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All month long we have been uncovering the histories of people with mental disorders. Many of the heroes of our articles were struggling with (self-)stigmatization.

Recently the initiative “The Cuckoo is Tired” appeared in Belarus, which tells the tales about mental health and helps not to face problems by oneself. “Not Today, Not Tomorrow, Not Tomorrow” talked with the “The Cuckoo is Tired” director Victorii Makey about the idea of the project, and also about its legitimate information.

– Hello, introduce yourself? What do you do?

– Hi, my name is Vika, I’m 29 years old. I’m Belarusian, but I live in Poland. I work as an IT manager, I organise exhibitions for my company all over the world. The company is Ukrainian, and coincidentally, all painful events in my life started from Ukraine.

– Since our conversation will be based on the (de)stigmatisation of mental disorders and your experience of living with them, how did it all start?

– I have been living with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia for a year now, and I would like to note that I do not agree with the diagnosis.

In 2021 I went to Georgia, I decided to divorce my husband, I had no job, I had little money, I had little rest. Then the war started and it hit my mental health hard.

Two weeks after it started I had a strong psychosis: in Tbilisi I was running in the street without clothes and gathering my friends for a party, imagining that I was in Minsk and thus saving Belarus from dictatorship.

I had complete derealisation with space and time. After that I was treated in a psychiatric hospital in Tbilisi, deep depression, 2 suicide attempts and another treatment in a hospital, but already in Krakow.

– Does the life of an “ordinary person” differ from the life of a person with a mental disorder?

I can’t name any global differences. Except that you need to take pills regularly, go to a psychiatrist, refuse alcohol, psychoactive substances and monitor your mental health. Realise and accept that there are mental characteristics, even if you don’t agree with a specific diagnosis. And remember that something can happen at any time, something that can throw you off balance, so it’s important to be and stay alert. 

It’s also worth adding that the diagnosis has helped me feel more unique. After all, paranoid schizophrenia is not diagnosed for everyone, statistically 4-5 people out of 1,000 have it. So when the diagnosis was announced, I was very surprised. I think I was diagnosed with it because of a joke I made in the psychiatrist’s office. I don’t remember exactly what he asked me, but I said, “Yes, I feel special and unique.” And added that I was chosen by Elon Musk for a super important mission, not sure what yet. He asked: “Are you serious?” and I said, “Yes.” That, I think, is what led to the diagnosis. I had no other symptoms, and in general, to “diagnose” schizophrenia, you need to be observed for 6 months, and I was observed only 4.

Vika, photo “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow”

– How do you feel now?

 I can say that I recovered and started to feel better. During the depression I was unrecognisable: I gained 15 kg of weight, did not take care of myself, dissocialised, did not want to communicate with anyone, distanced myself from all my friends. I thought I would never be able to work, because I didn’t know how to do anything, I constantly felt like I was being watched. It was hard, but I got over it.

– Usually people hide their diagnoses, but you decided to talk about it publicly and even created a project on this topic. How did you come up with the idea to create it?

– I’ve always been active and active in general. And when I see injustice around something, I immediately rush to it and try to solve the problem. More and more often I notice how people with mental problems suffer a lot and are stigmatised. They don’t know how to talk to their loved ones about their peculiarities, how to behave, or where to get help.

My project is a media project, it tells the stories of people with mental disorders, reveals their inner world and shows what it means to live with a diagnosis.

The idea came quite simply: I was looking for information on the internet and found out that about 1 billion people have mental health problems and some of them are stigmatised and afraid to seek help, especially in the post-Soviet space. Since I would not want to live in a world where there is discrimination and stigmatisation, I decided that it is important to talk about these problems openly and not be afraid to ask for help.

– What are your plans for the project?

– I want to grow into a media publication that will, in addition to telling people’s stories, also raise funds for their support, because every person with a mental disorder needs it. For example, people often become incapacitated for some time. We want this kind of donation to become sustainable.

We are now looking for people who are ready to share the story of their illness (we will interview them), as well as those who can take a survey, thus contributing to the study of the issue of mental problems

– There is such a term as self-stigmatisation. What is it, and what is it associated with?

– Stigmatisation is when you are discriminated against based on some characteristics, and self-stigmatisation is when you take some of those characteristics and apply them to yourself or think that they resonate with you and your condition.

Another characteristic of self-stigmatisation is that you only consider your own opinion and don’t listen to what you’re being told from the outside.

Self-stigmatisation is a very familiar concept to me. I was isolated from my acquaintances, loved ones for six months because I was ashamed of being in a psychiatric hospital.

Blamed myself for even working as a manager. Saying: “What am I? A manager? What do managers do? Nothing.” And so it was for six months. The support of loved ones who are nearby helped me a lot, and continues to help, they check and support. It’s also worth reminding yourself more often that this is a period that will pass.

Vika, photo “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow”

– How to weaken the levers of self-stigma and put less pressure on yourself?

– To me it helps to draw, to read, to dream. I am currently writing stories about my adventures, one day I dream of publishing a collection. Also art works, even if you don’t know how to do it, just consume it, dance, sing, listen.

The main thing is not to close yourself off from those people who offer help. Don’t put pressure on yourself, be open to the world and events, let them come into your life and take them; look for new learning opportunities (through books, talks, trainings, etc.), take on new projects working, let new people into your life.

– Do you think therapy should be present along with medication?

– When I was in a psychiatric hospital in Georgia, I had only medication, no therapy. The doctor came once a day, asked how I was doing, and that was it. He did not pay proper attention to my mental state, and the pills were not properly selected. No one asked me how I was sleeping, how I was breathing, how I was feeling.

The pills were strong enough, they put me in a bad state, and if there had been good therapy during my treatment, it would not have led to the terrible conditions I had afterwards.

– How should you behave with a person with mental health problems? Do you think there are peculiarities of behaviour?

– First of all, you need to realise that in front of you is also a person, with their own problems, their own experiences. It is important to try to be empathic and to know how the person himself relates to his illness. You need to gently guide him, talk about the importance of taking pills and taking care of yourself during this period.

– It is hardly possible to warn yourself against mental disorders. But maybe you have some techniques for self-control, self-calming, preventing acute episodes?

– It’s important to pay attention to sports, meditation, yoga, spending time with friends, work, and overscheduling. It’s important to remember about your diagnosis, that symptoms can show up even if you haven’t had them for a long time. One technique is to always do a reality check on what is happening. You can recite what you’re doing like mantras: I’m walking, I’m breathing, I’m lying down, etc. It’s important to feel in the moment. Because in a seizure, everything can be real, but you wake up in the Dallas airport:)