True Story: I Got Over Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.  This is the story of Michele and how she dealt with her PTSD.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

Greetings from the beach! My name is Michele Rosenthal, former Manhattanite now transplanted to a small beach town two hours south of Disney World. A city girl at heart and a beach girl in my soul, I made the move seven years ago at a time in my life when I desperately needed to start over, heal and find some peace.A former publicist and university professor, today I devote my career to helping survivors achieve freedom, peace, calm and joy. As a post-trauma coach, author, speaker, radio show host and the founder of HealMyPTSD, I live my passion of educating and supporting survivors and their families as they navigate the recovery journey. To balance out the intensity of that work (and have a ton of fun!) I go to the beach by day and dance salsa, Argentine tango, and ballroom by night.

For those of us who don’t know, what’s PTSD?
PTSD is a condition diagnosed when someone has survived a trauma in which he feels helpless and powerless and, as a result, experiences debilitating symptoms that persist for more than one month and create dysfunction in all areas of life.

It’s normal after a trauma to experience behavioral changes and other disruptions as the mind and body learn how to integrate the memories and release the stress of the trauma itself. For example, mood swings, nightmares, and insomnia are natural in the immediate post-trauma timeline. Up to 80% of trauma survivors successfully accomplish this post-trauma transition within 4 – 12 weeks and are, during that period, able to function normally. For the 20% who do not successfully move through this phase they become stuck in survival.

Symptoms of PTSD fall into three categories: Arousal (an ever-present feeling of being on alert), Avoidance (constantly seeking not to come in contact with reminders of the trauma), and Re-Experiencing (re-living aspects of the trauma).

What brought on your PTSD?

At the age of thirteen (1981) I survived an enormous trauma: an allergic reaction to a medication landed me in the hospital with such a rare illness none of my New York City doctors had ever seen it: Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome turned me into the equivalent of a 3rd degree burn patient. By the time I was released from the hospital I had lost 100% percent of my epidermis. While I went on to make a full physical recovery I was not so resilient emotionally.

When did you realize you had PTSD?
Right after my trauma I knew something wasn’t right. In the beginning I hid my PTSD symptoms as best I could. Over the years, however, they grew so enormous hiding them became impossible. By 2005 I finally did some research and found a trauma therapist, all of which led to my PTSD diagnosis.

How did PTSD affect your life?

The mind is capable of producing 50% more stress than the body can handle; after twenty-four years of post-traumatic stress my body was in a very dangerous place, so my health was enormously compromised. In addition, PTSD affected my ability to carve out a career or even hold long-term jobs. Due to stress, sleeplessness, and emotionality I had frequent meltdowns, which required my resigning from various positions.

Personally, PTSD took an enormous toll on my relationships. I wanted to be close to no one, and often isolated, which made it incredibly difficult for friends, lovers and family to maintain a meaningful connection with me.

What were different ways you tried to treat PTSD?
I began my healing journey with talk therapy that used a good deal of cognitive behavior therapy. I added to this meditation, which brought terrific benefits. Then I added Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing, plus the most popular energy processes: Emotional Freedom Technique, Thought Field Therapy and Tapas Acupressure Technique. At the same time I tried working with a healer in Hawaii via phone in New York City. I saw a Chinese herbalist, a new age chiropractor and a reflexologist. Eventually, the combination that worked wonders for me (coincidentally, when I really became serious about recovery) was dance, hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Can someone ever be ‘cured’ of PTSD?
Many people hesitate to use the word ‘cured’ – but I’m just brazen enough to use it so, YES, PTSD can be cured. I see so many people moving into a place where they are symptom-free, which is how I define ‘cured’. I now live 100% symptom-free. I have colleagues who are living the same way, plus clients.

The good news is that there are many treatment approaches that can bring enormous relief, reduction and/or elimination in symptoms of post-traumatic stress. From traditional modalities like talk therapy and any slew of cognitive behavioral techniques to alternative treatments like energy processing, hypnosis, somatic experiencing and language oriented processes it’s possible for anyone who has the desire to feel better, plus the commitment to do the work of recovery, to find a way to move forward.

What advice would you give to someone suffering from PTSD?
My top three pieces of advice:

1) Build a support system
Find someone in whom to confide that you’re struggling. We don’t heal in isolation; we heal in community. Build a community for yourself to support you in moving forward. This includes family, friends and professionals trained in trauma to assist you in finding your way.

2) Participate in the recovery process 

There is no single antidote for PTSD. We each have to find our own unique healing path. It’s up to you to research, stay open to new ideas, advocate for yourself and try new things.

3) Commit to doing the work

PTSD recovery has no specific time period. You must, must, must stick with it until you’re through. You are the only one who can heal you. Others can help, but only you can bring the desire, dedication and commitment to face what needs to be faced and do what needs to be done in order to move out of the darkness and into the light.Thanks for sharing, Michele!  Have any of your ever struggled with PTSD?  Did you get over it?  How?

photo by huy lam, for sale here

6 Comments

Kate J

I'm so happy you got over your PTSD! That's great! I have a family member with PTSD, and she definitely falls into the re-experiencing category (she is a holocaust survivor) brought on by triggers. I hope that some of the resources you suggested might be able to help her or just make it a little easier for her. Thank you!

