Sabina (not her real name – n.r.) is 29 years old and a talkative young woman who exudes warmth and openness even in a chat mediated by WhatsApp. Sabina, like another person interviewed by us, had the chance to experience the medical system in another country, more precisely, in Germany after the Romanian experience, which she views in a negative light.
Because in the psychotic world, every detail has a deep, personal and special meaning, from the flat water bottle that a patient refills for a month by associating it with their loved one, to a t-shirt in a colour that reminds them of someone, the Germans, says Sabina, had a wardrobe in the hospital from which they hoped people would choose their clothes to observe what associations they made and what their mood was. Instead, at our place, Sabina was told to wear her hospital pyjamas all the time so she wouldn’t be confused.
We reproduce our discussion with the young woman below:
How old are you now
Tell me a little about yourself and what you’re doing now.
I thought about how I could talk about my experience and I thought about doing interviews, telling more things, having more people tell what happened to them, something like that.
I started about two months ago.
I’ve had better luck with people from abroad, I’ve received many messages, I’ve had interviews online, on the phone, on video, many also written, but if you send lists of questions it’s not the same, it’s more personal when you start talking to the person respective. People wouldn’t open up the same way.
I’m curious to begin with: what were you like before the first episode? What was your life like? If you had contact with specialized medical services?
No, I had not the slightest idea of this condition, nor did I know what it meant. I had my first episode in 2012, so quite young. It hit me. I mean I didn’t know what happened to me. Before I had a period, from 18 to 20 years old, when I rediscovered myself, I became cooler as a person, through certain experiences.
Did you have sources of emotional stress when it happened, any chronic stress?
Do you know what the weird phase is? Eu sunt o persoană pozitivă, veselă, nimeni nu s-ar fi gândit la asta. I think the reason was a relationship and a certain moment… It was a moment from which he took the plow.
Have you had no contact with therapists?
What were you doing in your spare time before the episode?
Well, as hobbies, reading, socializing, I had quite a few.
I don’t know if you know, but before an acute episode, there is a period called prodromal, beforehand, in which you can observe in some people various changes in the way you cognitively or emotionally process certain things.
After the manic episode, I was no longer in a state of anything, but before I can say that my emotions were up and down, I was more emotional, inside I was bad. It had happened to me before, but I think not as intense, and the up-down phase had happened to me before, but not like this. I didn’t think about going to the therapist, I thought it was something normal, I also had a reason…
And how did the first episode play out?
Simply, it started from too much activity, I have been involved in projects anyway, but a lot of projects in a very short time, a lot of energy that I thought was positive until I ended up not distinguishing between reality and what I imagined.
That activity led to anger.
I wasn’t sleeping at night, so the mania started – lots of coffee, little sleep, no sleep, I found the recipe that works for me to induce an episode. For me it has to be like this: no food, a lot of coffee, no sleep at all and something that really excites me, but that has to have an episode of depression before, have a bad time. Me now, as I’m super ok, nothing will happen, but you have to have that down period, you find something that delights you, that’s it. Before the first one, I had depression, that’s where it started.
How long was the period in which you did not have the attention of doctors?
I don’t know exactly anymore, but somewhere in a week, at least a week or more, around there. I had started, for example, I was dealing with some foreign students who came to the university, I had many projects, I had one with a dance and a flashmob and we did it too, right when the mania started for me. So…
Do you think you would have handled this project normally?
Yes, yes, only there were many emotions.
Would you say that mania changed you at all or just the potency of certain traits that were there?
I think so, it accentuates certain things.
Did affective, psychotic symptoms predominate?
There was also mania, but there were also psychotic symptoms, I was no longer here, I was somewhere far away. I was fascinated by the human mind and what I could experience then, in the second episode, at least, I felt it start and I said: this time I control it. It was a great stupidity, that I still took it on the plow. I wanted to see what was happening, to control, the problem is that until a moment I was logical, I was analyzing, but at a certain moment… I lost touch.
Tell us about the hospitalization in Romania.
The most unpleasant experience I have ever had. By comparison, I was interned in Germany and the people, the conditions, the methods and how they treated you do not compare. In Germany it looked like a hotel with many stars, here… the toilets were filthy, like that. In Germany, you had activities. For example, they would give you a chest of drawers, take you to a room and make you choose your wardrobe, and depending on how you dressed, they could tell what you were like, if you put pants on your head it was clear that something was wrong, and when you dressed normally, that was also a method. I liked to dress normally, put on some boots and jeans, put on a nice jacket…
In Romania, they were all in robes and grabbed me: why do you dress normally? You will be mistaken for someone normal.
