Sleepwalking My Life on Seroquel

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It was at the age of twenty-seven when I experienced my first ‘psychosis’. I worked as a financial analyst of banks and portfolio manager at a nice company in Amsterdam, and from the outside, my life looked pretty good. I had a cool job, lived in the center of the gorgeous city of Amsterdam, and was a member of the best sports club. I was living a dream life.

Due to my extremely difficult teenage years in my native Russia, the disaster would probably have struck eventually, but when it arrived, it came unexpectedly. Till the age of 27, I was suffering from awful stomach pain, constantly and terribly, which prevented me from forming a meaningful relationship with anyone. It was the stress of huge abandonments and losses in my youth, that was storing in my stomach, to release, I assume, when the time was right. Yes, I do believe that any manifestation of what is called ‘mental illness’ is the trauma acquired when growing up. I suffered, felt unloved, and was absolutely insecure deep inside.

At the age of 27, however, I fell in love with a gorgeous French man, who, unfortunately, was in Amsterdam only for a couple of months. He did hint at the possibility of staying with me, but what could I offer, besides my constant stomach pain? Nothing. And so he left, because I was too scared to tell him the truth, that I was constantly experiencing terrible pain.

Once he left, I went to the Chinese medicine center to help me to find something to ease my pain. I knew I couldn’t carry on like I was. I received a prescription of a very strong tea, but instead of following the recommended dose, I just drank almost all of it in one go, so desperate I was for my pain to go. I was also smoke free then from my cigarettes, and spending all my evenings in the gym, to wake up at 6 in the morning for a run, before my job would start, where I was often the first in the office, at 7:30, or 8 at the latest. The portfolio of shares I was supervising was doing well, while my mental health was getting worse and worse.

I stopped sleeping, and on the eleventh day of no sleep, I ended up in a ‘psychosis’. It was a liberation for me, from how I experienced it. I saw angels, I saw the manifestation of God, I felt liberated and so happy. I never thought that this kind of feeling was even possible in a human life.

However, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital, where I was injected with some stuff and ended up sleeping for three days.

When I woke up, I was a new person. I felt I was Buddha, I felt total liberation, I felt loved by the universe, and so much in love with life. My stomach pain was totally gone.

The counteroffensive against my happiness started as soon as I saw my doctor. He looked at my proclamation that I was Buddha (I wrote it on the drawing wall in my room) and told me that I was psychotic, and needed to be on the drugs for at least six months. I was put on 10 mg of olanzapine, as a welcome package into my psychiatric journey.

Those who have never taken any anti-psychotics don’t understand the ‘fuss’ the patients make about them. You really need to try it yourself to understand the nightmare of this ‘medication’. Basically, you feel like you are restricted from pleasures of life, you put on weight, you feel miserable, you feel constantly tired, with all creativity killed in your brain.

Obviously, I stopped olanzapine almost as soon as I started it, due to its ‘effects’.

Two months later I ended up in another ‘psychosis’. It was more serious then. Because of the lack of places in the hospital, I had to first spend a couple of days in a hospital attached to prison. I had to stay the whole day in my room except for twice a day, when I was allowed into the lobby. I was told I couldn’t refuse my medication. I was then driven to a hospital attached to a university, and ended up there for a month. The doctor there told me that I had schizophrenia, and I was put on risperidone, which had effects that were even worse than olanzapine.

I decided to stay on my new medication, as I was seriously terrified. While what I experienced in my ‘psychoses’ was extreme pleasure from life, it was considered as an illness, and a serious one. I had to take the advice of the doctor seriously, because he was speaking from the state of authority, he knew his stuff. Who was I in comparison?

Just a patient.

I stayed on risperidone for a year. I still have pictures of me at that time. I put on lots of weight, and I had pimples covering my face. I stopped going out. I continued to work, without deriving any satisfaction from it anymore. It was an enormous effort to wake up in the morning.

One evening, I started to contemplate the possibility of dying. It was clear to me that I couldn’t continue like I was: overweight, unhappy, miserable, weak, and sad. But the very same evening a friend called me and said that she would come to my house to pick me up on my bike to go to a party, and that she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I went with her, and at a party, a girl approached me who had studied for the same master’s degree as me, and asked how I managed to be so successful. She meant my job. I almost laughed…if only she knew how unhappy I was. Instead, I offered to help her to improve her resume to apply for a job at my company.