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Christine Eubanks

"It’s normal after a trauma to experience behavioral changes and other disruptions as the mind and body learn how to integrate the memories and release the stress of the trauma itself."

So I guess this EFT stuff can change a lot with regards to releasing the stress in your body.

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vanessa

Thank you for this post! I really needed it. I suffer from PTSD and recently began talk therapy. I have considered EFT, but have been hesitant to use any "alternative" methods. Now I don't feel so crazy for wanting to explore different avenues or for taking so long to heal. Thank you for sharing!

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Michele Rosenthal

@LouLou — Congrats on your recovery! I've heard from many survivors that EMDR has helped them. I interviewed the founder, Dr. Francine Shapiro on my radio show, YOUR LIFE AFTER TRAUMA. She was fantastic. If you know of others who would benefit from hearing it please share this link with them: http://yourlifeaftertrauma.com/how-to-overcome-fear-emdr-therapy/

@Kate — It's hard to watch a family member struggle and very terrific of you to understand the validity of what she's going through. There are many, many ways to treat PTSD. We've got a list of both traditional and alternative methods on my site. In case it's of value the link is: http://healmyptsd.com/treatment

@Christine — Yes! EFT and all the alternative modalities work in really amazing ways. There wasn't enough time in the post to explain how trauma affects the brain and the subconscious mind, but both really come into play in healing. The alternative treatments often are a gentle way to address both issues, which is why I so highly recommend them.

@Vanessa — You are completely sane! Isn't it crazy that we think we're crazy for needing to go outside the box or take our time in recovery? No one would expect a broken leg to heal overnight: there would be the break, then a reset, then a cast, then months in the cast, then getting the cast off, then months of physical therapy, etc. Same applies to mental breaks as well. Give yourself permission to explore, discover and move SLOWLY. That's how all recovery happens. 🙂

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Dr. Thelma D. White

Almost two years ago, I almost lost my dear, dear husband of 28 years after he had back surgery. We had a wonderful surgeon, my husband was well prepared for the surgery through exercise, thorough cardiac exams, etc. His daughter, Amy, a PhD. psychologist, came from Ohio to CA to be with us. She was with him almost 24/7. She did not want me to be alone with him. He began having many symptoms that doctors could not account for requiring extra tests, interfering with the usual rehab program for his surgery. She wanted him to have Valium and a nurse practitioner prescribed it without consulting his doctor. When this was found out, Amy began to be watched more carefully. She interfered with his oxygen level and alarms would go off, medical personnel would come running with a crash cart, stabilize him and leave. She kept telling me they didn’t know what they were doing. My daughter, Jodi, a prosecuting attorney who sees my wonderful husband as a father witness several of these episodes. One of the nurses, a friend of Jodi’s told her there was fear that my husband would not survive and no one could figure out why. I tried to talk to the Director/Supervisor about Amy’s behavior, but she saw nothing wrong and found her, ‘charming’. I saw my husband for several hours every day. He had intractable hiccups and I would use ‘visual imagery’ to help him relax. She called Jodi and told her I was hurting my husband and should not be alone with him. Jodi did not tell me until much later. I got a call early one morning from Amy to say my husband needed to be put in a ‘step-down’ intensive care unit because he was in danger of a heart attack or stroke. I immediately went to the hospital to see my husband in the new unit. He was in the usual sedated state that he had been when Amy was giving him Valium. Anytime I would question Amy about what was happening or what she was doing, I would be dismissed in a rather haughty manner. I saw that Amy had listed herself as the primary person to contact in event of an emergency. I talked with the supervisor, Svetlana, introduced myself. This went on for a day or so. I was so traumatized, I could not remember my address, the streets I took to get to the hospital. On the third day, Amy called me at home to say we had to get my husband out of this unit, there was pneumonia on the floor. I immediately went to the hospital and straight to Svetlana and asked if there was pneumonia on the floor. I said Amy had told me this. Svetlana, told me of course there is no pneumonia, and immediately became angry at Amy. She told me she did not know why my husband was there but they just left him alone because Amy made it clear that she, an MD on the staff at the Cleveland Clinic would take care of him. Well, the royal shit hit the fan!! I became very angry at Amy and confronted her about her shit. She said, “I had to lie so I could get Dad back on the other floor so he could get some physical therapy. They don’t provide it here.”
The hospital took action and Amy was restricted, to what extent I don’t know. She began sleeping in the car and ran the batteries down. She left two days later for home. My husband’s insurance company would not pay for any more days in the hospital so he was moved to a nursing home. He was there 2 1/2 weeks until he could begin to roll over and pull himself us and walk with much assistance. After he came home, I worked with him and we made progress!! I have been in therapy for PTSD, DEPRESSION, ETC. which was helpful. My husband has had difficulty accepting what his daughter did. His surgeon says she is very dangerous and should be reported to the psych board.
I was in therapy, took antidepressants, etc for several months. My husband and I have come to a mutual approach on how to deal with Amy, including reporting her to her psych board.
My continuing ongoing problem is the obsessing that I easily drift into during the day. I am no longer on antidepressants because of the side effects. I am a PhD clinical psychologist who needs a refreshing course in how to deal with the obsessing. Thank you so much for listening to me.

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