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04/10/2011 10:30 AM

Bipolar Depression or PTSD Symptoms?


Bipolar can cause depression, and PTSD can cause symptoms that are similar to depression. How do you tell them apart, and how do you treat them?

We probably all know bipolar depression, though it can vary a lot: feeling like the brain is shutting down, hopelessness, loss of pleasure and interest, loss of mental sharpness, gloom, pessimism, negative thinking, sleep troubles, etc.

PTSD can cause symptoms that are easy to mistake for depression onset. The big one is numbness, which can also occur in bipolar depression. Loss of concentration is another. loss of interest, sleep troubles (especially nightmares) and anxiety, which can also accompany bipolar depression.

Different strategies work for resolving the two conditions, so knowing which one is active in your mind is important.

1. Measure how "present" your worst trauma seems to be. Don't plunge into it, just take a temperature. If it seems unusually prominent, that is a clue that PTSD is at work.

2. Pay attention to your numbness. Sometimes you feel like you want to cry but can't, because it will stir up harsh memories. If so, this is another clue that points to PTSD.

3. Cry if you can. If you feel better after a good long cry, that also points to PTSD.

4. Journal your feelings. This is a popular PTSD treatment because it access the part of the brain where traumatic memories are stored more effectively than talking. If you fill a few pages and finding the bad feelings lifting, this is another hint that it's PTSD, though journaling can also be effective for depression.

5. Look for other PTSD symptoms. If your bipolar depression usually lacks anxiety, but you have anxiety, that suggests PTSD. So does hypervigilance (being super jumpy). A real red flag for PTSD is called Fear of a Foreshortened Future, which is a strong feeling that you will live a short lifespan and never do things like have a family or a career. That one is a real giveaway.

6. Both bipolar depression and PTSD can have difficulty concentrating. This symptom is not as useful for teasing them apart.

7. Flashbacks to your traumatic event or ordeal are strongly indicative of PTSD.

I am not a PTSD expert, and would classify my case as mild to moderate. I am making good progress reducing the symptoms using the techniques mentioned above.

I am, however, a little different from the majority of PTSD people I meet. I am quite willing to revisit my trauma (I was dragged down the highway by a car that ran me over and didn't stop). Most PTSD people I meet have great difficulty confronting their trauma, and I understand and sympathize. I know for some it can cause tremendous distress. Sometimes they want to hurt themselves.

For those who feel ready, I just want to say: working through my own has helped me tremendously. I hope you will be able to do the same. I feel *so* much better due to the work I've done. And, it's helped my bipolar recovery.

At its worst, PTSD was worse than the actual trauma that caused it, so I know it can be a bear.

One discovery I have made is that trauma is cumulative. PTSD often happens when we get a trauma injection that exceeds our abilities to manage it, and we overflow.

This is important because it means that any trauma we are able to vent can lower our total burden. Trauma from childhood often involves family. Trauma from teen years often involves bullying or not fitting in. Sometimes we have extended trauma, like growing up with a severely alcoholic parent.

I'm no doctor, but when I go to bipolar support meetings I keep spotting people who seem to have PTSD and not know it. I also find many who know it, but don't know what to do about it. I wish I had even 10% of the recovery skills I have learned for bipolar, but I only know a few more and they are too long for today's post.

You can make amazing recoveries from bipolar and PTSD, mostly by using recovery skills. Knowing the difference helps you figure out what skills to use.


04/10/2011 02:49 PM

If no one objects I would like to make this a sticky note so it is always available.

04/10/2011 02:56 PM
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Good idea Smile

04/10/2011 03:00 PM

OK one vote is enough for me LOL - sticky it is!

04/10/2011 03:13 PM
Posts: 4328
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I think it's a very useful resource for anyone battling with BP and PTSD

04/13/2011 07:37 AM
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I'm an Advocate

Number 5 really got my attention. Anxiety with depression? That was a first for me this last year. I have had bad depression before but not with the severe anxiety I was feeling too. I hated feeling so sick everyday. I am much better now and things seem a bit easier to deal with.

The Fear of a Foreshortened Future was always something that has been in the back of my brain. The worst of it wasn't for me but rather, I always thought that my youngest daughter was going to leave this world early in life. She is fine though. I do have thoughts and feelings of eminent danger when it comes to the world around me, especially with the way the world seems to be falling apart lately. I absolutely REFUSE to go out at night, anywhere, by myself. I had to stop watching the news for quite some time because it would trigger me. Hell, I didn't even want to leave my house. I am pleased to state that that is better too.

Thanks, Sparky, for the clarifications.

04/13/2011 08:02 AM

I went through a period like that and then I noticed the world seems to muddle along despite all, and I resumed reading the paper and became less cynical. It was all depression coloring my worldview, I think. When I pulled myself out of it, I gradually drifted back to engagement with the world. It can be a disappointing place, but every day millions of good things happen, too numerous for anybody to catalog.

But it sure helps if you can neutralize some problems, unload your trauma, and have some things break your way for a change.

10/22/2011 09:05 AM
Posts: 8

Thank you for that info, I appreciate it.

Post edited by: Amice78, at: 02/14/2012 10:04 PM


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