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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The advantages of being mad

In a world where we are increasingly taught some kind of conformity, I find being mad quite liberating. This is the argument I advance in the article I published in Mad in America (, and since then my belief became even stronger.

Yes, being mad has its advantages. Before I became bipolar for the first time, I was labouring in a financial consultancy in Amsterdam, thinking that being happy equalled a good salary at the end of the month, going to the gym at least twice a week, being in the office from nine to five while obviously not enjoying the job I was doing, and conforming in all other aspects of my life. I used to care what people thought of me, how they judged me and whether they were talking behind my back.

Obviously, they talk now more behind my back, and while with my diagnosis I learned that it comes with a label of stigma attached to it, I also discovered some other quite liberating things. I am different, I dare more in life than so called ‘the normal’ and as a result, I believe that maybe I achieved things that otherwise I wouldn’t. My diagnosis kind of pushed me to avoid being defined as just bipolar and since receiving one, I lived in two more countries, learned an additional language (in addition to other 3), got a bursary to do a PhD, became a Doctor of Philosophy and created a family. I also learned to stick with the like-minded people. I am blessed with some really great friends, after a purge of all those from my life who turned out to be judgemental and narrow-minded. My true friends love me as I am, like the fact that I might be slightly eccentric, enjoy that I laugh at my own madness (and laugh together with me), and are there for me at my lowest moments.

No, madness is indeed liberating. Thanks to it I am not judgemental myself (or I hope so) and I created networks and friendships which I wouldn’t probably have if I were totally normal. I talk to gods and see the fairies; I believe in unusual things and am blessed with an imagination which ensures that I am never bored. Place me in a remote village somewhere at the end of the world and I will still have a blast because I am mad.

And most importantly, due to my madness, I laugh a lot. And sometimes I think that all other, ‘the normal’, should try a dose of madness in order to laugh more as well.

How about that as a concluding thought?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bipolar and medication: to take or not to take?

This is a question that all of us, the mental (and not only bipolar) ask as soon as we start dealing with the psychiatry. To take that monstrosity called medication with terrible side effects, or risk spending the rest of our lives enclosed in psychiatric facilities (and trust me, this isn’t fun).

Personally, I am all for medication. After all, plenty of people need to take it for all kinds of reasons and I know from personal experience that it does help. But the problem with medical establishment called the psychiatry is that upon giving you a diagnosis or releasing you from the hospital, they present you with a bag full of pills without explaining properly as to how one is supposed to live on 20 hours of sleep a day. Yes, this is usually the dose of medication that the psychiatrists feel the most comfortable with, the one where one is slowly developing into a zombie.

It was only with experience and several stays in the hospital that I learned how to deal with this problem. It is all in the details. Yes, I do need medication, even if I disagree with the mantra of the psychiatrists that developing an occasional psychosis is the end of the world (it is not and it can be an amazing experience), and I do agree that swallowing a daily pill will help me to avoid the company of psychiatrists and stay inside the community of all those we define as normal. But the detail lies in the dose. The psychiatrists tend to overdo the dosage because frankly speaking, they have little knowledge of what madness is. I think that lying in bed being unable to move because of the amount of medication is madness and not when one shouts on the streets about doomsday.

And so I learned how to manipulate it. The psychiatrists might prescribe whatever they want, but I am capable enough of making my own decisions. 300ml of quetiapine a day? Reduce it to 100ml (and when I am stable and happy, I also reduce it to 50ml). 10ml of risperidone a day? I wouldn’t take this medication from hell even under the risk of going mental for the rest of my life, but in case one doesn’t have any choice, I would reduce it to 5ml. 30ml of olanzapine? Yes, sleeping the whole day might seem as a good idea for someone who needs some rest, but if one still wants to have some kind of life, 10ml should be sufficient. The trick is to take a therapeutic dose and eliminate the aspect of becoming a zombie. We all want to live, enjoy the company of friends, find a good job, watch a movie, have fun. And psychiatrists (with the exception of some) don’t seem to understand this simple law of life. So, why should we listen to them if they just want to medicate us? The answer is simple. We shouldn’t.

I am happy enough on my self-medicated dose of quetiapine, thank you very much. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Coffee, biscuits and the 12 step programme

It was in Amsterdam that I attended my first (and hopefully, the last) 12 step programme. You know, the system which addresses the addiction problem. It started with alcoholic anonymous and spread fast and large to include everything, and when I say everything I mean it literally. The 12 step programme treats anything which can be treatable, though I am not sure about the final result.

I came to it unexpectedly, I have to admit. I was walking in the centre of Amsterdam, a rare Saturday when I had nothing to do, apart from exploring the streets and having a nice coffee in different cafes. In retrospect, I should have probably stuck to the occasional coffee in a cafĂ© because I would have avoided some embarrassment, but we always learn by trying, don’t we?

It was the announcement which triggered my interest: ‘Co-dependency network with coffee and biscuits’. True, it was the promise of free coffee and biscuits which prompted me to come inside the church building rather than the word ‘co-dependency’ (I had no idea what it meant), but I reckoned that I had nothing to lose and lots to gain: meet new people, discover what Amsterdam had on offer in terms of events, join an exciting network. Ha-ha-ha.

It all started nice and cosy. I got my free coffee, chatted with members who all appeared as very nice and welcoming (maybe, perhaps, slightly, too welcoming? As if I had some kind of problem?). And it was only when we sat down around a large table, and it was the third speaker who was chatting away that it downed on me that I was a fraud and would soon reveal myself as such.

I realised the mistake of my attendance only during the speech of the third person because I couldn’t believe during the first two that they all were talking about the relationship problem. When the first speaker stood up and solemnly proclaimed: ‘Hello, my name is John and I am a co-dependent’, it did strike me that I ended up at some kind of recovery therapy thing, and ransacked my brain for a minute or so for a possible solution. These people were really nice, really pleasant, forcing on me biscuits and coffee and I kind of gave the impression that I was very happy to be at the event. Could I say that I was co-dependent with my cigarettes, I came up with a possible solution, but it came under scrutiny when the second speaker stood up. It was again the same story. This person, and it was a woman, was also suffering from malfunctioning relationship. When the third speaker confessed to the exact issue, I understood that I was in trouble. What could I possibly say when my turn came (and I was very obviously the next)? If I had a boyfriend, then I could think of something (now, that I’ve been in several serious relationships, I realise that all of them have been co-dependent to a certain extent. Hey, with some of my exes I am still in contact on Facebook! It is co-dependency, no?), but I was very much single, I didn’t even have a cat or a dog and mentioning the dependent relationship with my cigarettes wouldn’t go down well with the crowd, I could see. I couldn’t even figure out what was exactly the problem of co-dependency when my turn came (apart from the fact that one had to have a partner) and so, I said the first thing which came into my mind.

“Hello, my name is Ekaterina and I am co-dependent on free coffee and biscuits.”

I have to say that a couple of people did laugh, but my line failed to impress the organisers. I should have invented a mythical boyfriend instead. But I simply tried to cheer up the crowd. What the fuck were they talking about? Hello, I am co-dependent? Were they insane or something? Shouldn’t one simply finish the malfunctioning relationship and move on?

As to me, I was asked to leave the premises and needless to say, I never returned.

But coffee and biscuits were nice.