Stigma Fighters: Nicole Lyons

My Name is Nicole. I am a mother to two beautiful little girls and I am a survivor, an advocate, and probably a lot like you. I also happen to have a mental illness called Bipolar Disorder.

I think if I was a child growing up now rather than in the early eighties, I definitely would’ve been prescribed Ritalin and diagnosed with some form of ADD or AD/HD. As it was I was the “hyper” kid, always wanting to be the center of attention, never stopping, too loud, and always finding ways to disrupt my classmates. “Nicole is far to social at inappropriate times” was pretty much stamped on every report card from Kindergarten through to graduation. “Oh, that’s just Nic” was something my friends repeated over and over again after some ridiculous stunts I pulled. That one followed me as my once cheeky behaviour went from increasingly audacious to erratically alarming over the course of a few years.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, twice, about twelve years ago now. I went to see two different psychiatrists at the urging of two of my friends, both who had concerns that maybe something “wasn’t quite right with my head.” I had decided beforehand, both times, that I wasn’t interested in what either doctor had to say and I was basically going just to get my friends’ off of my back. Can we say non-compliant? Oh yes, I have a huge history of non-compliance. I can be a down right non-compliant bitch at the best of times. How did I deal with this? Denial, reckless behaviour and self medication. Some would say those are textbook symptoms of someone with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and many other mental illnesses. Over time my symptoms got much worse. I shopped and wracked up so much debt that not only did I put myself in financial jeopardy, but my close family as well. I wrote cheques on my family members accounts. I defaulted on a loan my family member signed for, instead using the money to finance a cocaine habit that started to get out of control. When I was sober, the depression was too much, but when I was high, or looking back now, even manic, I was erratic. I continually put myself into downright dangerous situations with absolutely no care for self preservation. This applied to poor choices in relationships as well, until finally I met my saving grace. He helped clean up the substance abuse part, but there were still questions with the psychological part that I wasn’t ready to have answered.

After our second child was born I was mistakenly diagnosed with postpartum depression and put on an SSRI that had me “snapped” in three days. I went into my biggest manic spell at that point, convinced I was poisoning my newborn by nursing her while on this medication. I vaguely remember calling the nurse’s line asking if it was possible to poison my baby with breast milk and having the nurse ask if I was at home alone or not. I told her that was irrelevant, I needed to go vacuum my blinds, they were filthy from my vantage point. That’s what mattered at the time. My husband came home and took me to the clinic, we switched to formula. I went off the meds and still refused psychiatric care. Instead, I left my husband.

I started the old cycle again, but this time thought I had a handle on it, four days on, four days off. That was the custody arrangement with my children. During the days when I had the children, I was fun mom again, ice cream for dinner, baking cookies at midnight. Nothing inside of me said that this wasn’t ok. Looking back now, that’s what hurts. It was a friend that pointed out that it wasn’t appropriate for me to be doing this to a two and four year old. That was a turning point, for a moment. I had to be the best mom I could be, so I stopped everything and went back on the SSRI. The mania happened again, except we still didn’t have the concrete diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I went up fast. From what I recall I went about eight days without sleep. I made late night phone calls to family and friends expressing concern how the Universe was working through me and that something very big was going to happen very soon, but I didn’t know for sure what it was. Everyone’s initial reaction was that I was high on some sort of drug. I couldn’t get through to anyone. No one would listen to me, and I was scared. I knew something wasn’t right. I was paranoid and afraid that people were conspiring to have my children taken from me. I believed that people were watching my home and listening in on my phone calls. At this point I could no longer function. Getting out of bed was impossible. All I could do was cry and wonder what was happening.

I decided one night that the only way to keep everyone safe was to just give up. I thought my salvation would come at the end of two bottles; whiskey and sleeping pills. So I did it. I was prepared to stop it all, the cycles, the ups and downs, and fogs and hazes. And then I woke up. About 16 hours later, hungover as fuck, I woke up. I hit the floor and I cried. I have never prayed, but I thanked The Universe. I called the Doctor the next day. I called my children’s father. I admitted myself to the hospital. I didn’t want to die. I wanted the courage to accept something that was fucking terrifying. And you know what? I got that courage, it took a long time, but I got it.

The kids’ dad and I got back together. I ended up having the big break one day at home. I decided it was time to clean the house and the only way to do that was to empty out every single room, one drawer at a time all into the living room while blaring AC/DC and watching Dirty Dancing. It was then that I was completely aware of everything. I saw all of the cycles from the time I was a teenager. The ups and downs, highs and lows. I knew for certain that I needed help. My husband took me up to the hospital where I was admitted and finally accepted my diagnosis. I call the first few stays in “the spa” the lost months as they were a haze of new meds and therapy. It’s been a long road, but I’m now very proactive and much less non-compliant. Don’t get me wrong, I can still be a real bitch, but that has nothing to do with bipolar disorder.

nicole

Nicole is the mom to two sassy little girls.  She believes in small random acts of kindness.  She volunteers for a Canadian Mental Health organization that rallies for better mental health care for Canadian youth with a strong focus on suicide prevention, and her best friend is a 170lb Mastiff named Capone.  She is certain she must’ve been either a hippie or a gypsy in another life.  You can find her at www.facebook.com/TheLithiumChronicles

  • Kitt O’Malley

    Thank you for sharing your story and for the volunteer work you do for better mental health care. As a fellow mother with bipolar disorder, I know how important it is that we take care of ourselves, of our brains, of our mental illnesses.

    • Nicole Lyons

      Thank you, Kitt. I love my volunteer work, and you are right, it is so important to take care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we don’t do very well taking care of others.

  • Rudy Caseres

    Nicole, this was a very intense read for me. I know personally what it’s like to cycle between mania and depression. It is definitely not an easy ordeal. I’m glad you’re doing better these days and reaching out to others with similar stories. I look forward to you continuing to progress as an advocate and a mother. Take care!

    • Nicole Lyons

      Thanks Rudy. That’s very kind of you. I wish you well too.

  • Dori Owen

    An amazingly honest read, Nicole. I, too, have bipolar disorder. I have never thought about my early behaviors as a child until you described yours. You could have been describing me! I do wonder sometimes why my parents didn’t intervene and I had to wait until adult disasters before diagnosis. Fabulous blog!

    • Nicole Lyons

      Thank you, Dori. I wonder how different our lives would have been. Some journeys we’re meant to take I guess.