This morning, I just read a bphope.com blog post by Melody Moezzi entitled “Bipolar & Hospitalization – When Treatment Is Traumatic“. I found it addressed a significant topic that I’ve heard/read others discuss in the past. However, when hearing/reading such stories, I think back to some of my many hospitalizations. I, too, was literally dragged into isolation rooms and given injections. I was, at times, so sick that a hospital security staff member had to follow me around the ward for a couple days and watch me shower. However, unlike Melody’s (and some others’) experiences, when looking back, I found that it was even more my actual bipolar illness that left me with trauma. I don’t deny the trauma Melody writes about, or even that trauma can’t trigger bipolar disorder (I definitely know that), but feel that trauma, from the illness, is too inadequately discussed.
In my life, I was unfortunate to have experienced several severe manias with mixed features and psychosis, among other types of episodes. Very often, my psychosis included delusions of persecution and frightening hallucinations. Even the non-stop figurative beating I received from my illness, ultimately traumatized me. So many years of episodes made me almost feel like a soldier fighting in a long and sometimes vicious war. Then to crash into severe paralyzing depression depleted what little of me was left. ECT, itself, seemed like a final torture, despite its intent to provide relief. During my first ECT treatment, I experienced anesthesia awareness, yet another type of fright. I also struggled greatly to find a helpful (not so unfriendly) medication mix and adopt healthy coping skills (not alcohol abuse).
Beyond the pain and strain I felt during my worst bipolar episodes, I also had to cope with extreme embarrassments; past work colleagues witnessing my illness at its worst, neighbors seeing police and ambulances at my door; anger and rejection from others that resulted from bipolar behavior, throughout my life. I experienced extreme grief at the loss of a career, and the loss of the inner strength that I used to have. The recovery process was so long and arduous, and required a patience that I never thought possible for me.
After the four years of my worst bipolar episodes, I was also left with additional unexpected challenges. I started to have severe migraines for the first time in my life. I exhibited symptoms that doctors suspected were simple partial seizures. For a short period, I developed two specific phobias and agoraphobia. For much of a year, I felt terrorized by musical hallucinations. My brain seemed to have fully unraveled. It took a long time and great efforts, after numerous uncomfortable tests, to restore some psychiatric order again. To stop the psychiatric avalanche, and dig myself out.
I have made great progress in my recovery from the traumas of my bipolar episodes, but I am still quite weakened in various ways, especially stress tolerance. It’s like having to recover from a major physical injury. I’m not sure if I will ever be as strong and able, psychologically, as in my youth. I’m now almost 50 years old. I continue working on recovery, but also on acceptance.
There have, however, been major positives that resulted from my traumatic experience. I’ve learned a great deal about myself and my illness, along the way. Though I still experience bipolar episodes, I have gained more insight into them and can often nip them by the bud. That’s so extremely important! I’ve worked so hard. I don’t need new trauma, if I can help it, so I take my medications, continue working with my mental healthcare team, and do my best to create/maintain a healthy mental and physical lifestyle. My journey has also given me more compassion for others, and myself. I’m more grounded than ever before, and value life in a deeper way. I see others, and myself, as heroes for surviving and battling such a formidable illness. I did not permanently lose my optimism, and I continue to have hope for many brighter days in the future, even if there are some hiccups along the way.