"Alcohol released me
from my social anxiety"
Alcohol, outbursts of rage and psychotic episodes had left Sven Z in a sorry state. He was shunned by friends and colleagues. Psychiatrie Baselland helped him find his way to a new beginning.
Sven Z. doesn’t remember having psychological problems in his early childhood. He had a "strong parental home" that gave him support and a sense of wellbeing. Appearances were deceptive though. At the age of three, he tells us, two friends had already done something "not very nice" to him. Sven speaks of abuse, and at the age of six he says he suffered further abuse. These experiences were to shape his later life. For years he kept them to himself.
Sven's overwhelming shyness and mistrust of other people was a striking feature of his childhood – to the extent that he once waited behind a tree for an hour before daring to go to a forest hut for his school leaving party. He was 15 at the time. The only way he could overcome this anxiety was through alcohol. Sven started drinking. His great passion in those days was photography. It strengthened him psychologically and made up for not having a circle of friends.
Years later, he met a woman. "She was mentally ill and suffering from depression." Sven wanted to help her and took a close interest in her problems. It was evidently more than he could handle. "I put all my energy into my girlfriend, and there came a point when I realized I'd burnt myself out." The two broke up several times and Sven turned to alcohol to soothe the pain of separation, at one point drinking five litres of beer a day. "That was just the normal state of affairs for me." At the time, he didn’t realize he needed professional help.
Despite his high alcohol consumption, Sven held down a regular job. Then, in 2013 he suffered his first psychotic symptoms. Alarmed, he abruptly stopped drinking. But it was not long before he re-verted to his old habits. Things got even worse: "I was drinking more than ever – I must have been getting through something like ten litres a day." He had problems at work. Eventually he managed to reduce his drinking again. At the beginning of 2014, he recalls, he was suffering from persistent psy-chotic episodes after another major relapse. He had outbursts of rage, even over trivialities, kicked down doors and heard voices.
To begin with, Sven still went to work until it was no longer possible and his doctor put him on sick leave. In 2015 he started going to a day clinic in Olten. In 2016, Sven lost his job and started drinking again after two years of abstinence. As a result of this in 2017 he fell ill with pancreatitis and spent several weeks in intensive care. Sven had panic attacks and was given medication to calm him down. Finally, in autumn 2017, he sought help at Psychiatrie Baselland.
Inpatient treatment was followed by several months of therapy at the Liestal day clinic, which Sven continued to attend until September 2018. "In the day clinic, I found my way back to my former creativity and started drawing and taking photographs again." He also wanted to go back to work in his old profession and turned to the job coaching service provided by Psychiatrie Baselland. The counsellor helped him in his search for a job until he finally struck lucky: Sven Z. found a position with a former employer and is now on 50 percent working hours.
Sven's mental condition has stabilized, he tells us, concluding that "What helped me the most were the many discussions during my treatment at Psychiatrie Baselland." But the Blue Cross also did a lot for him, he notes, adding that he regularly attends a discussion group with them. He also receives outpatient help at the Psychiatrie Baselland Centre for Addiction Disorders. "These days I don't touch a single drop."
Sven Z. was treated as an inpatient at the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Liestal for several weeks. This was followed by outpatient treatment. He was a very actively engaged patient and fully motivated to get off alcohol. Another of Sven Z's therapeutic goals was to stop smoking – a goal which he defined as a "project" and implemented in stages. He used the time freed up by no longer needing to take smoking breaks to pause and reflect, documenting his insights in writing and in a photographic diary.
In psychotherapy, a "working alliance" was established with Sven Z., which went on to focus on relevant aspects of his life story and how he experiences his current phase of life. This made it possible to consider and analyse the various problems in his everyday life. There were also stability-enhancing sessions which included training in coping strategies and how to handle stress factors, including measures to prevent relapses.
During the day clinic treatment, Sven Z learned how to establish a fixed daily structure and deal with the symptoms that remained after his inpatient treatment. Another aim was to find a job – in the short term in the protected sector, but in the long term back in the mainstream private sector. Sven Z's at-tendance of the one-to-one consultation sessions and his appointments at the day clinic was very reliable and motivated. He simultaneously attended weekly discussions at the Centre for Addiction Disorders. In time, he succeeded in establishing a fixed daily structure.