My girls were three and five the first time I was admitted to a psychiatric facility. I had just crashed from my biggest manic episode and the fallout from my poor decisions had thrown me into a horrible depression. The year prior to this, I had had a smaller episode in which I took my girls and left their father, Scott, and for the next twelve months, I turned all of our lives upside down.
Looking back is hard. Not only because my memory isn’t entirely clear but what I do remember has me wracked with guilt. I thought I was doing what was best for my girls; sharing custody, providing the necessities and being there for them whenever they needed me. That’s just it though, I was only “there” when they needed me. I loved my girls more than anything but that just wasn’t enough. During the times that they were with Scott, I shopped, called in sick to work and started drinking heavily. When the girls were with me, I tried my hardest to be a responsible and loving mother. I went to work, I stopped the extravagant shopping excursions and I didn’t drink. This cycle would repeat itself every four days. I was only a mother during the days that I had the kids. When I didn’t have them, I had no responsibilities except to have a good time. My four days with the kids were always filled with fun but there was absolutely no structure. Sometimes we wouldn’t get out of our pajamas for two days. Sometimes we wouldn’t get home from a friend’s house until midnight. Some nights I would cook a huge meal for everyone and other nights we would eat ice cream for dinner or whatever the kids could reach in the fridge. One night, I woke my girls up at 11:00 p.m. to bake cookies with me.
At the time, I thought I was an amazing mother; a fun mom. I just couldn’t understand why everyone else couldn’t see it too. I was accused of being on drugs (which wasn’t the case) but everyone wanted an explanation for my erratic behaviour. I felt abandoned by those I loved and that quickly turned to paranoia. I was convinced that I couldn’t trust anyone.
After almost a year of my strange behaviour, a failed suicide attempt and a huge psychotic break, I moved back home. Scott and I rekindled our relationship with the promise that we would go to counselling. About a week after I moved back home, I woke up in the middle of the night with an overwhelming urge to run away. I paced the house, quietly at first, to try to walk off the feeling of being suffocated. My anxiety level started to rise very quickly and the only thing I could think to do was to start cleaning. When my family woke up and saw the state of the house, I knew for a second that something wasn’t exactly right. We had friends coming over to visit and I had the contents of the living room, the kitchen and a bedroom scattered everywhere. I was convinced that my entire house needed to be cleaned and reorganized. The thing about me, and a lot of other people with bipolar disorder, is that when I am in a manic episode, full of all of that energy, I can’t stay on task. I have every intention of starting a project and seeing it through but that rarely happens. To break that down even further, I could not just clean and organize one room at a time. I had to “empty” everything at once, in every room at once, before trying to put it all back together again. Only to have someone else put it back together because once I stepped back and looked at the mess I had created, I was overwhelmed with such anxiety that I would just go to bed and hide. This is the part that is crystal clear to me. I was in my bedroom with the contents of my dressers piled up onto my bed. I had a movie playing in the bedroom while ACDC was blaring on the stereo in the living room. My girls were playing downstairs and Scott was following me from room to room with a look of horror and concern on his face. He kept asking me what I was doing and what was wrong and I would snap back that everything was fine if this house would just be clean. I was highly agitated when our friends showed up and I could hear them asking Scott what the matter with me was.
It was at that exact moment that something clicked. I knew for certain that something was very wrong. I could look back and see the cycles that I had been experiencing since my teen years. I knew I wasn’t in a good place and that my behaviour wasn’t “normal”. I told everyone right then and there that I had to see a doctor immediately. I knew that this new found knowledge and understanding would be gone just as quickly as it had appeared. It was like I was watching a movie of my life in my head. I was scared and so I left. I drove myself to the closet clinic where the doctor told me to go to the emergency room right away. Once I arrived at the emergency room, I had no idea why I was even there. I thought it was a ridiculous idea for me to be there for nothing, so I tried to leave. What I experienced there were some of the scariest moments of my life. While I was in the emergency room, a nurse came to me and asked where I would like to eat my lunch. This seemed very odd to me. I had been in the emergency room for different situations and had never been offered lunch. After I declined their offer, things got worse. They took me to “the quiet room”. I remember the nurse telling me that there were no empty beds so she was taking me to a different room. As we passed the empty beds on the way to this room, my paranoia peaked. I started to cry, told them that I was fine and I needed to go home to my family. The nurse promised me that she wouldn’t close the door and that the doctor would be in to see me soon. When she left me I took in my surroundings; the soft pink walls, the foam mattress bolted to the floor and the security cameras on two corners of the ceiling. The stainless steel toilet also doubled as a drinking fountain and the door was big and thick and entirely impenetrable unless you had the keys. Why was I here? This is where they took crazy people and I certainly was not crazy. The nurse was kind and she didn’t close the door. I don’t know how long I was there before the doctor came in. I can’t recall what we talked about or how long we talked for. I do remember looking up, seeing Scott there with my suitcase in hand; he knew I wasn’t going home.
After 4 mgs of Ativan, the Mental Health worker came to speak to me. He and the doctor asked me to “voluntarily” commit myself into the psychiatric unit for assessment and to consider the possibility of med therapy. I vehemently disagreed and asked Scott to take me home. The doctor told me that it was not in my best interest to leave as he had concerns that I would try to harm myself. He gave me the choice; you go in voluntarily or I put you on a 28 day hold under The Mental Health Act. My decision was made for me and off we went to the psychiatric unit.
I was in such a haze of disbelief and medication that the first few days were a blur. I remember lying in bed crying and aimlessly wandering the halls. I know I spoke regularly with two psychiatrists and the psych nurses but other than that, I have no recollection of our conversations. After about four days, I started to come around and get into the daily routine. My meds were starting to take effect. I attended group therapy every day and continued to speak with the psychiatrists. Every day I asked when I could go home and every day I would get the same answer: “We don’t think you’re ready to go home yet. You’ve just started your medication and we want you to be supervised.” This continued for another week until I finally realized that the only way I was getting home was to continue my meds, therapy and just let everything else be.
During this time, Scott and the girls came to see me on a regular basis but when the girls asked me why I was there and why I couldn’t come home, all I could tell them was that Mommy was really tired and the doctors wanted me to stay there to get some rest. Another week passed and I was seeing things much more clearly. I was faithfully taking my meds, participating in therapy and had a positive outlook for the future. I knew I had just experienced some sort of episode and that things were slowly getting back to normal; I was going to be fine. That same day the psychiatrist called me into her office. “Nicole, I think we have found the reason why things have gotten so out of control. After a hard look at your history and your behaviour, we have come to the conclusion that you have a bipolar disorder. To be more specific, you have Bipolar1 and you experience rapid cycling. Here is some information for you to look over.” She then handed me a printout of bipolar disorders and the symptoms. I remember being shocked, scared and a little bit relieved. I wasn’t “crazy” exactly but there was a reason I did the things I did and a reason why I felt the things I felt. She then told me that I was being discharged the next day and that I must stay on my medication and get routine blood tests to check my lithium levels. I was also enrolled in three outpatient programs that ran consecutively and would keep me busy for the next three months.
Everything blurred again once Scott came to pick me up. It was time to pick up my life where I left off but I had no clue how I was going to that. I took a leave from work and worried about how I was going to break this to my family and friends. I knew I had a long road ahead of me and no clue how to walk it.