PTSD, Trauma, and Bipolar

Patient Expert

One of my readers asked me about PTSD. In strict diagnostic terms, the condition is limited to survivors of combat or other horrific events. Typically, its victims relive the trauma again and again.

It would be foolish, though, to disregard trauma connected to more mundane occurrences, such as negotiating a challenging childhood. Basically, any deep psychic wound - regardless of cause - needs to be taken seriously.

Trauma looms large in bipolar. For whatever reasons, many of us find ourselves living in a world that is booby-trapped to go off in our brains.

Normally, after a stressful event, the brain resets to normal. But trauma has short-circuited our wiring to the point where many of us experience fight or flight for seemingly no reason.

Many of us have successfully adapted. Nevertheless, the danger is real: One bad memory randomly asserting itself, one ruined sleep, and we’re sitting ducks for depression and mania.

Three years ago, here on HealthCentral, I posted a nine-part series devoted to trauma. Some of my main points:

  • Our long-term recovery generally involves coming to terms with our past traumas.

  • For many of us, our bipolar becomes much easier to manage once we have treated our trauma.

  • Having said that, it is advisable to first stabilize the bipolar.

  • There are a number of different non-meds treatments and therapies for trauma and PTSD. What they all have in common is that they expose the patient to the traumatic event or events in a safe setting. Repeated exposure over numerous sessions - should things go right - generally lessens the impact of the trauma.

  • Antidepressants are used in the treatment of PTSD, but these tend to have a destabilizing effect for those with bipolar.

  • The time may not be right for you. Facing our past may be too much to handle at any given moment in time. Be kind to yourself.

In one of my pieces, I related how a series of conversations I had several years ago with a family member proved extremely beneficial in my healing. We were not consciously engaging in any therapy, but over the course of time, as a result of hashing and rehashing our childhoods over a few beers and some good music, a lot my internal anger and resentment vanished, never to return.

Trust me, this was huge, but the time had to be right.

My nine-part trauma series:

A New Conversation

The Conversation Continues

What We Are Up Against

Genes, Epigenetics, and Development

The Bipolar-PTSD Connection

The History of the PTSD Diagnosis

PTSD Therapies

Going Over What We Have Learned

Timing is Everything

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