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Maya left Belarus when she was 17. In Poland she first encountered depression, and at 27 she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after the death of a loved one. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked to Maya about overdose, “broken heart syndrome” and how to fight addiction.

Maya, 29

I was diagnosed with depression when I was about 20. At that time I was already living in Poland: I came to study a few years ago and stayed in this country.

My condition was characterised by severe fatigue, it was impossible to concentrate on work or study, I didn’t want to do anything. Over time I learned to live with depression. I think that it was impossible to be immune from it. I am a very impressionable person by nature and do not know how to survive difficult moments.

However, my mental state seriously deteriorated after the death of my boyfriend. It happened two years ago. I stopped eating, was constantly taking medication to calm me down and didn’t want to do anything else. I stopped leaving the house. The only way out was to go to a psychiatric hospital. The reasons were many: depression, addiction to medication and an unstable emotional state after experiencing a very difficult loss.

I liked the hospital itself: it reminded me of a sanatorium. There were almost no psychologist sessions there, just medication given. There was also strong support from other people who were in the hospital. Guys and girls were in the same ward, as is not surprising, and there was also a vegan menu. The attitude towards patients was normal, professional. I remember wanting to manipulate the doctors into giving me more pills, but they wouldn’t give in to my provocation. Then I started to freak out, but now I realise that they did everything right and I do not hold grudges.

Maya, photo “not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

It so happened that I was discharged from the hospital and two days later I had an overdose of psychoactive substances. I ended up in toxicology. While I was lying there, a psychologist came to see me – she thought that my overdose was made by me on purpose after the loss of a loved one. But it wasn’t, it was just a coincidence.

People with overdoses often got into toxicology, they lay there for a couple of days and were discharged. But I was there for almost two months. Seven days after I was admitted to the ward, my heart stopped. They were able to resuscitate me. I’m even grateful to fate that I ended up in the hospital with an overdose because I was in a place where they were able to help me. If it had happened on the street, I would have died.

I have been diagnosed with broken heart syndrome. Yes, there is such a diagnosis, it’s true. It’s also called Takotsubo syndrome. (This disease was first described by Japanese scientist Hikaru Sato in 1990. The syndrome is characterised by the sudden development of heart failure or chest pain, combined with ECG changes characteristic of myocardial infarction.) This syndrome occurs after serious life shocks, as in my case, because I lost a loved one. Well, the overdose did its part. After I was brought back to life, I felt grateful to my guardian angel (the psychologist kept saying that I was guarded by a magical being, which I laughed at, but eventually accepted this theory – why not).

I think that psychoactive substance overdose is a frequent problem in Poland. I remember people coming up to me on the street, I tried to tell them I didn’t need help. But still they didn’t leave me – strangers called an ambulance. It wasn’t myself, it wasn’t my friends. So I myself, when I pass by a drunk person, try to talk to him, to see if I can help him. And I am sure that in Poland people are interested in the condition of other people on the street. If a person needs help, in most cases they will give it.

Maya, photo “not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

The calmness, the care of the hospital staff, understanding that there are relatives who support me, lack of access to psychoactive substances and alcohol – all this was good for me. When I got out of toxicology, I felt better. I stopped smoking cigarettes, I lost weight and I felt good for a while, which was reflected in my mental health as well. So when I left the hospital and got on the streetcar, I almost cried with joy.

As I said, I’ve had depression since my youth. But it’s always related to the intake of psychoactive substances – such a remark. I have “depression caused by substance use” written on all my certificates. I feel that way, some people tend to be more prone to depression, because some people find it harder to cope with life. Some people can cope with certain problems, but for some people it will be a crash. I think that has an impact. And the same factors affect addiction as well. I am a vulnerable person and also more prone to addiction than some people I know. Why does addiction develop around psychoactive substances? Because substances are better than sports and sweets:) that’s what drugs are for, to stupefy, it’s very simple. And maximalism also influences: the nature of an addict is that he needs everything at once. To feel the effect of sport or quality relationships takes time.

Now I’m feeling good about my addiction, I’m eight months sober. And I stay sober thanks to going to Narcotics Anonymous groups. Working through the steps and being around people who understand this problem and have faced it before really helps. There they teach by example how you can stay clean and sober, even if it’s hard. In this community, I am understood, loved, and appreciated. And even if I stumble, I can go back there again. It is a very valuable place that I have found for myself and I am grateful to have it.

NA is not a religious organisation, the word God is used in the program, but there is always a disclaimer that by the word God we mean some higher power, however we imagine it. The first step of the program is to accept the powerlessness in yourself. By accepting powerlessness over addiction, you are saying to yourself something that there is a higher power stronger than you and you can’t control everything.

Maya, photo “not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

I think this is a program of stepping back from your selfishness and the belief that you are the centre of your world and the centre of the world at large. Many people who go to NA  don’t believe in God, don’t go to church. But that doesn’t stop them from using the concept of a higher power when prescribing steps.

NA, first of all, is a self-help group, where people with the same problems will understand you and accept you. They share their experiences of recovery from addiction. It is a spiritual program, but it is not religious, because by prescribing the steps and participating in meetings, we regain the spirituality that we lost by using. Helping ourselves to become a little better, a little more honest, a little kinder and less petty. We try to get rid of our shortcomings.

There’s a basic technique: if you want to get high, you sit down and write down what you’re going to do when you get high. Point by point. And most often, if you write it out on paper, there are not the most interesting activities. With a sober eye, you can look at all the pros and cons, answer yourself the question, Do I really want to air out the next five hours in a desk, for example. Or will I stay sober and get on with my life normally.

I have had attempts to stop using on my own, due to willpower, but it didn’t work. I’m an addict and I don’t know how to stop. I guess there are some people who can occasionally use something at a rave or eat mushrooms in the forest, but I can’t do that. I immediately fall into the vortex of using. It leads me to huge losses: health, friends, relationships, reputation, money. Everything there is to lose, I’ve lost more than once. At some point I realised I didn’t want to live like that, I’de lost everything. And staying clean, I noticed that it’s not scary at all to live sober. On the contrary, it’s a cool new experience, I love it.

And if you compare the desire to use to a flame, it fades with time. But without a group no fuc**** way, it’s impossible to quit on willpower, without support it’s unrealistic for me. I feel no remorse for being addicted or having a diagnosis. The only thing I feel ashamed of is that I hurt my family members with my addiction. I was also very ashamed of myself for some of the things I did. But now I have accepted what they were.  I realise, I did them, but I also realise that I am prone to illness and I didn’t do them sober. Realising this helps me not to blame myself. I try not to offend my family with this behaviour anymore. So far, it’s working.

Maya, photo “not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow”

I believe there is nothing wrong with using medication as support for an exacerbation of a disorder. My mom and I have a conflict about this topic. She thinks all this medication is poison, antidepressants are for suckers. In their youth, no one took pills and, look, everyone grew up. It’s classic. But I think it’s better to get medication, than to end up in the abyss, or go on a bender, or physically harm yourself. When the depressive phase comes, people can behave quite inappropriately. So I think that the good and the effect that pills give is much higher than the fact that you decide that you are going to get out on your own and treat yourself with chamomile.

And because my depression was caused by taking psychoactive substances, now that I stay sober, I notice that many of its manifestations have left me. Such as anxiety, panic attacks, fear of society. Many of the symptoms no longer bother me. I now work and take care of dogs as a pet sitter. I also go to dance and walk 10km during the day. For the last two months I have been reducing the amount of medication I am on. By the end of the summer I will try to stop at all.