Bipolar Disorder or Trauma - Understand the Difference
At least once a week, I have the pleasure of removing the bipolar diagnosis from someone's life. If drives me absolutely bonkers when I am meeting with someone, and they say that some therapist or psychiatrist said that because they experience panic, bouts of depression, and on occasion feel normal are bipolar. Usually, my next question is about how great their meds must be working. "They don't," seems to be the nearly universal response. When I ask why they say that, they exclaim that they still suffer from anxiety, depression, and panic. Upon further investigation, nearly all of these individuals have a point in their life where something bad happened that set their course for their present moment. I am here to state loud and clear, that this is NOT Bipolar disorder, but the underlying effects of trauma!
Bipolar Disorder is characterized by experiencing emotions of the polar opposites. There are three types of bipolar disorders. First, bipolar I disorder is the most known term. Sufferers can experience rapid mood changes that go from very high or manic to hopelessly depressed. Some people switch emotions rapidly, while others stay depressed for months on end. Being the more depressed type of bipolar has been commonly associated with the old term, manic depression.
Bipolar II disorder is similar to bipolar I except the extremes in the emotions are not as pronounced and severe. Finally, what often times gets overlooked is cyclothymia. This is the least severe form of bipolar, and is often explained away by having a bad day, drinking too much, getting a little too excited, or even having ADHD.
Now, within these three types of bipolar disorders, there are several other categories. What they do is help the treating provider develop a treatment plan.
What does all this have to do about trauma and PTSD? I do not have any scientific data on hand, but what I am going to say, I believe, is not far from the truth. I firmly believe that bipolar is so overly diagnosed that the therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or whomever, fails to look far enough back into a person's history to determine whether or not a traumatic experience occurred.
Often times, I will a new person sitting in front of me telling me about their symptoms, and then I ask them this seemingly innocent questions, "Did anything happen to you when you were younger that keeps popping up in your head at the worst time?" There are times, when I ask that very question, that the person will burst into tears, and tell me exactly how they were abused, neglected, and traumatized. These people DO NOT have bipolar disorder. They have either simple or complex PTSD. Rule of thumb is that if life was good prior to a precipitating event, and afterwards, nothing seems to go right, then consider PTSD, and rule out bipolar.
Treatment for PTSD is pretty straightforward. Seek out a therapist trained in either EMDR, Visual Coding Displacement Therapy, NLP, or hypnosis. Visual Coding and EMDR would be my top two choices. If the therapist predomintly treats PTSD with CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, considers other options. CBT works, it is just painfully slow. When done right, relieve can be found in a little as one session.