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Bipolar and Trauma, Part I

Updated on October 29, 2013

Bipolar Disorder (From darkness to light - a series, Part 1)

After being drugged, raped and bumped up on the dose of my antidepressant, I began a vicious pattern of what I now know is called, "rapid cycling" in which I felt I was on a roller coaster of highs and lows that alternated between minutes. Imagine feeling high energy, severe irritability, anger, suicidal, out of control, anxiety and depression all at the same time. I immediately called my general practitioner who had increased my antidepressant to ask if my mood changes could be a result of the increase. I was answered with a resounding, no. Feeling like I was losing my mind, I eventually got in with a therapist after a two-month wait, and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and eventually with Bipolar 1.

The initial therapy session is still a blur to me, as my memory at the time was limited, to say the least. Short-term memory loss is a less than desirable symptom of bipolar. However, I do remember speaking very fast and erratic. The therapist actually stepped out of our session to make me an appointment with a psychiatrist, which even with a referral would be a two-month wait. On the drive home I was beside myself sobbing and in denial of what I'd just been told. I had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition I always viewed as something "crazy" people had, but also that by my GP increasing my antidepressant, this was the biological factor that threw me into this horrific cycling pattern. When I arrived home, I immediately started self-medicating with beer after beer, calling my ex-husband with racing thoughts so bad that I stuttered through the whole conversation and eventually just laid in my backyard and cried.

Bipolar Disorder (An Overview)

According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, "Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a treatable illness involving extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. Nearly 6 million adult Americans are affected by bipolar disorder. It usually begins in late adolescence (often appearing as depression during the teen years), although it can start in early childhood or later in life." Numerous famous figures are afflicted with bipolar disorder, one being Jesse Jackson Jr., U.S. representative of Illinois who is currently being treated for bipolar II at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Other public figures diagnosed with with bipolar disorder include actors, Jim Carey, Robert Downey Jr., and Patty Duke; artists, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola, and Vincent Van Gogh; and athletes, Darryl Strawberry (football), Muffin Spencer-Devin (golf), and Dimitrius Underwood (football).

Although my extreme cycling did not start until after my assault; I can look back as early as my teen years and recall times of major depression, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and impulsive acts. All of which continued a few times a year well into adulthood. For example, during my second marriage, I partied with a friend one night and the next day sold my wedding ring to a stranger to buy a plane ticket to visit an ex-boyfriend. Nothing was wrong with my marriage but I now know I was most likely experiencing a manic episode and therefore became extremely impulsive. Although this event did not end my marriage, it did cast a dark cloud over the rest of our relationship until we were completely broken. The divorce, another trauma in my life that sent me into many years of depression and guilt.

10 Signs of Bipolar from Health Magazine,,20436786_4,00.html


For more than a decade I was prescribed a variety of antidepressants, mainly from a general practitioner. As indicated through research most bipolar patients only seek help during times of depression and are therefore misdiagnosed as so. Similarly, someone seeking medical treatment during a manic episode may be diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD). Diagnosing a patient with bipolar disorder can only done by a psychiatrist or licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist. Including a thorough case history that includes the occurence and history of symptoms, along with family history (if available), a psychologist making a bipolar diagnosis may also administer a series of tests to the patient, as stated by authors Ruth C. White, PH.D and John D. Preston, PSY.D, ABPP, of BIPOLAR 101. I remember the daunting and exasperating Mental Health Aide computerized tests administered by my therapist. For about an hour I answered question after question that ranged from my family background to my mood changes throughout the years.

The Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Although there is no clear-cut research on the cause of bipolar disorder, research such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron-emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have begun to provide clues to the process of bipolar disorder in the brain, according to White and Preston. "The tendency toward mood instability is considered to be genetically transmitted. People with this biochemistry are more vulnerable to emotional and physical stresses, and the negative impact of stress on treatment is reduced effectiveness. The major triggers are lack of sleep and high levels of stress. Trauma has also been known to trigger bipolar episodes," explains White and Preston.

In my case, the biological factors that predisposed me for biopolar stemmed from my paternal grandmother and sister. Also, the trauma of the rape I experienced kick started my bipolar into overdrive. Later, in therapy I was given the tools, like writing an angry later and apology letter from my rapist to help me deal with this trauma.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is marked by recurrent episodes of mania and depression with possible mixed episodes. For example, high energy, depression, and suicidal thoughts, according to White and Preston. Bipolar II disorder is marked by milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with major depressive episodes with no full manic episodes. Finally, "rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is the diagnosis given when a person experiences four or more depressive or manic episodes within a twelve-month period," stated by White and Preston.

Understanding mood changes and keeping a mood chart can greatly assist the diagnosing mental health professional. Here are a few example charts from Bipolar 101:


Depression Symptoms


Manic Symptoms


Mixed Symptoms


Yes, my outlook on this diagnosis was extremely bleak in the beginning before I finally saw my psychiatrist and eventually started two months of intensive outpatient therapy. And the result, that glimmer of light that I thought I'd never see through the long dark tunnel I was envelped by became a bright sun that now shines upon myself and subsequently my family. Taking those unknown first steps toward the light are the hardest but will eventually lead to an abundance of rewards.

"When you come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step into the darkness of the unknown. Faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will be solid ground to stand on or you will be taught to fly," author unknown.

In Part 2 of this series on Bipolar Disorder, we'll look at the vast array of resources for getting help and my personal journey through therapy that saved my life. For resources on bipolar visit


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