“I lived the illness with the fear of hurting my children”: Fabrice and his journey with bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is one of the most serious psychiatric pathologies and affects up to 2.5% of the population in France. NEON met Fabrice Saulière, who took 10 years to be diagnosed, and his son Robin, who reiterates what loved ones can endure in this ordeal.

Lbipolar disorder, formerly called “manic-depressive psychosis”, is a mental disorder that is among the 10 most disabling pathologies and affects nearly 60 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In France, it is estimated that this disorder affects 1 to 2.5% of the population, i.e. between 650,000 and 1,600,000 people, a figure that is probably underestimated. It is characterized by the alternation of manic phases – “high”, euphoric periods – and depressive phases, and is categorized into 3 typologies: type 1, 2 and 3 bipolarity, ranging from the most intense to the least severe form. Bipolar disorder is associated with a very high suicide rate : The High Authority for Health (HAS) estimates that it is between 11 and 19%, i.e. a risk multiplied by 15 compared to the general population. Thereby, 1 in 2 patients will make at least one suicide attempt During his life. The damage that this mental illness can cause is compounded by the difficulties in making the diagnosis : a person with bipolar takes about 10 years to be properly cared for.

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⋙ One in eight people has a mental disorder, according to the latest WHO report

To better understand this disease and the consequences it can have on health, but also on the patients’ psychosocial environment, we met Fabrice Saulière, who suffered from bipolarity for fifteen years, and his son Robin. In two voices, they told us about the impact of this disease on their lives and their relationships, the ordeal of 4 admissions to a psychiatric center and the consequences of a 10-year medical journey.

Medical walking

Bipolar disorder did not overtly knock on Fabrice’s door one fine day, but crept into his life in various forms. The first was burnout: a state of exhaustion from 2002 added to a painful emotional breakup in 2007 force Fabrice into a first forced hospitalization, which lasts 1 month. He is then diagnosed reactive depression, which masks the true pattern of his symptoms. is connected another episode of burn out in 2008 which together with this misdiagnosis will lead to another forced hospitalization of 3 months duration. Fabrice describes the conditions of this type of hospitalization, which contribute to dehumanizing patients and stigmatizing psychiatric pathologies:

In the case of forced hospitalization, you are not allowed to go out, your phone is confiscated, you no longer have any means of communication, visits are prohibited… For the person hospitalized, it is extremely violent, because the first thing they do to you is to tie you up. And at that moment it just feels like a trap closing in on you.

Then we begin to suspect a mental disorder, as this is the first time he has been prescribed a mood-regulating treatment. In 2012-2013still in a dynamic of burnout, Fabrice feels the beginning of a manic phase on Christmas Eve, December 24 and decides to be hospitalized himself : it will be the 3rd admissionand the longest since it will last 4 and a half months. This hospitalization will be complicated in more ways than one, as Fabrice will start over in his medical career after the psychiatrist who has followed him until then has left.

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⋙ “The delicacy of bipolarity”: she documents her stay in the psychiatric hospital in pictures

Descent into Hell

This admission will result in a fatal blow to the socio-professional environment in which Fabrice developsan environment that we know helps to ensure the mental balance of people with mental illnesses:

I am losing my partner who denies mental illness : she tells me it doesn’t exist, that I listen to myself too much, that I should kick my ass […] When we lived in her house, I want to lose my house too. And then my colleagues will come to see me in the clinic and say to me: “Listen to your illness, it’s ruining the club, so you leave”. And there it will be the real real descent into hell: eviction from the apartment, RSA, excessive indebtedness…

In this descent into hell, Fabrice will be able to count on the support of his son, Robin, who will welcome him into his home for 2 years. Despite the various hospitalizations, the mental illness is not stopped : if he is medically treated and benefits from a psychiatric follow-up, every time he leaves the hospital, Fabrice finds himself more or less on his own, without overall support.

Resilience

Fabrice will have to face it a fourth and final forced hospitalization in 2017, which will be as painful as it is beneficial. If he again experiences the violence of stigmatization and mistreatment, it is also the first time thatwe will offer him a treatment to help him live with his bipolar disorder on a daily basis: “And fortunately, for the first time in my psychiatric journey, I was offered something other than getting out of the hospital and getting out of my head. I got an assessment: what is the impact of the disease on my daily life? What is the neurocognitive impact of my disease? So: do I have memory problems, learning problems, etc.? And I am offered a recovery path that includes what is called psychoeducation. It’s about learning more about yourself and the disease. And instead of focusing on the symptoms, we focus on: what is people’s life plan? What is the most fulfilling life you can make them live?

The reason why this program was only offered to him late reflects quite faithfully the state of psychiatry in France, where still opposes a retrograde approach and a modern approach : Until 2018, and before the development of a recovery center, the hospital center where he was followed was led by a person whose conviction is that restraint and isolation are the best solution for the patient, a vision inherited from the psychoanalytic approach.

It was also during this hospitalization that Fabrice discovered the profession of peer helperwhich consists in “making your illness your work”: Concretely, it is a matter of accompanying the sick person on the road to health by drawing on his experiential knowledge as a previously healthy patient. Fabrice was sentenced by a verdict of professional invalidity at the age of 52 and sees the light at the end of the tunnel: he fights, follows the university training to become a peer helper and takes up his duties on May 2, 2022 at the hospital where he has itself was treated. “That’s where the noose loops,” he concludes.

also read
⋙ Bipolarity: how to integrate bipolar people in the professional world?
⋙ Immersion: 5 days in a psychiatric clinic

During training a half-hearted assessment the psychiatric environment in France, where one is quicker to administer medicine than to accompany patients towards recovery, Fabrice’s testimony resonates as an emergency : let’s talk about mental illnesses, so that taboos and stigmas end and that psychiatry continues to make its revolution.

Experience the full testimony of Fabrice and his son Robin in the video at the top of the article!

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