After that evening, I decided to give life another chance. I decided to stop my ‘medication’. It took only two weeks for me to immediately feel better, to start enjoying small pleasures in life, to be again happy in the morning. I lost all the extra weight and was more or less happy, until two years later I ended up in another ‘psychosis’. I really don’t know anymore: is it an illness? Does it matter that I don’t feel ill? Does it matter that it’s in my ‘psychoses’ that I feel tremendous joy from life? Is it an illness, is it?

Schizophrenia was changed to ‘bipolar disorder’, and I was put on Seroquel, and the effects of it on the dose of 300 mg a day are a disaster. Basically, you sleepwalk through your life. You might become overweight, and devoid of any vitality and vibrancy of life.

By that time, I was more prepared with how to deal with psychiatry, and the fact that it was psychiatry that dictated how the unusual experiences of life should be interpreted. I was officially ‘bipolar’, prone to ‘psychoses’, but while I read everything about it by then, I also read other stuff. I discovered Mad in America, I talked with other patients, I read, and I read a lot. No one was happy on the drugs they prescribed and therefore, I decided to do my own experiment. I cut the dose of Seroquel to 50 mg a day.

I spent a few years like that, while being relatively happy. I got a bursary to do a PhD in England, I met the father of my child, and I gave birth. Being on Seroquel, however, meant that I was always very tired in the mornings, and therefore, I missed on enjoying so many beautiful moments with my son. Still, I had very happy five years when he was growing and while I was with his dad, in England, a country I fell in love with. I finished my PhD; I started to work at a university, on a casual contract, but it looked promising.

The relationship, however, fell apart, and when my son was 5, I ended up as a single mum, with ‘bipolar’ disorder, in a foreign country, despite feeling in it like it was mine. Some doors are just closed on you, as a result. I had to always work harder to prove that I was worthy. Worthy of a job, worthy of love, worthy of being a citizen. I ended up unwell, was sectioned three times in a row, and was put on aripiprazole, which resulted in another, this time ‘real’ psychosis. I had to spend two months in the hospital.

My life since then became a big test to show to the outside world that I am capable. I wasn’t invited for an interview at the university where I worked in England after I had disclosed my diagnosis in my application letter. I was an excellent teacher, I could do it, but my diagnosis preceded. It didn’t matter how good I was. I had a ‘bipolar disorder’.

Eventually, I found a good job in the Netherlands and moved here with my son. It was here that I finally met a very nice psychiatrist, who helped me. Together we searched for a golden mine. What would help me to experience my life fully, while still being ‘protected’ from my ‘psychoses’? Of course, I ended up in another hospital. Who wouldn’t? I was in a new place, with a child, during covid, isolated and not having any friends when the pandemic started.

I was put on injections at first, and for a year I just wanted to die. I was again put on aripiprazole and ended up in a psychosis almost at once. We again tried olanzapine, which didn’t work because of its terrible side-effects, and finally, my psychiatrist put me on the third generation of an anti-psychotic, on which I am doing well now for more than a year. He took me off Seroquel as a sleeping aid, and my life changed. I am again happy in the mornings, I enjoy life. I want to work, I love the moments with my son, I want to write, to travel, to explore.

The Netherlands treats me well. I am one of them. I was offered a permanent contract at my job when I was in the hospital. They know about my diagnosis. They know how difficult it was for me here in the beginning. They gave me time to heal, and regain some rare moments of the almost non-existent self-confidence.

But it’s all precarious, of course. Every day I am terrified: but what if it happens again? What will I do then? Every day I am terrified that my son will grow up with a mum who is in and out of the hospital. Every day I am scared that I will probably not have any other relationship: who will want me with my bipolar disorder, and such a big vulnerability for ‘psychoses’?

And so I repeat sometimes, as some sort of a mantra: I lived in four different countries, I have a PhD, two master’s degrees, and I speak four languages. It’s just a small reminder in my otherwise, very difficult and often miserable life. It’s something that justifies my existence and my claim at my job that I truly love. It’s a reminder that I am still worth something, just so that I don’t give up totally on life.

And so life goes… I need to raise my son.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Ekaterina,
    My thought is that you should avoid the labels of Russia and Amsterdam and all of the institutions associated that try to ensnare you in their catch web. You are the fox and you escape the snares and stay free for your son. Never give in. We will win in the end and your son will carry on your extra ability with strength and conviction!!

