“Taking care of your mental health gives you the ability to cope and live with stress. Positive mental health helps you live to your full potential.” – Dr. Rach Rohaidy
Recovery Beyond Peer Lead, Olga, sat down with us to discuss the importance of mental health and share parts of her journey. Born and raised in Ukraine, Olga moved to the United States in 2016 to join the University of Maryland’s tennis team. This monumental change took a toll on her well-being and affected her confidence in herself. Olga remembers, “It felt like being released into the wild without making my own decisions before that [attending college in the USA].” This move across the globe made her feel unprepared and unsure of her emotions. “There was a lot going on”, Olga explains, “I wasn’t processing it, I felt more and more overwhelmed, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Olga began isolating herself from the tennis team. Her teammates noticed a change in behavior and suggested she address the issue. She says, “I had to deal with it, it’s the toughest thing to figure out. What’s the best approach? How do you deal with your own anxiety? How do you not be so tough on yourself? It’s interesting because you realize a lot of it is from you beating yourself up. But how do you not do it? How do you stay kind to yourself?” Knowing she had to work on her mental health, Olga began seeing a psychiatrist, got a formal diagnosis, and began taking medication. That wasn’t the end of her struggles, “I was holding onto my diagnosis too much, I wasn’t working through it in a healthy manner. It was almost a crutch. […] I realized later, I also struggled with substance use disorder and went through tough relationships in college and with my teammates.”
Olga knew she was still relying on substances to cope with feelings. She explains, “I decided to blame everything on substances. I thought, ‘Once I quit, things are gonna get better.’ And it’s true, after I got sober things got better. But over the first year I realized there’s much more to it. My substance use was just my way of avoiding dealing with those things.” When asked about the importance of mental health, Olga responded, “To me, taking care of my mental health is everything. Everything I have can just fall apart easily if I don’t take care of my mental health. People say that a lot about sobriety. But for me, first, you also have to take care of your mental health. Otherwise, you have so many things around you. It’s so easy to slip if you’re not in a good mental state. It’s the most important thing.”
Olga has a toolbox of mental health strategies that she refers to when faced with challenges. This mental health toolbox includes meditation, exercise, and connection. Olga emphasizes the value of consistency, which means that you can start small and make changes over time to create habits. She stresses the importance of seeking out help and support when needed, as well as exercising and participating in relationship-building activities. She elaborates, “It’s essential to build connections and to feel like you are a part of the community, and that there are people that understand and will be there for you even when things get tough.” For example, Olga has included events such as Recovery Beyond sporting events as part of her weekly routine. These activities have encouraged her to try new sports (such as climbing) and lean on relationships with others in the Recovery Beyond community. She describes Recovery Beyond as an essential part of taking care of her mental health and recovery. Mental health is just as important as physical health and wellness. Olga explains, “You have a disease [depression], you have to try to take care of it and keep it under control. It’s possible, there are ways to do it, same as diabetes – there’s medication, diet, and lifestyle changes. It’s the same for depression, little by little you have to figure out how to keep it under control.”
Dr. Rach Rohaidy, a psychiatrist with Baptist Health, mirrored this in a recent webinar with Advanced Recovery Systems. Dr. Rohaidy advocated for meditation, exercising, volunteering, and relationship building to improve mental health. She recommends small amounts at first and building up to these habits. If you know someone struggling with their mental health, Dr. Rohaidy emphasizes that open lines of communication are crucial; sit with someone, be an ear for someone. If you or a loved one need someone to talk to, here’s a list of community mental health resources.