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When he was 18, Nicola -Nikki- Owen set the family home on fire when his mother was inside.
Her mother was able to escape, but Nikki had to sit on the bench, accused of trying to kill her and facing 15 years in prison. Nikki’s defense? Premenstrual syndrome.
Here we tell you about his case, which made history in England by being the first time that PMS was used as a mitigating factor in a conviction.
Since then, PMS has been used as a mitigating factor in court. in various cases of murder, infanticide, homicide and many other crimes.
Nikki grew up in the county of Kent, England, between the 1960s and 1970s.
Nikki was passionate about dance and made some money as a child model.
“She was very good at dance, and she used to practice for a couple of hours before going to school,” Nikki tells the BBC’s Outlook. “And it was very good. I won about 40 cups and hundreds of medals “.
“I was always very quiet. And I would say peaceful and calm.”
“My life was very good, we were a quite boisterous family and there were always people in the house, my mom and dad were very sociable people,” he recalls.
But Everything changed for Nikki when she entered the puberty. She was no longer a shy and well-behaved child; Nikki’s personality was transformed to a point where she was not recognized. And that rapid and severe transformation could not be explained.
He says that his relationship was good with his parents, but admits that he started arguing with his mother when he became a teenager.
“I think because my mother had always seen me very quiet and well behaved and I was always the good one while my sister was the naughty one.”
“My mom was a bit surprised when suddenly I wanted to have a point of view, or I wanted to do something that maybe she wasn’t expecting, so we started arguing a bit. ”
“But she was amazing,” he says. His mother was the one who made him all the costumes for dance competitions.
Nikki especially remembers one: when she played the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
“It was one of the dances I did when my period started and I could feel that kind of absolute evil in me,” she says.
“I remember my dad once said that he felt quite cold when he saw me act because it was as if his little girl had disappeared and that evil monster had possessed me.”
Nikki says that she felt really depressed and very isolated for those years. “I wanted to be alone and I cried a lot in my room and I felt very uncomfortable with my body.”
It was at this point that he began to overeat and steal alcohol from his parents’ cabinet.
It was years of self-loathing, self-harm, and suicide attempts.
“I remember one night when my parents had gone out I was walking to the police station in a nightgown and a dressing gown because I had just taken a shipment of pills that I found in the medicine cabinet.”
They took her to the hospital and did a stomach wash. Other attempts at self-harm followed. In total they were 26 stomach washes.
“I really wanted to destroy my appearance, so I cut off all my hair, which was almost to my waist, and cut it all off and then shaved my head and eyebrows, and took off my eyelashes.”
“My parents would cry and cry and say to me ‘why Nicola? Why are you doing this?'”
Pero Nikki couldn’t explain why.
“The way I dealt with this was to think that there were two Nicola, there was the good Nicola, which I was used to, and then there was this evil Nicola who seemed to take over the good Nicola, and the good Nicola appeared less and less , and the evil one was taking control, “he says.
“I felt like I had this Jekyll and Hyde personality. What was scary is that I never knew when that monster would come out.”
In one of those episodes it ended chasing her mother through the kitchen with a knife.
“I would do these terrible things and then I didn’t understand why I was doing it, so I really thought something was very wrong with me, and because of that I was getting more and more depressed and feeling more and more useless,” says Nikki.
“I think those suicide attempts earlier had been cries for help. I wanted someone to tell me why I was acting this way.”
“I felt like a monster”
One day, when only her mother was inside, Nikki, then 18 years old, set fire to the house. His mother escaped, but he was terrified to think what would have happened if my two brothers had been in the house.
“So he reported me to the police and said that was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.”
Nikki had already burned her parents’ house once before, and had been in jail for a few weeks for it, but she had been released on bail as long as she visited a psychiatrist, who put her under a sedative injection treatment.
This time there was no bail. Nikki was accused of trying to kill her mother, and entered Holloway Prison in London.