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  2. There’s nothing wrong with you, and there’s nothing to fear. I didn’t experience my first ‘psychosis’ until I was 34. The second one was only a few years later, but it was definitely the last. By the time I woke up again this past December, I was fully trained. This world, with it’s money, and it’s doctors, and it’s drugs, and it’s suffering, is awash in ignorance and delusion. You are no less a Buddha than I am, and neither of us is any further from nirvana than the other. There are things, there are sensations, there are emotions, there are thoughts, and there are words for all of it. But what there is not is anything worthy of being called mine, much less me, nor is there anything anywhere worthy of my attention absent that one infallible idea.

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  3. Hello! Our stories have some things in common — the bipolar label, the being a mom…. my kids are wonderful and are now thirty. There was doubt re. if it was wise to be a bipolar mom and if I could do it; my daughter’s a bodyworker, yoga teacher, farmer, artist; my son is an engineer. Both are loving, intelligent, original-thinking, shining and beautiful young people; you can, you will. Stay strong.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story. I have a son who is grown whose had similar experiences, as you’ve described having. He never stayed on medication long at one time, but long enough for lasting negative impact.

    What is a third generation antipsychotic? Latuda? (That drug immediately gave my son a movement disorder).

    I wish you much happiness in your life and in raising your son. Have as much fun as you can together (my unsolicited advice).

    Thanks again for sharing your journey!

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  5. Ekaterina, I hope that along the way you find enough peace in your life to find your own way of getting off of all your psychiatric “medications.” You said in your prior blog post, in the comment section, that you are scared of becoming psychotic again, and so keep yourself on the second generation drugs, that there is no help for getting off psychiatric medications. Added to this, it’s then actually the withdrawal symptoms that statistically and scientifically cause this “psychosis,” the “medications” in the long run DO NOT statistically correlate with preventing “psychosis.” Even were there more medical help or institutional help, this still does not mean that that would be the answer, sad to say. Even there the final step depends on the person themselves. There are numerous resources on this site giving information how to get off of psychiatric medications, people you can contact, and also other places. Perhaps you need to look further than whether the mainstream system is doing it for you. You might have to let go of concepts of loss, that the time needed to do such work to get off of the medications, to get clean, that this might incur a feeling of loss from “the system.” You might find in the end that that isn’t really loss. I hope you find your way, whichever route you end up adventuring into.
    I’ve found myself that in the long run, not being scared of psychosis, or what I’ve been through in the past that I myself even found “crazy”… that without judging it, I get the perspective I need, and this also alleviates the anxiety that might cause me to get into the same habits that might lead to the “psychosis,” the escape. I don’t need to escape from the “rational” mind in order to see beyond the limitations it would put. I start understanding what otherwise I’ve been brainwashed to think is crazy, or to be scared of, or to want to prevent. And then, not only does whatever the subconscious: the spirit or my soul that has perspective on time rather than is only experiencing it at a linear fashion, that it knows there meaning to the story, not only is this given space to speak, to express itself, to tell it’s story, to sing it’s melody, to bring it’s poetry to life, to paint it’s picture, but I’ve put myself in a healing space, rather than being anxious I have to not get “psychotic.”

    How much is all of that simply an alien territory to our Western “society,” and we are filled from childhood with spook stories about it, discrimination, all the rest of the brain washing, just for what!? Do as you’re told and you’ll get a reward from exactly WHAT kind of society!?

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  6. https://biblehub.com/matthew/15-14.htm

    Verily, what fools we are when we allow others rob us of any or all of our sense of humor, or to persuade us that we cannot at any moment we choose be buddhas, resurrected christs or ready, willing and able to go to our Happy Place.

    Oh, WHAT idiots we have all been, first to believe we were NEARLY all “sinners,” and then NEARLY all “mentally disordered” and/or have some “personality disorder!”

    It’s just like saying that some of us have an accent, others do not: Naturally, we all react to each human life’s challenges uniquely, and always emotionally, at least until…

    And yet this must madness surely have all been necessary…until now, at least?

    Eckhart Tolle has suggested that at some point in our human evolution our psyches split, resulting, along with our awareness, in the ego, our “unobserved mind,” or unobserved thoughts and emotions, or “complete identification with form,” the temporary forgetting of our true, essential nature…UNTIL NOW.

    Ekaterina, thanks a million for such eloquent and moving reminders that those who can make us believe absurdities – such as that we are our minds – can make us endure agonies and act out and commit atrocities

    Wishing you and everyone joy and love and laughter.

    Tom.

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