Battling bipolar and PTSD - Maria's story

13/12/2022

After witnessing a murder, Maria experienced a psychotic episode and was hospitalised. Now, after being diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar, she sees getting through every day as a victory. But there's hope in her future. In this blog, she writes about what steps she takes to manage her symptoms, and outlines the journey she has been on since that traumatic event.

I can pinpoint when my battle with mental illness began. The very minute where my mind was torn apart by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the very moment my bipolar was first triggered.  

I was a volunteer in the police service and witnessed someone being murdered outside my house. My attempts to give CPR to the victim failed and a precious life was lost to a vicious knife attack. I was sectioned two weeks later following an acute psychotic episode triggered by the trauma.  

In the hospital, I found it extremely difficult to recover. The noise, the chaos, the forced injections and the insufficient staffing compounded to make life feel almost unbearable. Mostly the staff were kind but overworked so leave and other entitlements were often neglected. I was told that even though I was a ‘voluntary patient’ any attempts to leave the hospital would result in me being sectioned.

  • In the hospital, I found it extremely difficult to recover. The noise, the chaos, the forced injections and the insufficient staffing compounded to make life feel almost unbearable.

After discharge, I stayed in a female only crisis house. Here, for the first time, I felt that the trauma was truly acknowledged and I began to feel safe again. I reached out to Mind’s blue light line for emergency service workers and felt heard for the first time. I couldn’t make use of the signposting that was offered at the time but having someone listen made all the difference.  

I managed to finish my degree and graduated with first class honours thanks to my community mental health team. My own path to true recovery lay mostly outside of the NHS after this. I took medication and engaged in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but I felt safer with charities due to my experiences in hospital.  

I have accessed crisis lines, including SHOUT and found a charity that offered Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to police staff and volunteers. EMDR is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on a traumatic memory while also experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.  It was a game changer. It helped me to heal and move past the images and sensations that plagued my mind and body. It forced my PTSD into remission and gave me hope. I still wanted to address other challenges in my life and tackle my bipolar diagnosis head on.

  • It [EMDR] forced my PTSD into remission and gave me hope. I still wanted to address other challenges in my life and tackle my bipolar diagnosis head on.

Again, I reached out to a charity and found psychodynamic therapy. I have this once a week and it is amazing but it is not enough alone. I take an antipsychotic and a mood stabiliser. These medications, combined with therapy, keep me stable but the side effects leave me with severe fatigue and disturbed sleep.  

It was an uphill battle finding the right medication. I tried quite a few and it took a long time to find the right combination for me. My psychiatrist allowed me to take the lead on choosing my medication and we discussed the pros and cons openly. I need control over my treatment options as I had felt so powerless in hospital and while I experienced the trauma. My psychiatrist understood that I need to pave my own way to recovery.  

I would like to say that I exercise, eat well and attend to self-care but this isn’t always the case especially when I’m feeling unwell. My condition robs me of my motivation and I have to take every day survived as a victory. I do manage to engage in self-care occasionally and am getting better at this. I don’t eat my 5 a day and go for runs, but I am starting to eat a bit more healthily and go for walks. I took up boxing for a while as well. Maybe I will get back into it one day. Who knows? The fact that I can see a future at all is another victory. I will take that.  

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