PTSD Revealed with Michele Rosenthal
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- Anxiety in Teens
Anxiety In Teens joins Michele Rosenthal, a 24-year Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer and conquerer, and founder of HealMyPTSD.com. She has a ton of great advice to share with those suffering from PTSD, as well as family and friends!
AiT: What is “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” and how does one know if they have it?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a normal reaction to abnormal experience. When a trauma occurs, the mind must organize and understand the event, and then integrate the memories into the larger persona of the whole person. Typically, it takes four to six weeks for the mind to naturally move itself through terror, make meaning and return to normal functioning. During this process many people experience sleep disturbances, extreme emotions and other untypical behavior. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms fall into each of the following three categories, last for more than one month, and cause personal, social and professional dysfunction.
Avoidance is the inability to be in contact with any reminders of the event, this includes people, places, sounds, smells, discussions and any other activity that would put you in touch with the disturbing memories.
Arousal is an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, plus the feeling of always being in danger, on the alert for danger, or prepared for the next dangerous event. Hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response are also common signs of the posttraumatic aroused state.
Reexperiencing presents itself in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. In this way, you feel that the event is still very much in the present instead of the past.
AiT: Share your story with us; how did you find yourself experiencing PTSD? In 1981 life really shocked me: I was 13 years old when I found myself struggling to survive Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a freak allergy to a medication that turned me into a full-body burn patient almost overnight. None of my doctors had ever seen a case. By the time I was released from the hospital 3 weeks later I was a very different girl. The kid I had been was gone. The girl in her place was a complete stranger.
It didn’t take long for insomnia, intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks to set in. I didn’t tell anyone. I was determined to go back to who I’d been before my illness, so I avoided all mention of my trauma, pretended the past was behind me and ran as fast as I could into the future.
Within 5 years I was a complete and total insomniac, anorexic, melt down mess. Over the years everyone thought I was a difficult teenager, and then a temperamental artist, and then just a really moody woman. The therapists my parents forced me to see didn’t recognize my classic symptoms of PTSD.
By my mid-twenties the stress of constant hypervigilance and hyperarousal, the lack of sleep, the unrelenting on-the-go lifestyle I lived so that I did not have to be alone with my thoughts began to entirely undermine my health. By the end of my twenties I was very ill: my hair was falling out, my liver, stomach and small intestines were in various stages of dysfunction. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and possible liver cancer (both of which turned out to be false, psychosomatic symptoms). By my mid-thirties I had developed advanced osteoporosis because, unable to get the nutrition it needed, by body pirated the minerals in my bones.
Still, none of the specialists or psychologists we consulted and with whom I worked recognized my symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress. In desperation I began to do my own research. It was my proactive, self-empowered search for information and help that led to my PTSD diagnosis. Finally, after 24 years of living without understanding what was wrong with me, I had a name for my insanity.
AiT: What was your breakthrough in conquering PTSD?
Receiving my diagnosis was only the beginning of my healing journey. Literally, the journey took me from New York City to Palm Beach, Florida. In the end, it required 10 modalities (from traditional talk therapy to alternative techniques including hypnosis) and quite a few practitioners to get me to where I am today: 100% PTSD-free.
The breakthrough came when I realized recovery depended on my willingness to engage in and do the work. For a long time I expected others to heal me; recovery really began when I realized others were there to help me while I myself was responsible for actually doing the healing work.
I learned a lot during my PTSD recovery. I learned about the importance of hope and belief – from inside myself and from those working with me. I also learned about the critical element of self-empowerment and how we can harness its strength and apply it to PTSD recovery. The more self-empowered I became the more my recovery gained momentum, clarity and, ultimately, success.
AiT: Tell us a little about Heal my PTSD and how that started
By the time I came out of the dark PTSD fog I’d learned a lot about what it takes to release the past, connect to the present, and build a new future. I’d also developed a really deep desire to do something with all that knowledge. I began blogging about my recovery; people responded. We got into conversations and I realized that the best thing I could do with what I learned was give back. And so, www.healmyptsd.com was born. I built the site I wished I had when I was diagnosed: something easy to read and full of information about PTSD symptoms, PTSD treatment options, and PTSD recovery support.
The response to Heal My PTSD was overwhelming and positive. It didn’t take long for me to understand that this site was only the beginning of my post-PTSD journey. In order to really be equipped to give back I’d have to become professionally certified to help people. So that’s what I did. In order to become a PTSD Coach I studied to practice as a Certified Professional Coach, Certified Hypnotist, and Certified Neuro-Linguistic Programmer. Basically, I learned how to help survivors access their healing potential through methods that empower, strengthen, and harness the creativity of both the conscious and subconscious minds.
Now, as a mental health advocate, public speaker, award-winning blogger, writer, workshop/seminar leader and coach I use my personal experience, education, professional training and research to help survivors learn to cope with, manage and strategize the PTSD recovery process.
AiT: Do you have any words of wisdom to our teen users, and/or their parents, who are experiencing PTSD?
For the Teens experiencing PTSD: Do not be silent! My suffering lasted so long because I refused to speak about what I had experienced, what I was feeling, and how the memories and my perceptions of the trauma were affecting me. It is hard to find words to express emotion. It is difficult to admit fear. However, the more you do this, and the more you reach out for help, the more quickly you will overcome the effects of the past and learn to live healthily and happily in the present.
For the Parents: If you’re a PTSD caregiver you need to know: It’s okay if YOU need help, too. The following resources will provide you with information, education and actions to help you take care of yourself at the same time that you are taking care of your PTSD loved one:
Listen to our BlogTalk Radio special interviewing two PTSD caregivers about the triumphs and pitfalls of dealing with PTSD, and also ways to incorporate caregiver self-care at all times.
Major sources of caregiver support are family and friends. You are not alone. Your family members and friends (and even a therapist) are there not just to hear you complain about how frustrated and upset you are with your loved one or to listen to how you think you made a breakthrough today. By all means, share this information and also remember that support doesn’t always have to mean supporting your PTSD relief efforts. Support can also mean that they’re supporting YOU as a person.
Family and friends know you and remember who you were before you became so wrapped up in fixing your loved one. They can be there to tell you when enough is enough, see from the outside when you need a break, and to sense when you’re losing a part of yourself in your quest to save your loved one. Spend time with your friends and family doing things you enjoy, talking about their lives, enjoying their company. Allow yourself to be refreshed so that you can bring a refueled and dynamic perspective to your PTSD caregiving role and efforts.
Finally, allow the work of recovery to unfold slowly. There is no way to rush your teen to get better. The most long-lasting results come from establishing a sense of safety, working through the trauma at a pace that feels comfortable, and finding ways for your teen to reconnect to him/herself, you, and the world at large in ways that are life-affirming and empowering.
ABOUT MICHELE ROSENTHAL:
Michele Rosenthal is a trauma survivor who struggled with undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for 24 years. She was then diagnosed and went on a healing rampage! Today, Michele is 100% PTSD-free and the founder of http://www.healmyptsd.com, a website devoted to PTSD education and support. With over 8,700 visitors/month, the Heal My PTSD web site has become a popular place for survivors, caregivers and healing professionals to turn for information. Michele is also a PTSD Coach, helping survivors and PTSD caregivers learn to cope with and strategize PTSD recovery. As a mental health advocate, public speaker, award-winning PTSD blogger, author, workshop/seminar leader and certified professional coach, and practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming, Michele uses her personal experience, education, research and professional training to help others further their trauma and PTSD recovery. Her PTSD recovery memoir will be released in 2012. Her radio show, ‘Your Life After Trauma’ may be heard on Thursday nights at 7pm EST.