Bipolar Disorder and Trauma

Song of the Day: Stop Me by Mark Ronson.

Photo Credit: nutmeg66 available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License.

Do Bipolar Disorder Sufferers become traumatised by unpleasant events more easily that emotionally healthy individuals?

I’ve always wondered this. Does our emotional sensitivity make us react to, say a flaming row, with much greater angst and upset than a healthy person? In terms of angst, upset, anxiety, guilt, etc, I would say yes, I think we do have more intense reactions, so it therefore seems logical that we would become traumatised by an event such as this more easily.

What do I mean by trauma? Well I guess I’m thinking in terms of Post Traumatic Stress symptoms: flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, hyper vigilance, that kind of thing.

What about this sensitivity thing? Formally the trait is covered by Interpersonal Sensitivity and Emotional Reactivity, common to Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder. I don’t know what proportion of those with the disorder have the trait, but I’m certainly more sensitive to any kind of emotional event- I’ll react over dramatically. For example, I went to a concert where Phillip Glass’s Violin Concerto was performed- I was in tears it was so beautiful! I’ll also become more upset than most by slights, put-downs, criticism, violence of any kind, changes to routine, etc. I react badly to crowds, poor lighting, mess, overpowering smells or noises- loads of things. I wonder how many other Bipolar peeps do too? I’ve previously written a post about sensitivity which you can access by clicking here.

Photo Credit: TomBKK available under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License

Going back to the topic of trauma, I am curious to know whether or not Bipolar sufferers are more prone to traumatic reactions as a result of this sensitivity. I myself have experienced a few events in my life that I’m still struggling to get over even after twenty years! They are not majorly serious; I haven’t been abused or knocked about or in a road accident, etc. I used to ask myself why on earth do I feel so traumatized by the events? I could understand it if I’d lived in a war zone or something, but the events that I’ve experience, listed below, are certainly not what most people would consider “traumatic”:

– When I was 11 my Dad returned home from work one day and my sister and I were asked to go to our bedrooms. Mum and Dad shut the lounge door after them so we couldn’t hear what was going on, but we listened from our bedroom doors anyway. We heard a really weird noise that neither of us could place, a kind of wailing. It was Dad sobbing his heart out. We thought he must have lost his job or someone had died. We were terrified though as neither of us had ever seen Dad like this, he’s always been our rock. I felt like the ground beneath me had caved in. My sister and I were in floods of tears too, so was my Mum. She had to explain to us that Dad had an illness- depression. My first ever encounter with the dreaded D- word.

– My overdose at age 20. The hospital, all of it. I guess that would be a trauma for anyone though!

– Aggressive verbal attack on my manager at one of my more stable jobs- I’d been there 2 and a half years. Also attempted bodily harm. Obviously sacked. Devastated.

– Last year a similar attack on a stranger after our dogs started to fight. Still very raw about this one. Police were called. Luckily the other party involved was generous enough not to press charges. This was my first ever involvement with the police and hopefully my last.

The last experience I described is still very fresh in my mind. I’ve had quite a few nightmares about it and wouldn’t go back to the place it happened for ages, and even now, not on my own. If I see the person from a distance, I panic majorly and have to walk in the other direction. I still get emotional about it. Flashbacks occur often when I’m out walking my dog. They are intense and scary, I can still hear myself screaming at her. It is so out of character for me and I’m still terrified that I might react like that again. I felt at the mercy of my emotions, with zero self-control.

Maybe it’s just the way I’ve been bought up: church every Sunday, wrapped up in cotton wool and babied. There was certainly very little arguing when I was growing up, and no swearing or violence. So somebody with bipolar who was brought up in the opposite environment, ie. surrounded by all these things- would they be less traumatized than me? Have they habituated to the effects of this kind of environment? Perhaps they would experience no trauma at all! I guess it all comes back to the old Nature versus nurture debate.

I’d be really interested to hear what you think. Have you reacted severely to a seemingly mild event? Am I way off the mark in linking Bipolar with Trauma? The other thing, if we Bipolars do experience trauma more readily- does this exacerbate our symptoms? Would it set off rapid-cycling? It could possibly be a big snowball effect. When we have therapy for Bipolar, would it be helpful for counsellors/therapists to cover trauma?

1 thought on “Bipolar Disorder and Trauma

  1. Pingback: School Days: Anxiety & Fitting In « My Bipolar Life

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