Growing up, the conversation around mental health in Anastasia Vlasova’s home was simple: “Get over it. It’s all in your head. Relax.” But in 7th grade, family financial hardships, social isolation, and a newfound self-consciousness about her body lead Anastasia down a dark spiral of anxiety, depression, and eventually an eating disorder. Hear how she built up the courage to ask for help, how she’s doing now, and how she’s using her story to speak out against mental health stigma. “If there’s one thing you take away from this episode, it’s definitely to reach out for help.”
You can follow Anastasia Vlasova on Instagram @thisismybrave and @thisismybraveteens.
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Interested in learning more about Anastasia? Check out the links below:
- Learn more about This Is My Brave: https://thisismybrave.org/
- Listen to Anastasia’s podcast, The Epic Theory: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-epic-with-a-k-46864829/
- Be on the lookout for Anastasia’s upcoming mental health podcast, The Brave Wave: https://principlepictures.com/podcasts/
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Anastasia Vlasova 00:04
Hi, I’m Anastasia Vlasova, and you’re listening to GOOD KIDS. I am the creative director of THIS IS MY BRAVE TEENS and a senior in high school and today I’m going to talk about my mental health journey.
I was born in Moscow, Russia. And so I lived there with my family until I was about five years old. As a kid, I was the classic Russian child who was very stoic and was not very social. I remember one of my daycare teachers told me stories of how when she initially met me, I wouldn’t laugh at any of her jokes, I wouldn’t smile at her, I would kind of cross my arms as if I was testing her as if I was saying, Okay, yeah, we’ll see if this lady can get close to me. And I was only 5, 6 years old. I was talking to my mom about it. And I realized that it’s just the way Russian kids are brought up, especially whose parents, you know, lived during the Soviet Union and everything.
And just the culture is very different. I didn’t really talk about mental health with my dad, it was mostly with my mom. And when I did talk to my mom about mental health shirt, frequent advice was just get over it. It’s all in your head, relax, typical parent stuff. And I guess also typical mental health advice that people from Russia give as well, because for them, it’s very, there’s this culture of, we’ll push through, we’ll get through anything like mental health, mental illness doesn’t even exist. You know what, you have to be strong, you have to suppress your emotions and put up this really strong front and everything. And so I think that was kind of ingrained into my brain from a young age.
I think I only started thinking about mental health when I got into middle school, and even then we weren’t really taught much about it. And elementary school, I didn’t even know what the concept of mental health was really, I’d heard of depression, and anxiety, but I didn’t really know what they meant. And I always thought that they only affected people who were older. So like adults, I didn’t think that kids like me, were ever going to be affected by depression. But now looking back at it, I realized that I exhibited a lot of symptoms of anxiety, specifically, social anxiety in really early elementary school. I remember there were times when I showed up late to school because I had a doctor’s appointment or for whatever reason, and I remember that walk to the classroom.
Anastasia Vlasova 02:41
And that anticipation of opening the door and having all 25 of my classmates stare at me and be like, “Where were you?” or “Why are you late?” It freaked me out. And that was all I could think about on my walk back to class, it was terrifying. And I remember, my palms would start to get sweaty, my heart would start to beat, my face would flush. Whenever I had to present in front of a class, I would also get really red in the face. And I would get embarrassed. And for me, I think that because I had this contrast of I was very independent, and very ambitious and outgoing, but I was still a very anxious person.
I got frustrated with myself and with my anxiety that I didn’t know at the time was anxiety, because I was like, why am I feeling these things? Why am I feeling nervous about talking in front of a crowd, like I can do this, I’m strong, you know? And so it was that weird contrast that kind of made me wonder like what’s going on in my head. So in seventh grade, I was going into middle school. And oftentimes that is a really anxiety inducing time for young people just because they’re being put into an environment with hundreds of new students. And while it’s exciting, it’s also really intimidating, because in middle school is also when you are kind of at your most vulnerable.
Because you begin getting super self-conscious about your body, about your friendship groups, whether you’re popular or not, which how looking back is just absolutely absurd that we spend so much of our time thinking about that stuff in middle school, but, you know, it did affect me. And I was definitely one of those people that thought, Okay, I need to be popular. I want to have a bunch of friends. I want people to look up to me or to want to be friends with me. But what I realized a few months into middle school, I realized that, you know, yeah, I was hanging around with the quote, unquote, popular crowd or whatever. But I really didn’t feel like myself, among them.
Anastasia Vlasova 04:28
And for me, I started to feel very isolated. And meanwhile, there were also a lot of things going on at home, you know, parents fighting, my sister went off to college, she was also struggling a lot with her mental health. And so I was just worried about a lot of stuff. And then also, I can’t remember exactly what year this happened. But at some point, my mom did lose her job for a whole year. So there was a lot of financial stress on our family. And then again, my body’s changing. I’m changing as a person. I’m figuring out. We’re trying to figure out who I am and It’s just a very stressful time.
And so the combination of that just made me very anxious. And that was when I first started experiencing depression, because I felt so isolated. And all of this stuff just culminated into a big depressive phase. And at the time as well, I was developing an eating disorder. But yeah, that’s not a bit. That’s a lot about my mental health story and how it all started.
I think that because I was always taught to get over things and suppress my emotions. That’s what I ended up doing. I ended up keeping it to myself. And in middle school, I was also very concerned about what other people thought of me. And I wanted people to perceive me as this perfect girl who has every part of her life together. And so I was terrified of people finding out about my eating disorder, I wouldn’t tell even my closest friends about it, because I was so ashamed. And I felt so guilty. So no one knew for about, I would say, a year. And then afterwards, I decided to come forward about it, because I was just, I noticed a significant change in my energy levels, and just the thought patterns that I was having.
