PTSD & Bipolar Disorder

By: Laura Sanscartier

When I was 20, I was sexually assaulted. The details of such an incident are my own, and not anything of any use in a blog post, but they caused a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is found in the DSM-V, and many who have lived a trauma are diagnosed with the condition.

PTSD is confusing and distressing, as it feels as though one can’t “escape” from their trauma.  Symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and inability to go places and do things can make one feel trapped. Add a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, and you have a cocktail of conditions that seem to paralyze.

I have found that Bipolar Disorder is like a big magnifying glass to my PTSD. Nightmares that are horrific seem to warp completely out of proportion and color my everyday life, as I remember them in the day time and they manipulate my mood. Flashbacks occuring when I’m already depressed can bring me to lower depths. Being manic and hypervigilant (feeling “someone is going to hurt me”) can seemingly become an almost paranoia, suffocating me.

But I fight back! There are many coping strategies and skills that have helped me combat these conditions, and not let them take over my life. Using a combination of DBT and CBT skills has helped me out of moments when I feel like the mania will take over. Soothing things like meditation, coloring, and watching funny programs help me rid my brain of the leftovers from terrible nightmares. Talking with my therapist, as well as family and friends, can help me “right the ship” of my brain, giving me perspective and a place from which I can move forward.

In my 20s, I thought I would never be able to work or live a full life. I started SSDI, and was hospitalized frequently for my conditions. I am happy to say that after years of hard work and help from my support system, I am working full time and really enjoying friends, family, and fun outside of work as well.  

PTSD combined with Bipolar Disorder can be horrifying; I won’t sugar-coat that. What I will say is that anything can be pushed back from, if we just push back hard enough.  I will never stop pushing.

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