all in your hands. My dream is that we would be able to notice these things sprouting, not only to try to figure out how to heal them. That we would notice isolated, bullied kids, that we would give a helping hand to families needing our aid. Leaving kids to the elements is not growing their character. Love and education will. Leaving and forgetting suffering kids is traumatizing and harmful not only to them but to all of us. We are all one and together in this life. If we lift the suffering, demolish the stigmas, elevate the differences as well as similarities, we create a world for everyone.”
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