A battle with bi-polar
EVERY time her oldest son calls, or her only sister rings in, Margaret Lyons’ heart lurches.
It is not that the Yangan woman doesn’t love hearing from family; quite the opposite.
What torments her is the uncertainty and crisis that inevitably comes when two people dearest to you are battling bi-polar disorder.
“I love and am proud of them both, yet sometimes the symptoms of their disorder aren’t easy to deal with,” Mrs Lyons said.
Yet it is this insight as a family member which may prove invaluable when she joins her sister at the American National Association for Rural Mental Health conference in Denver this June.
“My sister Rosemary Mills is the first non-academic Australian they have ever asked to be guest speaker at the conference,” Mrs Lyons said.
“Rosemary has been a very vocal advocate for improving mental health in regional Australia.”
Mrs Lyons will play a vital role in the trip, travelling as her sister’s official carer and support person.
“Rosemary was in her early 30s when she was diagnosed as bi-polar,” she said.
“Experts believe her case was triggered by a traumatic car accident.”
The trigger may have been pinpointed, but the symptoms proved more challenging.
“The disorder is characterised by extremes.
“My sister can go from mania, where she is hyperactive and over the top with everything,” Mrs Lyons said.
“In other words someone really fun to go to the Ekka with, to someone too depressed to get out of bed.”
Medication does balance out the extreme manic-depressive mood swings, but at times the complex combination of anti-depressants and mood stabilisers fails.
“Rosemary has attempted suicide, and there have been times when I have dropped everything to be with her,” Mrs Lyons said.
“But that is what family is about.”
Holding her sister’s hand through psychiatrists’ appointments gave her in-depth understanding of the chemical-imbalance disorder and its genetic traits.
Ironically it was knowledge she would fall back during an unexpected late-night call from Warwick police.
“Police called to say my son, who lived in Brisbane at the time, was disoriented, dressed in pyjamas, picking roses in Albion Street and searching for his mother,” Mrs Lyons said.
“The police were brilliant, but the situation was traumatic.”
Her son, who was just 29, had been an irregular marijuana smoker through his 20s, and then experienced a severe psychotic episode.
With family support the young man was hospitalised in a Brisbane mental health unit and later diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
“My sister flew over to be my son’s support person; to help him deal with the fact he had a mental illness,” Mrs Lyons said.
“We just tried to make sense of it.”
She said there was still a certain stigma associated with mental illness.
“People don’t look different; they don’t look sick, so it’s harder to understand something is wrong,” Mrs Lyons said.
As a mother and a sister she has learnt the hard way that you have to take life’s good with the challenges.
She knows there will still be long days, fraught phone calls and emergencies that come with loving two people with an extreme disorder.
“I am so proud of them both,” Mrs Lyons said.
“My son has a wonderful wife and little children and a good job, but he has to work hard to keep it together.
“The medication makes him feel like he is living in a fog, but he doesn’t have a choice.”
Her sister has also made significant achievements despite her battle with bi-polar.
“Rosemary is passionate about mental health in regional communities and what should happen to more adequately support individuals and families,” Mrs Lyons said.
“She is thrilled to be part of this conference, despite the pressure it might put her under.”
As someone who has played a carers’ role in her capacity as a mother and asister Mrs Lyons also has her thoughts on best practices to support mental health sufferers in regional places like Warwick.
“When it comes down to it, we need to support people rather than judge them.”
She believes her trip to the conference in America will allow her to return with vital information about how and what other countries offer people struggling with mental health issues.
Anyone keen to support Mrs Lyons’ trip to the Denver conference or interested in knowing more can contact her at email@example.com.