“I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore, I can’t explain why I did it. I looked like a monster, I acted like a monster, as far as I was concerned, I was a monster.”
In prison she continued to behave violently and was put in solitary confinement.
“They put me in a dress made of an indestructible material so that I couldn’t hang myself and there was a mattress in the room, not a bed because they thought I could do something.”
Her father wanted to go see her and one of the guards on the block she was in let her look through the crack in the door.
“That was the worst moment of my life… My dad was trying to be so brave and he said to me ‘let’s find out what’s wrong with you, my girl I’m not going to let you down’ “.
“I just wanted Dad to fix it and tell me why.”
Her father, desperate because he could not understand why there were times when Nikki was so normal and at others she became so violent, decided to call eight psychiatrists to have different opinions.
“They described me as a hopelessly insane manic psychopath and a danger to society.”
When his father read the reports he said that there was no way he was going to accept that and that he wanted to get to the bottom of the matter.
“He went to see one of the psychiatrists, who told him that he and my mother should focus their lives on my brother and sister and forget about me because I would never be free, and that he suspected it had something to do with the endocrine system.
“He came home and went straight to the library and started researching the endocrine system and found a link with hormones.
Later, in a meeting with his own doctor, when she asked him about his daughter Nicola, he told her the story. She, surprised, told him about an article she had recently read, written by a woman, that said: “Are your periods driving you crazy?”
At that moment he thought there might be something there. When he read the article he knew.
“My dad said that while he was reading this article he was cold because he knew that he was describing what was happening with me,” says Nikki.
There was another element of great help. His mother kept detailed diaries showing a monthly pattern clear on your daughter’s behavior.
“My mother had all the dates that showed this cyclical nature, every month something happened, during the same number of days and it disappeared completely on the first day of my period.”
After years of questions they finally had an answer.
As soon as they realized something might be wrong with their daughter’s periods, they went to see a PMS specialist.
She told them that Nikki had to stop all medication and do a progesterone treatment.
PMS can affect women in the days leading up to their periods. There is no definitive answer as to exactly what causes it, but it can have a severe psychological and behavioral impact.
When Nikki started progesterone therapy everything started to change.
“In about three weeks I felt incredibly different, I really felt normal and it was very shocking.”
“They took me out of solitary confinement and my dad decided to call all those psychiatrists who had seen me before and couldn’t believe the change in me.”
A historical case
Suddenly Nikki had an answer too. His behavior was related to severe PMS.
And that had to be used as part of your defense in the trial he still had to face, which, in the 70s and with a defender and a male judge, was quite radical.
The hearing was set for December 22, 1978.
“My attorney came to see me and said that I had to be prepared for the fact that the judge would not accept PMS as extenuating. He told me that we were creating a legal precedent and we didn’t know how it was going to go, so I had to prepare for a 10-15 year sentence. “
There was a lot of traffic that day and the prosecutors were late, so Nikki returned to the cell while they were not there. That gave the judge more time to read all the reports.
When he returned from the cell, Nikki no longer sat on the bench. The judge said that clearly was what was wrong with him.
He eventually received a 2-year suspended sentence, on the condition that he continue progesterone therapy.
Nikki was freeBut coming home was not easy.
“My mom and dad were paranoid,” he says.
“I was full of regrets, every room in the house was evidence of something terrible that I had done.”
“It was a very difficult time and I had a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, I had panic attacks.”
But Nikki seized this second chance at life. He created his own organization, Healing Hub, through which you help other people cope with stress and anxiety.
“I remember when I wrote to dad from prison asking him ‘why am I going through this’ and his answer will remain in my heart forever, because his words were the reason why I am doing the work that I am doing now,” he says. Nikki, excited.
“In his answer he said: ‘One day you will look back and realize that everything you are going through is defining the legacy of the woman you are destined to become.‘”.
His case made history in England as the first time PMS was used as a mitigating factor in a criminal case.
Forty years later, much more research has been done on PMS and how to treat it.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.