I diagnosed myself when I was fifteen;
seven years later, a psychiatrist did it.
In February 2012, I was confronted with a family secret: My grandfather had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital for six months when my Dad was a teenager due to a mental breakdown and psychosis. While my grandfather was there, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Whether that was type I or type II, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does.
I confronted my Dad about why I was never told of this, especially because of my continuous depressions through my life. He tried to play it off, like it was no big deal. (I’m not looking to make my Dad seem like a bad guy because he certainly is not; he just doesn’t seem to be proud of his – my – family’s history – except for the good things of course.)
Well, that night I made a decision to go to my doctor and demand to get a referral for a psych evaluation. I’d been going to him at least once a year since I was 15, telling him that I needed help and he’d just kept sending me to psychologists who failed to recognize any signs. But this time, I wasn’t going to listen to him; this time he was going to listen to me!
Three weeks later, I went and told my doctor to give me that referral… He finally did. After seven years, I was finally going to get the help that I knew I needed. Since my first serious depression, I’d known that it wasn’t “just” a depression. I knew it was more than that, but no one would listen to a “hormonal” 15 year old.
Six months later I went to the psychiatrist and filled out a questionnaire that would determine if I had an actual mental illness and if so, which one. After I’d filled it out, I went in for the consult and I told him why I’d sought for psychiatric help as opposed to psychological and we made an appointment for another consult a month later.
August ended and September 21st came; I finally got there and sat down in the waiting room. Of course, the doctor was late. Typical, isn’t it? When you’re about to be late and you rush to get there, whoever you’re meeting is late. It didn’t take long for him to pull me in and give me my diagnosis. “Hi Camilla. So… There’s no doubt about it. You have Bipolar Disorder type II.”
No doubt. No doubt? After seven years, at least seven depression consults with my doctor, three psychologists and countless counsellors, it took one test and one conversation with a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis. A diagnosis that I had known I would receive. For seven years I had dealt with the downside of this illness and no one had been there to really help me.
Less two months after I got my diagnosis, I went through another downward spiral, with the snap of two fingers. All I remember is waking up one morning and not being able to get up. I, physically, couldn’t. I lied there, listening to my alarm going off until my Mom came in half an hour later and asked me why I wasn’t up yet. I just looked into the air and said, “It’s gone bad again.” And so, another battle started, but this time we knew why and how to help it.
I ended up dropping out of school –third try on getting an education– to concentrate on getting better and staying better. With a diagnosis it wasn’t hard to have the system work with me instead of against me. They set me up in a mindfulness-ish class that had a couple of painting hours a week, which were the only reason I went. I wasted seven months there until I could get into a program for people who aren’t fit for work or school.
During those months, I did my best to experience as many things that would give me joy as possible. I went to Paris to meet one of my two best friends for the first time. Two months later I went to the Monte Carlo TV Festival with my other best friend – my best friend for longer than forever, as her and I say. And that same Summer I was lucky enough to not get renewed at that mindfulness-ish class, so that I could have a month vacation before starting the program. This break gave me two weeks in Skagen; this annual trip was exactly what I needed! A week of having fun with a friend and the next with my Dad and sister – later joined by my sister’s mother – where I spent most days relaxing in the sun. Perfect.
And finally August came and the program started.
This program has three subjects: music, art and theatre. And since August 2013, I have been an amateur actress. This place is safe. If you’re energized and overjoyed, you use that energy to do theatre work. If you’re tired or sad – or both – there’s a place upstairs with a couch, where you can lie down if you need to. It’s a place where you have support your co-workers, the guidance counsellors and the ones who are in charge of each subject. There’s room for you there.
Last Friday I sang solo for the third time since I started.
This time, I made one of the former program participators cry. She got emotional because she felt proud of how far I’ve come since the first time I performed. I’m proud of myself too. I’ve never sung with so much power. It might not have sounded good, but that’s not what it’s about; it’s about standing in front of an audience and doing it. I did it, and I’m going to do it again if I’ll be fortunate enough to continue in the program until Summer.
I’m in therapy and I take meds and have been two years, but being in the theatre program has been a much bigger factor in my recovery. I feel good, I feel safe and I feel more confident than I ever have. The directors I’ve worked with, the counsellors and my co-workers all build me up. I am sure that five years of therapy wouldn’t have done as much for me as this place has in just one year.
It hasn’t just been the theatre that has lifted me up. I have role models who inspire me (Demi Lovato, Jennifer Morrison), and my online friends –counting UDI (Ugly Ducklings Inc)– have all had a hand in helping me get up to the surface and breathe every now and then. My family and friends have all given me a reason to continue fighting. But my best friends, my two best friends… Every day they are available to me, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and it can be enough to save my entire day.
Almost two years after my last relapse, I am still not fully recovered and it will take a while yet. Making sure that I am stable enough and will stay that way is actually harder than I thought it would be. The light at the end of the tunnel is very, very dim, but it’s there and I feel confident that it will become brighter with time. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from this depression, it’s that to just take things as they come, be patient and not force my recovery.
This flow is not the easiest to go with, but it’s what I have to do. Luckily enough I have always had a logical way of thinking, so I know it when I need something adjusted. Whether that’s with my medication, my work hours, etc., I make the adjustment.
I’m going to end this blog post with a quote by Hans Christian Andersen:
“Life is like a beautiful melody, only the lyrics are messed up.”
Camilla is Ugly Ducklings Inc’s social media assistant and she has been working with us since the very early days. We want to thank her for being so brave!