To help more people with similar issues, Melon’s Head of Sales and Marketing, Petar Svarc shared his personal mental health journey at DEV.bg’s All In One Conference. In Bulgaria, the topic of mental health is rarely brought up and ways of dealing with related issues are even more infrequently discussed. The low level of awareness and openness towards the subject only deepens the social stigma.
“To those who have experienced mental health issues: it will pass. To those who have not: find time for the empathy your fellows might need,” Svarc said. The most important step to undertake is recognizing that there is a problem and then not be afraid to reach out for help.
Too many triggers can unlock mental health issues. And there’s probably just as many causes - fear of losing control, fear of losing self-esteem, and fear of underachieving. To name a few. According to research, during the pandemic, anxiety cases have increased from 50 to 100 percent in almost all of the EU countries that measure it. Quite few don’t.
Svarc’s story started when at only 8 years of age he began feeling dizzy when going to bed. Faced with an unexplainable strange sensation – he felt too embarrassed to share with his close ones. With some on and off periods, the symptoms persisted for over 30 years. On rare occasions when he would talk about the problem, it would cause yet another anxious “episode”. “I had to deal with a state that I knew nothing about. I had no clarity what it was,” Svarc said. Even though the periods with frequent episodes would completely stop for a few years, each time they came back – they became more frequent, eventually building to several per day.
Svarc’s anxiety was related to a combination of workload and a feeling of insecurity. Whenever he worried if he could provide for his family, for example, the dizziness intensified, and he’d have to lie down. It would become impossible for him to focus or communicate. What started as mild anxiety turned into panic attacks significantly damaging the quality of life. They were interfering with relationships with family and friends, quality of his work, and attempts at leisure time. “It is a vicious circle dragging you deeper, until you decide to take the necessary steps towards a recovery,” Svarc said.
The first step would be the acceptance that there is a problem. “My first ever visit to a specialist was eye-opening. That is where I realized that the problem was not only the vestibular system, but also anxiety,” he recalled. The neurological problem with vertigo proved easy to solve with simple exercises. Svarc also began to attend therapy sessions with a psychotherapist which helped him to understand and manage anxiety. It also created the necessary time and space the brain needs to heal itself. There’s no other remedy, really, but it’s also wonderous how resilient our body and mind can be, if given the chance.
Another simple and effective technique gaining popularity is breathing. “It is important to breathe well. Proper breathing sends an ‘alarm off’ signal to the whole body and saves us from the feeling of panic,” Svarc said. The last tip he shared is to spend time with something enjoyable. In his case, it was playing music.
“Anxiety never goes away completely. And that’s a good thing. It’s our natural coping mechanisms. If you come out of a cave, see a lion, and are not frightened, that is not good for you.” Svarc said. He added that usual causes for anxiety are bigger issues, and one should learn to recognize them as the root of the problem. Learn how to value the important relationships in your life: with your friends, family, and colleagues.
We all should care not only for our physical, but also for our mental health. “We can always find a way to take full control of our lives, which is the definition of mental health. Not the absence of mental health problems,” Svarc said. “We can help people around us by staying interested and aware of the topic, paying attention to the risk factors, listening, and trying to understand the people around us. It is okay if sometimes not everything is okay. We should strive to become better versions of our yesterday's self.”
To provide Melon employees with the opportunity to find support when they need it, we have implemented Svarc’s idea to encourage dialogue on subjects related to mental health and establish simple, quick access to professional help.
In less than three years 50+ different colleagues in all our software development offices have contacted our local partnering psychologists for consultations and we have organized over 15 internal presentations on variety of related topics. Our aim is to raise awareness about mental health issues and share knowledge and experience.
“Building our company by listening and keeping an honest, open and friendly communication may sound like a pretentious and empty writing on a wall, but the truth is that at Melon there’s always someone ready to not only listen, but also to hear you.”