Friday, November 14, 2008

The Importance of PTSD Education, Part 2

Picking up from yesterday’s post…:

To be entirely accurate, it should be explained this way: despite my GI problems, I could eat, just not very much, and not a very wide variety of things. Vegetables, mostly, and some soft protein. That’s it. No dairy, no carbohydrates, no sugar, no fat. None of the things that help a body that’s lost weight due to illness put it back on for health. My small intestine didn’t work the way it should, which made my stomach not work the way it should, which made a whole host of other organs – liver, pancreas, pituitary, thyroid – not work the way they should. My body, it seemed, was in an all out revolt. And then it began to pirate itself: blood leached calcium from bone to make up for the nutritional deficiency. Guess what happens when it does that? By the age of 36 I was diagnosed with an aggressive state of osteoporosis.

To find a cure for these issues, I visited specialists all over Manhattan. I even went all the way up to Yale’s Center for Digestive Diseases. I sat in the waiting rooms of gastroenterologists, liver specialists, endocrinologists, internists, parasitologists and allergists. I submitted to their pokes, prods and needles and waited for them to cure me. When Western medicine offered no answers I turned to alternative outlets. On Mondays I took the subway to see Dr. Ng in Chinatown who sent me home with packets of herbs and pills and a disgusting concoction of roots and fungi to brew into a nasty-tasting tea in a special Chinese teapot I bought from the front of her shop. On Tuesdays I saw an Upper West Side psychotherapist who focused on cognitive behavior therapy and tried to help me undo the reactions that my childhood medical trauma put into place. On Wednesdays I visited a homeopath in Chelsea for an IV vitamin drip. Thursdays I had a standing appointment for reflexology on Park Avenue South. Fridays I saw a new age chiropractor just below 14th Street. His favorite thing was to manipulate my back to “release negative emotions.” Although the physical pain he caused reduced me to tears, he assured me this was the path to wellness. In desperation I even tried to work on the phone in New York City with a healer in Hawaii.

Are you surprised when I tell you: None of these treatments made a difference?

My life became my illness; management of illness became my life. Still, no one could define what, exactly, was wrong with me. I dragged around a bony, exhausted and pain-filled body in the years I actually had the strength to drag around at all. I tried to keep up with graduate school and teaching duties at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but slowly everything unraveled. I was exhausted. I was losing even more weight. I was in pain. I could not focus. My body was lost in a chaos of its own and my psychological self was on the brink of destruction. My life was full of undefined illnesses that lead to more directly defined illnesses. My primary identity: patient.

I look back at those years now and wonder how it’s possible not one single practitioner over the period of ten years recognized my classic PTSD symptoms.

If anyone had suggested my maladies were all related to PTSD, if any single practitioner had asked the right questions, I might have been lead to my PTSD diagnosis much earlier, and then to healing. If I or my care providers had been educated about and aware of PTSD I would not have suffered so horribly for a full decade. My mental and physical health would have been healed and I would have moved on to a happier life instead of completely crashing the way I did.

But OK, it’s fruitless to perseverate about the past since there’s nothing we can do except LET IT GO.

Here’s the upside to what I’ve learned:

We – you and me and all of us here on the blog and in the LinkedIn PTSD support group (email me if you’d like to join, you do not need to be a LinkedIn member to participate) – can spread the word so that we and other people suffer less and heal sooner. Knowledge on any of our parts can immediately aid ourselves and/or those we love. As the old adage goes, “Knowledge is power.”

The nice thing is, we’re not the only ones doing this work. Check out this interview with Dr. David Clarke on Alicia Sparks’ Mental Health Notes blog (posted on 8/18/08). Entitled, They Can’t Find Anything Wrong!, Dr. David Clarke’s book speaks directly to the PTSD community about just our kind of physical symptoms and ailments. He covers "5 Types of Hidden Stress" and also offers "7 Keys to Understanding, Treating and Healing Stress Illness". (You can read the interview by clicking the title of this post.)

The bottom line is: We need to educate ourselves, and educate those who care for and about us. PTSD is the ghost in many examination rooms. We can bust it if we work together! First, we need knowledge. Then, we need to share it. Finally, we need to heal. And after that…. We need to advocate. We need to exit our isolation and speak out loud.

Talking to people (even those who do not have PTSD) helps educate us all. Plus, it has the added benefit of being an exercise that bridges the gap between PTSD isolation and the rest of the world. Choose one person to explain it to today. Who will it be?

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