I was only 15 when I woke up in a hospital room with tubes down my throat and restraints around my scarred wrists, in a haze of confusion. They had sent me away to my first experience as a psychiatric patient in a facility and on the car drive over to my destination, being the young naïve mess that I was, I had the misconceived belief that I would be saved.
Little did I know that it was only the start of my ‘insanity parade’ and not just teenage angst. As time went on my emotions got more unstable, yet I survived in a state of remission from my newly diagnosed clinical depression for four years before the ground unexpectedly fell from under my feet whilst all my dreams were coming true as a veterinary student. I woke up in my dorm room one day sitting on the side of my bed, unable to get myself dressed, unable to care about my lifelong dream and go to class. I called my mom, told her I was done, packed my things and left. Just like that. I wasn’t in control of my mind. I had broken more severely than before as a result of prolonged stress and trauma from the past. That crack in the wall was enough to let all of the subdued demons of my mental illness, of which I was blissfully unaware, break through.
From that point onwards I no longer had the choice of refusing medical treatment and I became a psychiatric drug experiment. I was drugged and sedated to the point that I was unable to remember bits and pieces of my life and was told of events during which I had harmed or tried to end my life, of which I have no recall. I was over-medicated by psychiatrists who could not tame the demons in my head and in the meanwhile, after the drop from my success down into psych ward, my mom had put out a false ‘official statement’ to the friends and family that I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor – an idea she clung to as a possible explanation for my erratic behaviour.
I left hospital, my career ruined, and had to start rebuilding a life from scratch, while living with treatment resistant depression and meds that enabled me to function just enough to survive. I chose an entirely different field of study- medicine, through which I severely struggled with intense cycles of mood swings, uncontrollable crying, paranoia and social anxiety. In third year I stopped taking my meds, as I believed I could control my mind. Then I stopped eating due to an altogether new paranoia and spent the subsequent year as a skeletal, insane psych patient once again and a major disappointment for my family.
But there was something inside me, which even on the brink of death, made me give another doctor one more try. That try saved my life. I had finally been diagnosed correctly with Bipolar Disorder and put on a lifesaving mood stabilizer. I started seeing that the trashed mess I was previously, wasn’t me. That I truly was ill and for the first time in my life saw mental illness for what it is; a serious physical condition requiring medical treatment and support.
I went back to med school in January this year, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing; it never will be. I have treatment resistant depression, so although it’s improved, I still have issues that come and go in cycles of varying intensity. Life is unpredictable, because I don’t know where my mind will be tomorrow and what my reactions to relapses will be – because they will happen. I have no passion left except the will to overcome mental illness.
By accepting that I have a manageable psychiatric illness, I developed a way in which to approach life, enabling me to survive. Regular counselling sessions on a two-weekly basis followed by psychiatric review of medication has become an ordinary part of life. I gladly swallow the seven pills a day that enable me to resist the will to act impulsively. I understand when I need to take that emergency sedative when my panic attacks threaten my life. I do this because I can never forget the disabling pain of lying on the bathroom floor for three days straight, with a heart too broken to allow me to get up.
There is no worse imprisonment in this life than the imprisonment of your own mind; a mind that convinces you that you want to die – you have no control over that wish. The majority of my days are spent in an effort to resist my distorted thoughts. Every day is an effort and I am never truly free. I have become an entirely different person to the passionate, goal-driven one. However, I have found a purpose in this pain and a newfound self-love, and if I want my life to count for something, then fighting the battle of mental illness has to be my purpose. This is my gift and my curse, my burden, my ache, and my fuel.
My name is Veronike. I am a 25 year old woman who somehow, through the twists and turns that my disrupted mind and life lead to, ended up as a fourth year medical student. I attempt to keeping myself sane through my passion for animals and my greatest supporters are Sky and Laika, the two ‘Siberian Wolves’. I search for beauty in that which surrounds me and am aiming at using my medical studies as a way to turn my pain and passion into power and graduate as a psychiatrist to continue the fight for mental health.