I spent some time talking to B.P., who shared her experiences with me – of care in the 70s, in the USA and how things have changed for her as time has gone on.
How long since you were diagnosed? Given that you’re older I assume you’ve been living with mental illness for a while?
He changed it. It used to be schizophrenia, then he changed it to schizoaffective about three years ago. I have been seeing him for many years. I’m 61, it hit when I was 18. Originally I was diagnosed with bipolar 2.
Did you seek help when you were 18?
Yes, and they gave me drugs, heavy duty, and said “see you in 6 months”. I didn’t take them. I had hyper-sexuality as well, so my 20s were wild. No one explained anything to be, so I had no clue, I just lived.
It sounds like there wasn’t much support. All the studies say early intervention is key, do you think that would’ve made a difference?
Yes. Yes I was alone, nobody, just a kid who didn’t know anything. Today I see so much help for these things; they help us to understand better. It was common in the 70s for people not to talk about mental illness. I see it at groups where they are closer to my age. At the age of 18 I went to a psychotherapist who never told me anything. I went because it was a person who I could be with, as I was all alone.
Have you ever been an in-patient?
Yes, once for 10 days in 2001, and another time just overnight. In 2001 I was highly manic, very high.
Did it make any beneficial difference to your condition?
I felt it made me worse, they take you off the drugs you are on and put you on more, and you come out so messed up. Then the regular doctor has to get you straight again. I hate going inpatient. I didn’t like it at all but I love my peers there.
We talked a bit before about peers and support groups, can I assume you’d recommend that option?
Yes, all those years I said I’ll never go to groups – oh my gosh, I had no idea what I was missing. But perhaps where I go is just a good place.
How about your family? Supportive, or didn’t want to know?
Our family is not close, so I’ve been alone. I married when I was 18 for a short time, a very strange time in my life. And then in the 90s I was married for 9 years. Otherwise I’m much a loner. But support from mental health groups seems helpful. It’s what got me through the last episode and helps me today as well. It’s like they give you whatever you need. They give – not things – but help. I do one on ones and groups.
What does an episode look like for you?
The last was very severe. I was dissociated, very far away inside myself. I had mania highs, was very happy. I also had a feeling I called the drunk feeling – I felt like I was drunk. I was very paranoid. I don’t get low but the dissociation scared me, cause I don’t know how to get out of that. I acted as a child at the psychiatrist’s, would say very strange things to him. The dissociation came last. If I get down it’s only for a day. I didn’t sleep much, and I should have been hospitalised, cause I was still driving. In the doctor’s office a feeling of love came over me and it stayed six weeks. I didn’t hear voices or see things, I never have. At the end I started losing time, I wanted to be with the stars. I was psychotic then, leaving reality. Then he put me on a med, stopped it really quickly. I didn’t know if I was dreaming or awake. This all lasted a long time. It took months for the dissociation to go away. It was the only thing the meds didn’t handle. I believe my illness if dissociated from myself. I would have different characters as well. My doctor told me I don’t have split personality, but I had characters. I can’t remember them all, some are common to bipolar. I get something I call the genius. I can learn anything, but I am manic so it doesn’t last long – a few days. I probably had seven characters. I believe the characters are a dissociated part of myself, that somehow shattered as a kid.
That was very honest, thank you. I have an alter called Eve. Did you find they had very different personalities to you? Did they ever get confused with “you”?
It’s hard to remember the characters now. I can only remember the genius. But that’s often come before with other episodes. When I was acting as a child I think that’s just who I was as a child – I didn’t call that a character though. Everything seemed very normal to me. The doctor told me I was deluded three times. It was so funny cause I was happy to be deluded then, if he says I am, this is awesome. I was only frightened by dissociation. I didn’t know they were called alters. Is she very much like you? When you say did I get confused, everything seemed normal to me when I was ill. I didn’t understand my language with the doctor. The weird things I would say but they were all based in my reality. So it made sense to me. Though later I understood better. Stress seem the thing that made this episode severe, so I never allow myself to be stressed. I don’t put myself in any situation where there will be high stress, or I will get out right away. I think that is very important, stress is the trigger and no one is worth stress to me. No one – and I love people very much.
I can relate to so much of what you have said – thank you for chatting and being so honest.