Facing Past Trauma Head On: A New Conversation

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Let’s discuss our childhoods. In response to a recent post of mine, Alfredo writes:


    Dear John, I cannot help but feel that most cases of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are a genetic predisposition triggered by a traumatic experience particularly during childhood. I don't know but I have the strongest feeling that you have experienced a traumatic experience and that this may have triggered your bipolar.


    Funny you should bring this up, Alfredo. These days, I jokingly tell people that I raised myself and did a rotten job. And if you were to ask what the biggest challenge of my life was, I would seriously have to say surviving my parents. Or surviving childhood in general.

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    Coincidentally, here is an extract from the first page of my just-released book, "Raccoons Respect My Piss But Watch Out For Skunks":


    Every morning, I had to steel myself to get on that bus to school. Ours was the second to last stop, which meant I wound up standing in the aisle, fair game for young sociopaths in the making, the type of people who grow up to become Charles Manson or talk radio hosts (it's hard to tell the difference). Then, again, for all I know, they are now working for Habitat for Humanity.


    My inner immune system invented its own respite from the terror of school and the outside world. Just when I knew I could not ever possibly board that bus one more time, my body would give out on me. My throat would constrict and flare up, my nose would heave up great gobs of green bloody snots, and I would cough the cough of the dead.


    Then the healing would start. There in bed, or on the couch under a million blankets shivering in a sweat-induced micro-climate of Vicks VapoRub fumes, my strength would come back. Slowly. Over several days, a week, more. Then one day I would get out of bed and get dressed, too far behind in my school work to ever actually catch up, but nevertheless ready to take what the day offered, one day at a time.


    My mother, to this day, still thinks I had an idyllic childhood.


    I published this in article form 13 years ago, soon after I was diagnosed. My original version did not make reference to my mother. That made sense way back then, but things have changed. 


    Two-and-a-half years ago, my brother followed me out to southern CA. Over that time, we have had a lot of candid discussions over a beer or two. It turns out that he not only validated that family life was as bad as I perceived it, but that he added some mind-boggling new perspectives that made me realize it was worse, much worse.


    Back to Alfredo, who had this to add:


    For me bipolar disorder, not in all cases but in about 80% of all cases, is nothing more or less than trapped emotions of a traumatic event. This is like poison that becomes trapped in our subconscious mind. To really get better we have to begin to let the poison out and this can take years or decades. ... 


    Funny, again, you should bring this up, Alfredo. The conversations I had with my brother led to a new stage of my healing. First, I went through a “Holy Crap!” phase. Then as my psyche began to sort through the mess, a new feeling of lightness came over me. Let’s call it a conditional healing. Life may not be perfect, but it’s a lot better right now, thank you very much.


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    Basically, my meds got me stable while my lifestyle and coping tools got me healthy. But getting me whole demanded the courage to enter some very dark spaces and embrace a very scared and very fragile boy. It is still an ongoing process.



    This begins a whole new conversation, where we explore the relation between our illness and past traumas. As always, you are the real experts. We are all in this together, learning as we go along. Please share your insight and experience. Comments below ...   

Published On: June 03, 2012