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When You Develop PTSD After a Manic Episode

I have only had one major manic episode in my life, but it shook my world. At the naive and still immature age of 18, I chose to go on a summer study abroad trip with my college. The class abroad was scheduled to last 10 weeks, and was an immersive experience in language and culture learning. It was my first time leaving the country, and I was thrilled to kick off adulthood in the most dramatic way possible: living across the world, away from my parents and diving into a completely different culture.

This country, a structural and cultural opposite to my native land, presented challenges in ways I never foresaw. I was a racial minority, earning stares and pictures taken of me wherever I went. My classes were demanding, driving myself and classmates to deal with stress in unique, largely unhealthy ways. Most of my peers ventured out to bars and drank away their stress. For me, I found myself slipping into a digital world of my hometown, masking my debilitating homesickness with frequent check ins on social media and calls to my parents’ home. I was lonely and scared to admit it.

Around my sixth week, my brain shifted into manic mode. I was belligerent, ranting and raving about random things, and worrying my classmates. This period of time — before my forced return home — is the largest force affecting my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I remember the seat I took in a restaurant down the road, smelling of grease with flickering green fluorescent lights. I remember the horrified look on my friend’s face while I maniacally recited the 50 states alphabetically, over and over. I remember the sounds of screams outside my window, lightning flashing strobes on the ceiling and the feel of my thin mattress pad while my limbs couldn’t stay still. I remember wailing in the airport, drawing reactions from strangers, as people I couldn’t understand performed an EEG on me. I remember so much I wish I could forget.

Flashbacks have been one of the worst symptoms I’ve had to deal with, but as I focus on self-growth and rebuilding confidence, they have lost grip on me. Bipolar mania is such a vivid, unforgettable experience, and I do not wish the PTSD on anyone. However, I truly believe it can be turned away through willpower and time. People with bipolar are so resilient, and I strongly admire anyone still carrying the scars from a manic episode, no matter how big or small. Let’s be in this together.

Photo by George Gvasalia on Unsplash