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13 November 2014

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You are in: Northamptonshire > People > Your Stories > Living with Bipolar

Nicola Oliver

Nicola Oliver

Living with Bipolar

Two years ago, Nicola Oliver from Higham Ferrers was a high flying management consultant, happy wife and a caring mother to her two sons. But she worked upwards of 70 hours per week, and eventually the stresses of her job took their toll.

In 2007 she had a mental breakdown and fell into an awful depression. Later the same year she was diagnosed as bipolar - and lost her job.

Depression is a common mental illness which is estimated to affect up to one in five Britons at some point in their lives.  The term Bipolar disorder is of fairly recent origin, and refers to the switch between episodes of high and low feelings.  Until recently this illness was referred to as manic depression. 

Mental breakdown. Oil painting, 2009, by Nicola Oliver

Mental breakdown by Nicola Oliver

Nicola Oliver says she first realised something was wrong one day at work. "I was in the offices in York and I started hallucinating. The walls started coming in on me and people's faces seemed very large and overbearing. I went out because I thought maybe I was short of sugar or food.  I went to a café and it just got worse, so I ran back to the office and burst into tears."

By the morning she felt better, and a period of a few weeks began where she would wake up and feel fine, but by lunchtime her symptoms would return.

"It's funny. With this illness, the people around you are more aware of what the problems are than you are."  Nicola's  husband Neil and her dad encouraged her to see a doctor after she broke down at the Castle theatre.

"Neil was in a show.  At the end he got changed and came out and I just started laughing, hysterical laughter, and started lifting my skirt and showing my knickers. I had no inhibitions and felt amazingly wonderful after feeling poorly for so long."

Recovery. Oil painting by Nicola Oliver, 2009.

Recovery by Nicola Oliver

But Nicola knows now that this episode was a prime example of bipolar disorder; she was becoming hypermanic.  Her hysteria was followed by paralysing anxiety and she fell into a deep depression.

Her sons, Alex and Max found it extremely difficult to see their mum in that state.  "I just couldn't get to grips with what was going on.  Alex used to stand terrified in the corner because I had turned - almost like Jekyll and Hyde - into a different person."

"But its something that's getting better now. Now they'll cuddle me and we have some really close times. I see Neil watching me sometimes and I think he's quite proud that I'm managing to get back into their lives again."

Although Nicola hasn't yet been able to work, something has come out of her awful experience. During her recovery she developed a passion for art, painting how she was feeling during her breakdown, recovery, and how she views the future.

Mentally well. Oil painting, by Nicola Oliver.

Mentally well by Nicola Oliver

"I'd love to go back to University and work towards becoming an art therapist. I don't want to work for a big plc, or a small company for that matter, who are just about making money because that's not important in life. I'd like to use my art to help people with mental distress to express themselves and their stories.  It's a long journey of recovery, but I've made a start."

last updated: 23/06/2009 at 11:47
created: 19/06/2009

You are in: Northamptonshire > People > Your Stories > Living with Bipolar

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