Trauma Matters

Trauma Matters

Trauma matters. They say that too often, most of us are unaware of the history of trauma in our lives. Whether it’s the type of childhood trauma that came about due to verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or trauma that has taken place in our adult lives; unresolved trauma has the power to mess with our brain chemistry and can certainly greatly affect bipolar disorder.

Many of us were raised by a parent who had bipolar disorder that was either not diagnosed, self-medicated or left untreated which then caused trauma within our childhoods. Which may also have been true for our parent. My father was not diagnosed with bp until my freshman year of college. Prior to that there was a level of anger and rage in our home that was the cause of a lot of trauma for me as a child. However, it was nothing compared to the severe trauma that many others suffered.

Unresolved trauma can help set the perfect storm for the onset of bipolar disorder. It affects brain chemistry. Many folks I’ve met over the past years through Fresh Hope groups also have PTSD due to some type of trauma from their childhood. I’ve also met a number of soldiers who have PTSD and working through their trauma. Unresolved trauma can cause a life full of emotional pain.

Recently I ran across an article by Kathy Broady (MSW) in which she identified 20 signs of unresolved trauma. Here are just a few of those 20 signs:

  • Addictive behaviors
  • Inability to tolerate conflicts
  • An innate belief that you are bad
  • Excessive sense of self-blame
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Unexplained but intense fears

Broady writes, “Running from your trauma history will not help you feel better. In the short-run, you might not have to face the issues, but the cost in the long-run of unresolved trauma weighs more heavily than you might suspect.”

Over the last 20 years working through my unresolved trauma has been an ongoing process for me. It has not all been childhood trauma; a fair amount has been trauma I have experienced as an adult. It has not been resolved. But, as I become aware of it I do my best to work through it. The pay off for me has been significant. Working through the trauma has allowed me to begin to untangle the trauma symptoms from the actual affects and symptoms of bipolar disorder which has and continues to allow me to experience more thriving in spite of the disorder as opposed to simply surviving the disorder. Prior to that I was blaming a lot of my “issues” on bipolar disorder when they were issues/symptoms of my unresolved trauma.

Working through my trauma has also allowed me to learn new skills for dealing with stress. I did not learn good skills for dealing with stress as a child or young adult. It’s been a life long process and is still going on. Food has been and still is one of my coping skills and when you put that together with the weight gain due to medicine it has been rather overwhelming at times. I have yet to overcome this issue. I think I’m very close to having the desire to overcome the battle with the weight. Of course, I’ve been here, done this before. But, motivated to wanting to see my grandchildren grow up.

In any case, working through one’s trauma takes courage. But, the pay off is worth it. How about you…have you or are you working through any unresolved trauma? If so, have you been able to see how the symptoms of bipolar disorder and trauma can be untangled and separated that you might be able to have a better life in your recovery?


The Difference Between What We Can and Cannot Change

The Difference Between What We Can and Cannot Change

Wisdom for Living Well: Knowing the Difference Between What We Can Change and What We Can’t Change

This line from the Serenity Prayer has been a key for me in learning how to live to well in spite of bipolar disorder:

 “The serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr [1892-1971])

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995 I spent a lot of time focused on things I could not change. Which led me to becoming frustrated, hurt and angry. This “side-trip” on my road to wellness took me down a path that had the power to make me bitter and resentful. Which was holding me back from getting better.

Thankfully my therapist at the time was able to help me get back onto a path that led to wellness and the key was in knowing the difference between the things I could change and those things that I could not change.

For instance, some of the things I could not change were:

  • I couldn’t change other people’s reactions to my mental illness including those close to me. (This was a big one for me!)
  • I couldn’t change the fact that I had (and still have) bipolar disorder and I couldn’t “will” it away.
  • I couldn’t change my past.
  • I couldn’t change the fact that I would need medicine.

This list could go on and on. But, I think you get the point.

The first one on the list was a BIG one for me to accept and come to terms with; not being able to change people’s reactions and opinions regarding my having bipolar disorder. I had lived my life with a lot of “people-pleasing”, so it really mattered to me what other people thought and said about me. So, I spent a long time and energy spinning my emotional wheels around this issue and what other thought or said was simply not something I could change and nor was it was my responsibility.

As I focused on the things I could not change I found myself not changing the things I could change!

Strangely enough, that which occupies your thinking is also the direction you go. So, as I focused and obsessed on the things that I could not change I started to become frustrated, angry and bitter about them. There certainly was neither serenity nor peace for me.

The key for me in accepting the things I couldn’t change was to change my focus to the things that I could change. And as I focused on the things I could change I began to get my life back. I know that whatever I focus on in my thinking is “where” I’m headed. I began to make a list of the things I could change and began to work on and think about those things. It took a lot of will power at first. I continue choose to focus on the things I can change so that I might live well.

Some of the things I can change:

  • I can change how I respond to others in spite of how they have reacted to my disorder.
  • I can find those who do understand and are supportive in spite of those who do not understand and not supportive.
  • I can change learn from my past and take what I have learned and apply it to today and my future. I don’t need to beat myself up over past mistakes.
  • I can choose to live life well in spite of having bipolar disorder. In other words, my whole world is not wrapped in having bipolar disorder. It is just a part of my life, not the whole of it.
  • I can change my doctor or therapist if they are not helpful

Again, this list can go on and on too.

I believe that knowing the knowing difference between the things I can change and the things that I cannot change and focusing on the things I can change has been key to my living well in spite of having bipolar disorder.

How about you? Have you or are you learning the difference? What can you change? What can’t you change? Are you focusing on the things that you can change and letting go of the things you can’t?