Tuesday, February 24, 2009

25 Things About My PTSD

My friend over at Catatonic Kid tagged me with a meme: ‘25 Things About You’. Usually, I don’t play the tag game, but I thought it might be fun to apply it to PTSD.

So, here they are: 25 Things About My PTSD:

1 – My trauma occurred in 1981; one year after PTSD was officially recognized as a psychological disorder; many years before anyone would consider it applicable to people outside of the military.

2 – For over 20 years my hair fell out by the handful on the anniversary of my trauma.

3 – My most prevalent flashback was the moment I felt myself leave my body; and then chose to come back into it.

4 – My trauma was due to a rare illness that none of my doctors had ever seen before; they didn’t know how to help me. My most prevalent nightmare: people are dying and it is all up to me, but I don’t know how to help and cannot save them.

5 – I didn’t speak about my trauma for 4 years afterward. And then I spoke once, and went silent again for 14 years.

6 – I tried psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, EMDR, TFT, TAT, EFT, Chinese healing, reflexology, chiropracty and energy healing. While they alleviated some of my symptoms so that I became functional, they didn’t eradicate my PTSD.

7 – For 20 years I became extremely anorexic in order to control my body so that I felt safe.

8 – I only dated men I knew I would leave so that I didn’t have to get close to anyone.

9 – After college I held 11 jobs in 15 years in 5 industries because I could not focus in one place for more than a year, or decide what career I wanted.

10 – I spent over 2 years out of work with an extreme case of fibromyalgia.

11 – My insomnia was so bad I slept an average 2-3 hours per night.

12 – I’d been a nice kid before PTSD set in. Afterward, I was always on edge, angry, sullen and in a raging fury at the slightest provocation.

13 – At the height of my PTSD I cried anywhere anytime. Could just be walking Baylee in Central Park, or on line in the grocery store, or catching a plane. The environment didn’t matter, the tears would begin and I was powerless to stop them.

14 – I struggled with undiagnosed chronic-extreme PTSD for over 25 years.

15 – For 15 years I suffered from mysterious illnesses no doctor could diagnose or cure. (Sound familiar, like, say, my original trauma?) All of these illnesses approximated aspects of the original illness, although they were not as drastic.

16 – Illnesses kept me in a constant state of being triggered so that eventually the physical toll on my body included liver, stomach and intestine dysfunction, plus an advanced state of fibromyalgia and osteoporosis.

17 – The turn in my healing came the day I: 1) realized I was living in a state of perpetual fear, 2) decided I would not accept that my life would continue to be destroyed by PTSD.

18 – As part of my healing I researched trauma and PTSD. Here’s what I learned: Their effects on us are reversible.

19 – A large part of my healing came from deliberately constructing a post-trauma identity: I worked very hard to define and focus on becoming the person I want to be today and tomorrow despite what happened to me yesterday.

20 – I pursued joy as part of my healing program. For me, this meant dancing all the time! The more joy I felt the more courage I had to do the healing work, the more I believed I could eventually be PTSD-free.

21 – It took 3 LOOONNNGGG years to heal after I was finally diagnosed. Things got worse before they got better.

22 – Healing really began when I stopped saying to everyone, ‘Heal me!’ and started saying, ‘I want to be healed!’

23 – Within one year after deciding I wanted to be healed – and doing the post-trauma identity work – all of my physical symptoms cured themselves. That’s right: liver, stomach and intestine problems healed. Osteoporosis reversed (I gave it a boost by doing strength training when the fibromyalgia finally left me).

24 – Hypnotherapy ultimately got rid of the symptoms I couldn’t eradicate myself: nightmares and a driving sense of anxiety that I had to make something meaningful come out of my trauma.

25 – I am now into my second year of being 100% PTSD-free.

I have bridged the gap – so can you!

I’m tagging all of you, readers! Post your own list in the comments, or send it to me and I’ll post it – anonymously if you prefer.

(photo: hannah.aviva)


Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you for going along with the tag, Michele.

Your answers give some genuinely fascinating insights into PTSD. It's unusual to hear a 'healing narrative' put so succinctly and so well. Sort of like the PTSD equivalent of 'A Brief History of Time' ;)

Michele Rosenthal said...

@catkid - Thanks for the inspiration! Sometimes it's really good to take a step back and look at things objectively.

Elizabeth Stanfill said...


I wish I could be as brave and articulate as you.

Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth Stanfill

Stanley and Joanne Aldrich said...

I loved your 25 things. I found that Tai Chi was very helpful in getting me into a relaxed state of mind. With PTSD, my mind is going a million miles an hour. Agoraphobia is a big problem with combat vets. We are afraid to be in crowds and have a strong need to be in our safe zone. My safe zone is a basement office. My therapist calls it my cave. I'm slowly reading thru all your posts. Thanks.

giving up is not an option! said...

your work amazes me. I so appreciate how you are free now to be and feel exuberant about your life today.

I am trying to test out telling my story but struggle with moving from victim (fix me, heal me!) to taking responsibility for my life today.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@giving up - I'm with you 100%! It is SO hard to begin to tell our story. And SO INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to bridge the gap between victim and empowerment. But I really feel it is that very act that puts us on the direct path to healing.

We do it slowly, not all at once. It's a victory of milliseconds, first times, successes and failures.

I'm looking forward to reading your blog(s), too. Your attitude seems energized and inspiring!