Well, man, I want to feel normal!
Another thing, in Germany – they had a movie theatre, a lounge where we had things like that, American football games, radio in that room, whoever went could change the station and you’d go there and listen to the radio. During my time in Germany, I couldn’t sleep for more than a week, I didn’t close my eyes… That’s the worst part, that they didn’t force me to take the pills, they kind of left me like that, without treatment. But, otherwise, everything is superlative. For example, we had a room where we drew, expressed ourselves, wrote, and filled some blackboards I don’t know how many times, they asked us to express ourselves somehow you feel the need in that state to do something. We had a very nice yard, with flowers, with I don’t know what.
In Romania, were you involuntarily imprisoned?
And what was it like?
Am stat și cu mai multe persoane în salon, în vreme ce în Germania am stat cu o persoană, maximum. Acolo era ca la hotel. In Romania, you had nothing, no activity. I was in the hospital for a few weeks, I came home, and I stayed a little longer. Don’t even notice. Te duceai să vorbești o dată la o sută de ani să vadă dacă te externează și atât, pe când în Germania veneau câte zece doctori și rezidenți să vorbească cu tine, cu un om, pe rând.
Episoadele tale au început mereu cu manie?
Episoadele maniacale, dar au fost însoțite de depresie, era sus-jos, înainte de a fi sus, eram foarte jos sau foarte sus, uneori și în aceeași zi. I, in Germany, told them what I had, I went and told them: I came to experiment, I know what is happening to me. This is what happened to me, this is what I feel, I want to see how others here think – and I was starting to talk to others there. In my mind, I was experimenting there. I took a piece of paper and was saying to a friend, so to speak, from there, who was also bipolar: Let’s see how we feel now, let’s put it on a piece of paper! As strange as it may sound, I consider interning in Germany a positive experience. It helped me to know myself.
In Romania, how did you interact with other patients?
Very ok, I made friends with a guy who has Asperger’s, and we still go out for coffee, I stayed with a girl who works in a very ok environment, I talked to them, and we had a relationship, but I can’t say that not.
How long did it take to recover from each episode?
So, I had episodes in 2012, 2015 and 2018, the first one lasting a year and the next one less, than a few months. On the first one, I froze during my college year.
On the first one, after you came out of the episode, were you depressed when you realized what had happened?
Yes, and I was ashamed, especially since I had posted the beacons on Facebook, I didn’t know how to enter the ground, or how many kilometres.
The second, and third times I recovered much easier, I started to accept this thing, it’s different. Most of all I accepted the fact that it is a part of me. The first time I said: this will never happen again, I’m not crazy! The second and third times I realized that it’s part of me, that if I don’t take care of myself it will happen again and I realized that it’s impossible without medication.
I stopped the medication and the next problem was after a year or two, I had seen that a year had passed, I was ok, I said that I no longer needed it, but now I no longer have experiences like that.
Did you discontinue the doctor’s order?
Yes. Immediately, I did not have withdrawal, it happened after a while, not then. There were also triggers, from stress…
Do you manage your stress in certain ways?
I normally manage it pretty well. I learned things from these experiences, I learned that the moment something bothers you to say and solve the problem, not wait until the last moment when you can’t anymore.
How did the episodes affect you in your professional, and academic life?
Well, after one episode, you don’t take it from zero, you take it from minus infinity. But I can say that I had very good jobs, I worked in many areas, very ok jobs. In the summer, I finished my master’s degree abroad. Unfortunately, I know that there are people who have never been able to get a job, who live on those 2 lei that you get if you take the help that we must receive, it doesn’t even cross my mind. A person I know at one point was no longer able to integrate, to have a normal life.
And what I had was very severe, but without medication, you don’t do anything.
I have a saying: the moment you think you don’t need treatment, it means you’re not well. I have another acquaintance, please, it was years between reality and this, because he didn’t want to take treatment, he was in denial and it was much harder to recover. I had an episode at the same time, I was seeing my life and he was still there after years.
Have you had a support system over time, have you created some pillars of support to support you – family, friends?
Family first. Friends… About two friends knew that something was happening, but only one knew everything, she was by my side.
Do you think they understood or tried?
Do you think they understood or tried?
