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Positive Attitude Development

11:01:00 PM

Lost years or a valuable lesson of life?

When life rolls difficult ordeals in front of us, it is important how we are able to deal with them. Especially important here is the ability, because without giving a more philosophical sense to the situation, we firstly tend to place ourselves in the role of a victim, which unfortunately will not help in coping with difficulties.

We meet Madis in the Mental Health Center of Kadriorg and already the first glance at the young man convinces me that this young person with an athletic physique and a friendly, confident look is not representing the role of a victim, but someone, who has clearly thought things through for himself. However, at the same time it can surely be assumed that the path he has taken for nearly 10 years has not been easy for him.

At the age of 18, the doctors diagnosed Madis with schizophrenia, and later with bipolar personality disorder. It all started from a deep depression during adolescence, which was so strong that it was starting to take away the will to live. Coping during the most difficult times of life – teenage years – mainly depends on how well we are prepared for this and how strong we mentally are.

Madis

The young man, now aged 28, comes from a small rural area. Although grown up without a father, he himself considers his childhood as a happy one – well cared for and loved by the womenfolk, the boy was healthy, strong, and a good student in school. It all changed in his teenage years: “It was bullying in school- every remark towards me created stress. I was an athlete and physically strong, but an introvert in nature and sensitive to bullying, I also had no abilities to defend myself.” Madis himself believes that the bullying might have been caused by his special status in school – the headmaster and some of the teachers were a part of his family.

The young man changed schools after depression took him to the hospital for the first time. In a small place, everybody knows everyone and he did not wish to go back to his old school as an object of discussion. Instead he finished high-school in the Tallinn Old Town Evening School.

Life with a severe diagnosis
Schizophrenia means life in a completely different, unintelligible reality for the others, and everything you hear, see and experience, seems so real that you will not even realize that everything taking place is a reality only for you and not for the others. How could you understand that these obsessions, strange images, terrifying sensations are only a “wicked fabrication” of your own brain, and have no greater connection with the world surrounding you. Madis put the pieces together slowly, piece by piece, but the beginning was complicated.

To visit a psychiatrist for the first time, was a psychologically difficult ordeal for the young man, and it took him several years before he felt himself more comfortable. Now he has his own doctor, but Madis is of the opinion that there should be a site on internet where youngsters in distress could find some overall information about mental disorders and their symptoms and even the contacts of doctors or peer support, whom to ask primary advice.

“Before my illness, I did not know anything about schizophrenia nor about bipolar personality disorder. I had only seen movies where schizophrenia was shown in a very bad light, amplified in a terrifying way, but I had not read anything about these diseases. When the symptoms appeared, I did not have an idea what it was – I was young and was not able to cope with the situation. During the last 4-5 years I have learned more about this illness. I have read books, gained knowledge from doctors, learned from my own experience, and participated in trainings”.

While struggling with psychosis, Madis has been to the hospital several times during the years. One treatment session endures for about 2 weeks. “In the first years, I needed to stay in the hospital for 5-6 weeks in a row. Now I have enough experience and I can arrange my life so that I only get sleeping difficulties – I can predict and know when the right time to go to the hospital comes. Previously I was not able to react in the right time and I only turned to the hospital when the situation was pretty bad. At that time, I also needed to stay in the hospital for longer.”

Madis is grateful to his family and friends who have always supported him. Family members helped him realize that he would not be able to come out of this on his own and needs to turn to the doctor for help. They also encouraged the young man to seek help from sports, and fitness centers are a part of his days even now when he is working as a coach in the Iru Youth Center.

Sick or just a special person?
In the first years after my diagnosis, I felt very sick and took the role of a sick person. But later I started to think of myself as a special person. I might be sick, but I do the same things that everybody else – I study, work, do sports. I have friends, a girlfriend, and a family”.

Now Madis says that the disease is a part of him and he is satisfied with it, especially as he can do everything the same way his friends do. “I can do everything they can do. The only difference is that I need to watch my health more. There are more severe diseases than this. I have even thought that due to my disease, I am more caring about myself than other people my age – I go to bed at the right time, I do sports, eat healthy – I try to develop myself in every way. The disease makes you think. Young people nowadays go out a lot, use alcohol and do drugs. I know, that if I take good care of myself, my health will be ok”.

Prevention and rehabilitation
Madis agrees that educating young people in the field of mental health should already start in the first grades. Nowadays depression hits young people at an earlier age and it is very important that the child would be able to notice the symptoms in himself before the time when help should be looked for.

The young man regards peer support practice as extremely important – experience is the best teacher, even someone else’s experience. “In the earlier years I could have used more help – it is much easier to cope with the situation when you know that others have gone through the same thing. Peer support does not emphasize the disease, you can easily relate to him, he has gone through the same thing and understands the person in need better. He helps you to understand yourself and your problems”.

Peer support is not yet very common in Estonia as a support system, but Madis is certain of the efficiency and importance of it through his own experience and he has decided in the future to help people in need. He has gone through the theory part of peer support training and after practice, he will be ready to share his experience. I hope Madis will fulfill his dream to become a psychologist so that he could successfully use his experience to help others.

In the last two years, Madis has had a support person who helps him to give sense to life and set goals and to cope with everyday life in general. Since hospitals don’t offer support services, Madis’ own support person has visited him in the hospital and he regards this support as very important. “Especially in the beginning phases of the disease, it is very important to have a support person, but he is of great help even afterwards”.

The young man thinks it is important to do explanation work in the society talking about problems of people with mental disorders, especially regarding their employment. Employers are often prejudiced and diffident towards them and mainly because of the society’s stigmatized attitude. “I think that employers don’t have the experience in working with these people, they are also not fully aware of the possibilities they could use when hiring people with mental disorders. I believe it should not always be a problem to make more flexible working schedules, not to apply night shifts etc”.

Life’s valuable lesson
It can firmly be stated that Madis has learned one of life’s lessons. There is no point in getting angry or in a fight with something that you can’t change in the first glance – better yet to accept it, learn from it and as a result we won’t be talking about years lost to the disease but about a valuable experience which has strengthened both the soul and mind. 

“You can’t give up, growing makes you stronger. And you can never know why something might be good for you,” adds Madis in conclusion.


Text: Ene Kaju, Helpific’s volunteer journalist
Translation: Liina Martinson
© Helpific

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