I was born in Croatia, where I lived until 1991 when the war broke out. It was then, when I was 16, that I became a refugee, moving with my family to Serbia without anything more than the clothes I was wearing.
As a refugee, my teenage years were soon filled with shame, sadness, and a struggle to live. My family was living in a house made in World War II out of adobe, with just two bedrooms and a kitchen. I remember the sound of mice and cockroaches scurrying throughout the night and the encroaching sense of poverty.
I struggled to accept my social status, in which basic human needs were not only unmet but nonexistent. I was ashamed to bring my friends over to see how I was living. It was hard to watch my friends enjoy their school years while my family struggled with money, depending on the Red Cross and similar organisations to provide us with the basics we needed to survive. I couldn’t join my friends on school excursions because we didn’t have the money. I missed my school formal for the same reason.
I would become so distressed at times that I would cry night after night and pray for life to change. My thoughts were very dark, and sometimes I wouldn’t leave my room, out the shame and humiliation I felt that I couldn’t live like my friends. At the time, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what I was thinking and feeling, because I felt like no one would be able to relate to my situation.
In the midst of that depression, it felt normal to be sad and lonely, and I never sought professional help. I had learned not to deal with my feelings.
Emotions were thought of as transient, something that comes and goes. After winter comes spring, and after the rain comes the sun. So I didn’t spend much time considering my emotional state.
As a result, I was easily agitated. I worked very long hours, thinking it would help me forget my struggles, but it only made me more tired, which in turn made me feel worse.
When I lost a close family member, I found myself at a breaking point. I really started to think, “Is life worth living?”
In addition to losing someone so close to me, I just hadn’t realised how all of the emotional trauma of my childhood and teenage years had been building inside of me.
One day, a friend who I met very briefly asked me, simply, “Are you OK?”
That one small question eventually led me to seek professional help. Admitting that I needed help to deal with my emotional trauma was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
All my friends know me as a strong and capable person, and I was worried about what they would think of me. But I knew it was time to stop burying my past, to stop thinking that I would be OK as long as I just kept pushing myself and not letting anyone know what was really going on.
Getting professional help has changed my life in so many positive ways. I now know that it’s OK to talk to people—especially your friends—about your feelings, both good and bad and that it’s not OK to bottle everything up and try to deal with distressing life circumstances on your own.
I hope that by sharing this small part of my story here on the blog today, I can encourage others who may be struggling emotionally to reach out to the people around them and, most importantly, to seek professional care.
This national suicide prevention campaign aims to encourage and inspire all of us to reach out to family members, friends, work colleagues, neighbours, and even strangers, and ask three simple but powerful words: “Are you OK?” It’s a conversation that can be life-changing and even life-saving.
You can find out more about “RUOK?” Day campaign and organisation by visiting the “RUOK?” website at www.ruok.org.au. The website contains advice and information about starting and dealing with an “RUOK?” conversation and has links to professional and expert counselling, support, and crisis intervention services such as Lifeline (13 11 44).