Anastasia Vlasova 06:23
And I was just negative and complaining. And I just didn’t like where I was in life. And so that’s when I decided to go to one of the school counselors, or I don’t know if he’s a counselor, exactly, but some faculty member. And so when I told her about my overeating, her response made me want to suppress my emotions even more, which is a really unfortunate thing to say, because usually, faculty are supposed to be there for you. But unfortunately, she was like, so you’re upset because you ate an extra cupcake. And then she kind of laughed at me. And as I was walking back to my classroom, thinking over and over about what she said, I just became even more ashamed of myself.
And then I thought, Oh, my god, she’s so right. Like, I have no control over myself what I’m just over eating, like, that’s not an eating disorder. Because you were never taught about binge eating disorder in school. You know, we’re taught about anorexia, bulimia, and maybe another eating disorder, but the other ones, the other, like 3, 4, 5 that exist, just are never mentioned. And I guess people just expect us to learn about it along the way. But that’s really not how it should work. I also told my mom about it. And the first time I told my mom, she also ended up invalidating what I was feeling and what I was going through, because she didn’t understand what binge eating was.
She thought that it was just me simply over eating a little bit or not having control over what I was eating, she didn’t realize that I was binge eating every single week, and then crying myself to sleep. And that I was restricting the following days trying to compensate for the extra calories that I ate, or that I would go to the gym and run for an hour straight six miles to burn off excess calories that I’d eaten, or that I would pinch my body while I was looking in the mirror, trying to think of Oh my god, how wonderful it would be if I could eliminate this part of my body. And then that I would compare my stomach to bottles that makes on Instagram.
And that I would just stare at my body and hate it and pick out every little thing that I hated about it. And so no one knew the extent of what was happening. And that’s what made me feel so alone. Eventually got to the point where I was just having panic attacks all the time in school, I talked to my school counselor in high school, who I gotta say was a lot better than the one that I talked to in middle school. Luckily, she was very supportive of me. We decided, you know what we’re going to talk to my mom email, call her and say that I really need to seek professional support. And so after that, my mom who I love so much, and I’m so grateful that she’s so understanding of this.
Anastasia Vlasova 08:18
So she took me to a therapist, I started seeing her March of 2020. And since then I have changed a lot, which is crazy to think because along these four years of high school, I was also reading a lot of self-help books and psychology books. And I get a lot of helpful knowledge from that. And so when I went into therapy The first time I thought, okay, I mean, this is definitely going to be beneficial, but I feel like I know everything you know, there is to know. And I was like, come on, like I know what coping skills are like I know, I know that a lot of my depression anxiety is rooted in childhood trauma, like I know I have work to do.
I know I have like a complex family situation, whatever, and all of that stuff, but I ended up changing and learning a lot throughout therapy and I’m so grateful that I stuck with it. So if there’s one thing you take away from this episode, it’s definitely to reach out for help.
And then eventually, things started to just naturally get better because I was applying what I was learning in therapy to my actual everyday life. And I think that I also have adopted a lot of new healthy coping mechanisms and coping strategies for anxiety. So I do a lot of breathwork like meditation during virtual school today, actually, we had a bit of a break. It’s like a free period, I decided to go outside and to go, I drove to this nearby lake, and I sat on the dock and I ate my breakfast there. And then I meditated, and it was just like the loveliest thing ever. And I was like, why wasn’t virtual school a thing earlier, I honestly have benefited so much from it.
Anastasia Vlasova 10:34
But yeah, I’m just also very committed to maintaining good relationship with myself and to checking in with myself and practicing gratitude and just living the life that I want. And I think that in general, like that’s, that’s definitely what’s been, helping me maintain good mental health. And in January of 2020, I launched the This Is My Brave Teens Instagram account, where I post mental health resources and showcase mine and other teens mental health stories. I think that mental health is the foundation of everything in our lives. If your mind is struggling, most likely other areas of your life are as well. And I just know the feeling of when you’re anxious and you can’t do anything, you can’t focus on your work, you can’t play well, in your sport, you can’t talk to people.
And it’s just it’s so debilitating. And I want people to be able to receive the help that they need to get through this to learn healthy coping mechanisms to learn more about themselves and develop a relationship with their mind, body and soul. And I think it’s really important to do that as a young person too. Because the longer you maintain unhealthy habits, the harder it’s going to be later on in your life to overcome them. And so I think that the more we eliminate mental health stigma and eventually get to the point where it’s totally okay and open and not even considered brave to talk about mental health.
That’s going to be a point where I think we’re definitely going to see an increase of people living healthier, happier lives. And all I want is people to be able to live the lives that they want because I’ve personally experienced how positive and fulfilling that is. And I just want other people to also be able to live a happy, fulfilling life.
Anastasia Vlasova 12:29
You can follow me on @thisismybraveteens and @thisismybrave on Instagram. Thank you for listening to GOOD KIDS.
GOOD KIDS is a Lemonada Media Original. Supervising producer is Kryssy Pease. Associate producer is Alex McOwen and Kegan Zema is our engineer. The show is executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. The music is by Dan Molad with additional music courtesy of APM music. Check us out on social at @LemonadaMedia, recommend us to a friend and rate and review us wherever you listen to podcast. If you want to submit a show idea, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week, stay good.