Guest Post: Aliona Kuznetsova > Recovering from Bipolar Psychotic Episodes
“I went mad twice, and twice I came back.”
Photographer Aliona Kuznetsova
“You really shouldn’t be afraid to go to them. They won’t do anything without your consent at this stage.” I told my childhood friend, who came to me for advice about his progressing depression. We were cruising the cold winter streets of Lausanne, Switzerland. He looked at me anxiously, and I knew what he wanted to tell me. “What are you really afraid of?” I asked. “I am afraid to go mad.” I looked at him warmly, “I went mad twice, and twice I came back.”
First Psychotic Episode
My first psychotic episode happened when I was 27. For 2 weeks, I did not sleep. I had maybe 2 hours of sleep per night, yet I felt energetic and happy during the day. Honestly, I felt ecstatic, extra friendly, and inspired – the way a young photographer who recently got her first Marie Claire publication should feel. It felt like my body tapped into some magic well of energy that felt never-ending. But even if I couldn’t see it at that time, my sleepless nights and exhausting days took their toll.
Soon my thoughts stopped to be as clear and logical as they used to be. I started to obsess over old traumas and invent bizarre habits and views. I progressed too far and lost my perspective completely. I didn’t know that something was wrong until I started hallucinating. I remember lying on a couch and feeling the borders of it expanding and shrinking again. I felt dizzy.
The next day I left my home and threw away my key. I got arrested by the police who called my husband and told him I really should go to the hospital. That whole night I kept hallucinating, and it was the hardest night of my life. My journey touched upon all my childhood trauma, as well as my current fears and insecurities. Since then, I tell people that the scariest thing about voices is not that you hear them; it’s that you cannot tell them to f*ck off – you believe them like a 3-year-old believes his parents, and they know how to drag you through hell.
Hospitalization in Switzerland
The next 1.5 months I spent in a hospital, which is not a scary place in Switzerland. Yes, if a healthy person will visit, they will see a lot of pain, but the pain is mostly not inflicted there. Imagine a regular, non-psychiatric hospital without painkillers. People would scream and cry because of pain, but it doesn’t mean doctors are hurting them. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have similar painkillers for psychological pain.
After that 1.5 months in the hospital and following 7 months of clinical depression, I finally started to get better. With my husband and friends’ help, I started photographing again, found a job (freelancing seemed to be hard still), and became actually healthy enough that my doctors decided to try to lower my dosage.
Second Psychotic Episode > Bipolar Diagnosis
As I recovered my mental health, my boss in the design lab where I worked decided to give me as much responsibility as I was willing to take. That’s when I had my second psychotic episode. It was much smaller than the first one. I just had a lot of excitement over my new career possibilities and was determined to work it all to perfection. I overworked so much that I broke down and couldn’t even read for a week. Besides, I was acting weird at some meetings. Long story short, my boss decided I was taking drugs.
At the same time, my doctor diagnosed me with bipolar – now he was certain it’s not a stand-alone episode, but bipolar type 1. The news about my diagnosis really shocked me. I wondered how I would live with this, how am I going to work, build a career, have children, do all the normal things? At that point, my boss fired me because I “will never become anyone.”
The second psychosis was a much smaller one, but it broke me more. First months I came to my doctor every week and said, “I don’t feel anything,” and every time, I left in tears. My other doctor, already in the US, told me I act like a textbook PTSD case when I try to address that time period.
But little by little, I recovered. And year by year, I also recovered my photo practice – working on my terms, forming my own path. It wouldn’t happen without my husband, who has been by my side and supported me constantly. Once I asked him, “Why are you with me? Don’t you care that I am bipolar?” And he said, “It’s not your diagnosis, but your response to it that makes me love you even more.”
Aliona Kuznetsova, Photographer
Now I live in San Francisco, among other amazing, weird, creative individuals. I am a member of a gallery, and I recently published my first photobook. My works can be seen in Vogue Italia Online, Marie Claire, Elle Swiss, and Forbes Romania. I tutor other photographers about getting published in magazines. I do it all on meds. Yes, they are not a perfect solution, but they are the only way I can learn, work, love, create, and live my life. I have gone mad twice, I know what’s there, and I am not in a rush to go there again. But even if I will, now I know my way right back.
Check out Aliona Kuzentsova’s stunning photography on her website and social media platforms: