Expat interview: How I knew I needed mental health support
How do you know when you need professional assistance?
Many people aren’t sure how bad things need to get before they start seeking treatment.
The reason for this is that the trademarks of stress, i.e unclear thoughts, a short temper or feeling overwhelmed, are pretty common and tend to go overlooked.
When unseen and unmanaged, this underlying stress can actually show up in our bodies- signaling its presence in ways we can’t miss.
One example of such a case is Eliška, an expat who began therapy after moving to the Czech Republic. We sat down (virtually) with her to share her experience. Here is her unique story of how good stress management has improved her quality of life.
What led you to go for therapy?
Eliška: After moving here I started experiencing strange physical symptoms which disrupted all aspects of my daily life. It interrupted my sleep, my work, my leisure, and thus constantly was on my mind. It was extremely distressing and so I spoke to a doctor about it, hoping for a straightforward treatment that could fix it.
The doctor told me it was a medical condition with no clear medicinal treatment and directed me to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for help in managing its severity and effects on my daily life.
How does CBT help you?
Eliška: It helps me process how I experience the symptoms, to manage the stress that comes with the experience of the medical condition. As my therapy has progressed, I have noticed the symptoms less, developed coping strategies, and my quality of life has improved.
So therapy addresses the stress that aggravates this condition?
Eliška: Yes. Looking back, I believe that stress was a contributing factor.
After moving here I realized moving to a new country was going to be harder than I thought it would be. I knew it would be difficult not knowing the language, but not quite this difficult.
Small things stress me out, like just setting up my phone and going to the grocery store. I never felt like I could go get lunch without a colleague, and going to the pharmacy was tricky too. Not knowing the equivalent medications here, or even how to ask for a thermometer got to me. And every time I left feeling badly & guilty for not speaking the language.
How often were you going to therapy and when did you start to see first improvements?
Eliška: For the first few months after the onset of my medical condition, I saw my therapist once a week. Then after that (which has been the past 8 months) I have seen my therapist once every 2-3 weeks. I first started to see improvements maybe after 3 months.
Is there anything in particular that you appreciate about the sessions?
Eliška: My therapist helps me think through my anxious thoughts and to understand them in a new way. Processing through my thoughts out loud helps me make connections and understand myself better.
What criteria did you use to choose your therapist?
Eliška: I wanted one that understands my home country, and English, very well. It was important to be able to communicate without extra effort.
I choose my therapist based on (in order of importance):
(1) the specific recommendations of my doctor that they specialized in CBT
(2) that they could speak English very well
(3) they could meet with me outside my work hours.
What do you think is most important aspect in your relationship with your therapist?
Eliška: I think that it is important that the client feels that they can talk through their thought process freely (i.e. without judgment, feeling safe to show all emotions).
What specific coping techniques have you learned (either through therapy or other avenues)?
– Acknowledging and really feeling my emotions without judging myself for them. When I do this, I’m able to move through them better.
– Physical exercise, going for a walk, going outside. I make sure to do this every day.
– Talking to my friends and being open about what’s going on.
– Making a plan. Whether it’s for a day or month, I like having a list of things to do.
While Eliska’s story is unique to her, she is not alone in experiencing physical manifestations of stress. The key takeaway for all is that identifying and managing stress well is integral to our overall health.
Here’s a gentle reminder that if you ever want someone to talk to, there’s no need to second guess whether you “really” need it or not.
Why not get in touch with us at Prague Integration – the mental health support group providing individual, group counselling and other available programs specially designed for expats in Czech Republic.
*Medical details have been excluded from this interview to ensure patient privacy