Did the parents understand?
Yes, if I didn’t have their support I wouldn’t have recovered. They were the main pawn. They talked to my psychiatrist. For a long time, when the doctor thought it was not ok, I went with them to the doctor, together with them. Now I go alone, stay five minutes and leave.
Are you still experiencing side effects from the pills now?
Have you ever been prescribed an antidepressant?
No. At first, I had sleepy states, I couldn’t concentrate, I was sleeping a lot and I was sleeping more than I was, but now these effects are gone. The medication has also changed.
I trust the psychiatrist, I know she gives me what she knows is best, she knew I would gain weight from the pills, but I trust her.
How would you have treated yourself, looking back at the period when you were not well if you had the right to decide? Or, if you were to say to those close to you: when I’m like this, I want you to behave with me, how?
I ran into this at the beginning, when… I thought I had recovered and that I was normal, but my parents were still afraid, they did not agree with me leaving the country again, taking jobs abroad, and I was afraid to leave.
When you’re ok, it doesn’t suit you to limit yourself: I don’t do that thing anymore, what if something happens? But you have to take care of yourself, they can’t feel what you feel.
How do you take care of yourself now?
I try to manage the stressful periods, not to reach that moment when the glass is full, I talk to close people when I have a problem, I tell them what’s going on and I try to take care of myself so that I don’t lose too many nights. It happens that I do not sleep one night, but I make sure that it does not happen that I do not sleep two nights in a row. One night is possible, but no longer, because I know it’s not ok for me. Only I can do that, not those around me.
Do you feel different from others in any way?
Never. The first time I was in denial, and now I’m not in denial anymore, I know it’s part of me, but everyone has their own. Maybe there are others who have more serious problems, everyone carries their cross. You just have to be ok and try to develop yourself – I go a lot on this side of career development in other areas – I don’t feel different.
Does it ever bother you that you can’t talk about it openly in our society?
Yes, it’s a big deal. And the book I want to write… I thought about whether to take it all the way through. Inițial, m-am gândit că o să fiu doar cel care scrie cartea, dar lumea te va asocia oricum cu asta. When I’m going to release the book, I won’t release it with my name on it. I know that on the other hand it would be an act of courage, but in our society and especially in Romania it can be a big obstacle. You can be successful for a while, but then your professional life closes and people don’t understand.
I don’t blame them, I would have thought the same until this happened to me, because there is no information. That should be more information and the world should understand. If you wait to see which people have been bipolar throughout history, stay masked.
What did this experience teach you about yourself?
The good part? I asked several people and they said if they could choose not to be bipolar and they said, no, I’d rather be. As bizarre as it sounds, when several people told me that they feel the same way and would not give it up, it means that, yes, there is a good part. There’s also that part of anger where you feel amazing and there’s that feeling of well-being – I don’t miss that, although at first, I missed that feeling, now I take what I’ve learned from that thing, that I can feel similar but more balanced happiness.
Looking back at the person you used to be and how you are now, what would be the differences?
Considering I went through this in my early 20s, the difference is huge, not only because of or because of – I don’t even know how to say – being bipolar, but also because of the age, it’s an amazing experience. I prefer the me now, with all this experience, I think I’ve become even wiser, you know?
I know who I am, what I want, where I’m going.
Are you worried about the future – family, children?
Yeah, look, I thought what if my kid had something like that. I’m worried that it would be hard for me to tell someone – I’m not in a relationship right now – but it’s hard for me to open up about it. My last serious relationship, which was a few years ago… He knew I went through depression and that I get an injection every few weeks, but he didn’t know I was bipolar. I have a problem with saying, explaining…
What would you say to those around people suffering from psychotic symptoms? What would you advise them? If a friend comes to you and says: look, mom, brother did this…?
Not to be upset with that person, because they are not there at that moment, to be by their side, to be there. That’s it. To be there, not to give up. I would also tell them that it is not the end of the country and that it can be solved.
An interview conducted by Iulia Marin as part of the Spring Tides project, an initiative of Alexandra Bălășoiu integrated into the program 4 Corpuri – collective for dance, a multi-year program coordinated by the Gabriela Tudor Foundation and co-financed by the Administration of the National Cultural Fund. The program does not necessarily represent the position of the National Cultural Fund Administration. AFCN is not responsible for the content of the program or how the results of the program may be used. These are entirely the responsibility of the beneficiary of the funding.