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Finding hope after loss and depression: One woman’s story

Barbara Pawluk

fot. arch. prywatne Barbary Pawluk

Anna Gębalska-Berekets - published on 04/20/23

Barbara Pawluk went into depression after her father's death and the isolation caused by the pandemic. Here's how she found her way back to the light.

“Imagine that you wake up in the morning and nothing is the same anymore. You’ve passed into another dimension, you feel as if you’re behind glass, you’re out of touch with reality. You feel alone among other people, abandoned and misunderstood,” writes Barbara Pawluk in a Facebook post. 

A few years ago, she was a brave woman with a positive disposition, able to cope with any challenge. She graduated with a degree in geography and defended her master’s thesis in 2019. She went on a language scholarship to Budapest. Then suddenly, her father died, and Barbara became ill with depression.

“All this was gathering for years. When I was still a child, I had severe anxiety and depressive episodes. Dad was often sick, and I had to grow up quickly. Mom went to Holland for her job. Dad’s death was the moment when I ran out of strength. I didn’t know what to do, because I always had a better relationship with him than with my mother. I didn’t know what to do when a loved one dies. Fortunately, I still had time to return to the country to say goodbye to him,” she tells Aleteia.

It fell to her to organize the funeral. “After the burial was over, my family told me to go back to my activities, to think about myself,” she says. “After returning to Budapest, I only went to school for two months because then came the pandemic,” she says.  

Restrictions began, and classes were held over the internet. Barbara stayed abroad alone. The isolation had a destructive effect on her. She wanted to talk about what had happened, about her emotions, but she had no one to talk to.

“In Budapest I was haunted by a nightmarish dream. I dreamed of my dad’s death. I was full of anxiety. I was mentally shattered and physically exhausted,” Pawluk explains. 

Eventually she found a friend and soulmate. It turned out that there were Polish religious sisters living on the same street, and Barbara went for regular walks with one of them. 

“We talked a lot. I told her what I was feeling, what fears I had, what I couldn’t cope with. At one point she told me that she couldn’t help me anymore. I thought at the time that she was sick of my talking about how life had no meaning,” Barbara says.

She concluded that she needed to go to a psychologist. This decision was not easy for her. “I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to find help, being in Budapest?’” she recalls. 

Fighting to help herself 

While out for a walk, she typed “bereavement” on her phone. On a YouTube channel, she found a video with a therapist from the Nagle Sami (“Suddenly Alone”) Foundation. When she got home, she wrote a message asking if she could make an appointment for a consultation. 

“They wrote me back after a few minutes and signed me up for the next appointment. I chose Ms. Monica, a psychotherapist. She is helping me to this day. Now I know that it was the right choice,” she says. 

Barbara received tremendous support from her brother and mother. They became very close. In therapy, Barbara heard that she had the right to have different emotions, to experience grief at her own pace. As she admits, it was an amazing experience for her. She still attends individual therapy and has also participated in a retreat for bereaved people in Licheń. 

On the path of fighting to get help for herself, there were also crises. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital three times. She was tired but couldn’t sleep. The doctors prescribed her medication. She also met many valuable people with whom she now has a very good relationship.

The illness affected her professional life. After a stay at the hospital, Barbara lost her job. This was a big blow to her. With the help of a therapist, she managed to overcome the crisis. She found a job, first in a store and then in the Hungarian consulate in Cracow. 

Biking towards her dreams

Barbara has initiated several campaigns for people with depression. She has been working with the Suddenly Alone Foundation for two years now. She’s the originator of the “Kilometers of Support” project. “The idea was to ‘sell’ kilometers in such a way as to raise money for the foundation’s activities,” she explains. 

At the time, it helped her in an important way. She was lying in front of the TV and had no strength to do anything. “I went to Warsaw for a medical appointment. I was feeling bad. I decided then that I would spend the money I had saved on a bicycle. When there were about 600 kilometers left before we ‘sold out,’ I set off on a unicycle. The bicycle became a passion for me, a form of therapy,” Barbara tells us. 

On August 19, 2022, after 20 days and covering nearly 1,240 miles (2000 km), Barbara reached Jasna Gora. During a bicycle expedition from Swinoujscie via Suwalki to Czestochowa, she managed to raise the amount of 12 thousand zlotys (about $2,800 USD).

Now, she’s preparing for another expedition. Her friend Gosia will accompany her on the trip. They will cover more than 2,175 miles. The women want to reach Santiago de Compostela by bicycle and continue on to Finisterre, once considered the end of the world. 

“The destination of the trip isn’t accidental. When a loved one dies, often we feel that the world ends for us too. In total darkness and loneliness, we wander along the ‘coast of death.’ As on the Camino de Santiago, the end becomes the beginning of something new, and in the process of mourning we slowly return to life … The Foundation is accompanying us in this,” she says.  

“God has a plan for me”

“We’re going on the pilgrimage for the intentions of those who are grieving and plunged into darkness, as well as for all those suffering from depression and struggling with mental health issues,” Barbara explains. 

The ongoing charity event is raising money for the Suddenly Alone Foundation’s toll-free nationwide support phone in Poland. “I wasn’t supposed to be in this world, and I am. So I have to experience this life. It wasn’t easy for me to accept help, because I had to admit to myself that I was weak. I feel gratitude to other people, but also to God. I believe he has a plan and a mission for me to fulfill,” she adds.

DeathMental HealthPoland
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