Over the past few years, I have been on a journey of processing trauma. Finally, I am seeing a trauma psychologist, and she agrees that I have been finding ways to process trauma on my own.
I am a very sensitive person and I can feel very intense emotions. So intense that I would 'shut down' all the emotion and the trauma would be locked inside, still there - frozen and stuck. It has been a process like in waves, to get unstuck. Sometimes there would be intense waves of intense emotion, like I expressed in the scribble below today. Scribbling messy words helped discharge intense emotions like anger.
Today I burned 15 journals I'd filled during a bipolar mania episode nearly two years ago. I flicked through them and condensed the essence of the journals into one page of some of what mania with trauma was like. I have been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and they amplify each other. I was back on medications but it took MONTHS to try to get the mania under control. I've summarised some of what it was like below, based on skim-reading the journals before I burned them:
Today I burnt 15 journals. Journals I had written during months of a mania episode after going back on medications for bipolar 1 disorder two years ago. I was encouraged by my psychiatrist to journal rather than blurt out all my disjointed thoughts on Facebook. So I filled over 20 books, mostly school exercise books and scrapbooks with colourful scribblings, often in felt tip pen rather than biro.
I had felt an extreme need to express myself at the time. I understood what I wrote, but it would have been complete nonsense to anyone else. Trauma was a recurring theme in amongst all the mind-maps, associations and symbolism. I was trying to process my trauma and calm my racing brain. Often my brain was racing too fast and was too disorganised to write, so I painted brightly coloured abstracts instead.
I had a therapy session last week for PTSD. When I first started therapy, my emotions were shut down and I talked about trauma like I was a news reporter - factual without emotion. But last time I cried and cried.
I said, "I'm such a failure - failed in my career, can't work full-time, divorced, hardly see my son, own practically nothing."
The psychologist replied, "You're not a failure. You have bipolar disorder and trauma which has made things very difficult for you. You've been doing the best you can."
My mood has been very low the past three weeks with depression. It seems to coincide with reducing then withdrawing one of my medications for bipolar disorder. One of the worst things about depression for me is the suicidal thoughts. Then not finding pleasure in anything - except chocolate - I self-medicate eating chocolate.
It's hard to find the words when I am depressed, but I will try anyway. I also don't feel like doing anything, including writing this, but I try to push through it. I first suffered depression in my late teens. I am now in my mid-forties. My diagnosis was changed from 'treatment resistant depression' and anxiety to bipolar 1 disorder, PTSD and social anxiety disorder. I want to try to describe what depression is like for me and some things that help.
Sleep disturbances are common with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), both of which I've been diagnosed with. I suffer from sleep paralysis and sleep-related hallucinations, which have become more frequent in the past few years. Sleep paralysis is when you wake up but can't speak or move. Hallucinations are sensing things that aren't really there - seeing, hearing, feeling. Sleep-related hallucinations occur in the transition between being awake and asleep. Hypnagogic hallucinations occur when falling asleep. Hypnopompic hallucinations occur when waking up.
One thing that is a common theme when talking to other people with bipolar disorder and PTSD is loss. Loss of a spouse, career, income, house, children, friends, dignity. I lost all of those. I am still processing the devastating loss after a pre-diagnosed bipolar mania episode. The sun went down on me in Australia. Most painful of all for me was that I had no choice but to leave my son in Australia and return to my birth country of New Zealand.
I'm not a detailed planner. Life doesn't work out to plan for me anyway. I prefer to improvise.
When I create art, I might have some vague ideas in my head and even do a quick miniature sketch but it always turns out differently to how I originally started. I like the freedom to improvise. To make things up as I go along. Creative expression helps me re-frame my life experiences.
"I think adults who paint are brave. They need support to shine." Sue Graham, artist.
Art was one of my favourite activities as a child. I have memories from kindergarten slapping on thick layers of brightly coloured paint at a stand up easel. I won a poster competition when I was around 10 years old. It was judged by a well-known landscape artist whom I met. She told me my poster stood out because of the colours and composition.
When I was a teenager, my art teacher at school said, 'you always paint differently according to what mood you're in.' I felt criticised but thought, 'isn't that the point?' The same teacher said, 'you're going to have a nervous breakdown one day.' She said it was because I was busy doing so many activities with no down time to rest.
Xanthe finds writing and painting to be therapeutic. She has lived with mental illness for over 25 years. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder after originally being diagnosed with 'treatment resistant' depression with general anxiety.