Stigma Fighters: Cecilia Åkerström Sjöberg

I don’t know where my story will end as I start writing, and I’m worried it’ll be too long, but the first time I can remember threatening suicide, I was ten or eleven years old. I don’t remember why, but I was on the second floor landing of our house, screaming to my mum that ‘perhaps I should just run myself through with a knife’ since apparently no one loved me, while she was laying on the downstairs sofa, crying.

I grew into a morose teen-ager, depressed, a bit of an outcast who didn’t fit in anywhere. I was never able to establish the kind of connection with my peers I thought people my age should have. In recent years I’ve discovered, and also been told by others, that it wasn’t so much others shutting me out as it was me distancing myself from them. And my mood was mostly dark, but aren’t all teen-agers hormone controlled depressives? I sat in my room, lights off, only a lit candle in front of me on the desk, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘I am a Rock’, wishing I were dead and wondering why no one loved me. The way teenagers do.

I got through those years, and I thought I was on track! I thought myself normal. I hated conflicts – but who doesn’t? Conflicts lead to break-ups and never talking to the other person again, so who would want conflicts? I never got angry – it’s a waste of energy and not conducive to anything good. I got sad… or angry at myself. I felt misunderstood…and I always wondered why it seemed as if I never felt as deeply as others seemed to… but life went on, I fell in love, got married and for a while the depressive moods faded away. I thought it was in the past; A teenage quirk. Then a decision: I wasn’t happy in my marriage. Separation, divorce and – in the middle of celebrating my newfound self – the terrible blow that I couldn’t stay in the country my marriage had brought me to, a country I’d adopted as a home. A little over a year later, back in my native Sweden I found myself. For two weeks,  I averaged two hours of sleep per night, at my desk crying and not knowing how to stop.

Initially the diagnosis was depression related to being over-worked and I was put on anti-depressants. I never questioned the diagnosis, or being put on medication, but simply assumed the meds would sort me out. That I’d get better and things would get ‘normal’. Almost fifteen years later, I feel I want to give that poor naïve version of myself a big hug… it gets better, it does, but I no longer know what normal is, and I doubt I’ll ever live in ‘normal-land’ again. You see, ten years after that initial diagnosis, ten years of being on a medication that in retrospect didn’t work, and after several failed attempts at carrying on a normal life, being failed by the health system, not being heard and all the while fighting the tiny voice in the back of my mind who whispers that it would be so much easier if I wasn’t here, I was finally diagnosed bipolar II.

I’m still here, but I feel I have to question whether I’m really happy or in the beginning of a hypomanic episode. At times writing ten poems per day, taking 400 photos in a week or deciding to finally tear down that horrid wallpaper after hating it for almost ten years could be because I’m creative and have just found some energy reserves, couldn’t it? I constantly find myself questioning my every mood and my every thought. Nothing is just normal anymore. Nothing just ‘is’. I always feel the need to be on guard against myself, just in case. Always question the good days. Especially the good days. But, again, I’m still here.

To spice things up, a diagnosis of Personality Disorder (not otherwise specified) has recently been added to the mix… not otherwise specified!? I can’t speak for other diagnoses than the ones I have, but that one seems particularly hard to live with! I don’t even know which – one or more – disorder I should associate myself and my way of reacting/thinking with! Now I don’t only have to fight my moods because of the bipolar, but I have to recognise that the way I react to any given situation may be because of my PD… Can you blame me for not trusting myself, my feelings or my reactions very much? For snorting derisively at all the ‘think yourself well’ posts? For being, and I’ll gladly admit it, a tiny bit envious when I hear of people, often with far worse diagnoses than mine that somehow manage to juggle family, friends and even careers?

It’s not all bad. I know myself much better these days, through ageing and long-term therapy, and I’m starting to learn the signs and triggers of an oncoming hypomanic or depressive episode. I also seem to be on the right medication for now. I’ve figured out that my brain is hardwired a bit different to the norm and I might not react the way others do, even when it feels completely normal to me. Over the years I’ve managed to alienate many friends but some are still here. I never got the opportunity to start a family or managed to – so far – maintain a functional relationship (apart from my marriage), as I’ve focused my energy on trying to find answers to my many and very messed up questions. But I am still here. And there is still, somehow, a future out there…

I am still here! Some days I am almost even feel thankful that I am.

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Cecilia Akerstrom Sjoberg is a Swedish woman who’s just celebrated the 18th anniversary of her 25th birthday. For the past fifteen years she’s been battling what was initially a diagnose of recurring depression but has now been upgraded to bipolar II (bipolar light, as she calls it) and Personality Disorder (no other specification). She is slowly trying to find her way back to the work place after several years of sick-leave and unemployment, and is undergoing long-term therapy. Cecilia lives with her four-legged soul-mate Lizzie (a Chinese Crested Powderpuff) not far from where the capital Stockholm, Sweden becomes proper Sweden. For some of her poetry or photos, please visit www.ccchampagne.wordpress.com or follow her on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/ccchampagne.
  • Helen White

    I loathe the “think yourself well” type of stuff. Keep going, in time you’ll learn to recognise hypo mania distinctly from creativity, and as for a “non specified” personality disorder, that’s very hard. All personality disorders have very different symptoms. Keep on going and being yourself. And so much kudos for opening up your soul and for the inspiration to keep going.