Having struggled with mental health issues for about a decade, 24-year-old Baryn Jacobsen faced tough times as a teenager. Years later he reached out to a doctor, but he was let down without a diagnosis or successful treatment.
“All I asked them for was a definite label, I wanted to know what was wrong. I never got an exact answer, nor was I ever given a proper diagnosis.”
He knew he needed help when he noticed himself spiralling down and thought everyone was pissed off with him. He now knows that his underlying issues were causing him to think that way.
“I felt like my parents were pissed off with me. My friends were pissed off with me. Everyone was just pissed at me. I thought the world hated me.”
Baryn went to a doctor and told him about the way he felt. He was referred to a psychiatrist, and from then on spent years in and out of “the system”, as they call it.
“I saw a psychiatrist once a month just to explain the feelings. Every month it would be a different one.”
They suggested taking medication, though at the time Baryn felt like he didn’t need it.
But he took them anyway, trusting his psychiatrists. He was told that the mild serotonin uptake would simply make him feel happier. Instead, it did the complete opposite – he ended up a lot more depressed.
After starting the medication, he believed that was how it was going to be like from there on: “I thought I was fine just being like a zombie.”
His mental health continued to deteriorate. “They would change my medication every two months. That brought everything out in a short time.”
By seeking out professional help, he never got the help he hoped for and needed.
“I was prescribed all sorts of medication just to see what worked so that psychiatrists could make an assumption from there.”
Yet the psychiatrists he saw didn’t give him a diagnosis. “I displayed traits of schizophrenic and bipolar personality disorders, but sometimes obsessive compulsion was determined.”
He was losing himself more by the day. “I stopped showering, I stopped doing everything for a year. I wore my socks for two months on end. It was just a mess. And people didn’t realise. They just thought I was a weird person.”
He even admitted himself to Mount Carmel Hospital in hopes of getting better. “I was in Mount Carmel twice, because I knew my doctors wouldn’t listen. I enjoyed it. I wanted to go there.”
Meanwhile, his symptoms kept getting worse. Wherever he was, he would hear whistling in his ears. “It could be 3 o’clock in the morning when there was no one around, or on a random afternoon at the beach.”
Then, out of nowhere, traits of schizophrenic and bipolar disorder showed up, and no one could explain it. He had the feeling that doctors didn’t believe him.
Manic depression would kick in in the middle of the street, he had panic attacks on public transport. “I’ve had anxiety attacks at work, especially when the whispers crept in again.”
At some point he was walking around dangerous areas, not knowing what he was doing, and he was raped.
His friends have memories from days that Baryn cannot remember. His therapist later explained the memory loss and bad trips as his psyche splitting in half for his own protection.
“I remember none of this, but I do remember waking up on a friend’s sofa the next day because I’d run away from my parents as I was scared of the voices and shadows. I had split my finger open on broken glass.”
His friends found him at their door at 5am, foaming at the mouth.
“I think it was my medication because I was switching brands at the time. After this event, I was taken off of some. Nothing like that ever happened again.”
He started questioning the psychiatrists’ choices:
“Do you really want to put these tranquillisers down someone’s throat just to see if it makes them happier? Don’t you want to try something a little less abrasive first?”
Eventually, he went into therapy, and his therapist helped him find his way back to himself. With her help, he found out his issues originated from the trauma he experienced as a child – trauma he never got to process.
“The act of not stopping and processing the trauma when necessary evolved into something that ended up taking over my life. I just never stopped. But I can do that now.”
He gradually started putting the pieces together, though it took four years to get there and to fully understand what he had been through.
Baryn is doing well now, but he still faces his fears every now and then. “Sometimes I still hear voices, I still hear whistling at night when the wind is silent. My name is called by shadows in the corners of my eyes, lights flash during the day.”
In the end, he doesn’t blame anyone or anything. “I can’t blame them for anything, I can’t blame myself at all. Things just happen.”
But his journey helped him understand his own mind. “I have to learn to live with my demons. If not, I won’t get to meet my angels.”
Mental illness is more common than you think. Population-based studies across Europe estimate that 120.000 people in Malta are living with a mental disorder. And as the COVID-19 pandemic affected people’s livelihood and mental well-being, that number might be even higher today.
This article is part of a multi-article series shedding light on mental well-being issues in Malta, from the impact of COVID-19 to individual stories like Baryn’s.
If you or anyone you know struggle with mental health issues, reach out to someone you trust. You can call national support service 179 or get help online at kellimni.com or Richmond Foundation’s OlliChat.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Reach out to [email protected]
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