Monday, March 30, 2009

PTSD Healing: The Value of Education

When I first discovered there was a name for the condition in which I lived, I balked. I didn’t want to be labeled with a ‘disorder’. It never occurred to me that I had been ‘traumatized’, so I didn’t think I could be ‘post-traumatic’ anything.

I didn’t want to have something that’s listed in the DSM IV.

I didn’t want to be thought of as having some psychiatric (psychotic?) condition. I knew I wasn’t like everyone else – that what was going on in my body and mind was warped – but I didn’t want to be part of a group of people like that, either. I wanted to stay alone, and unlabeled. As if you can heal without looking at the problem or even admitting you have one.

I fought the diagnosis for about a month. Instead of seeking to understand it better I sought to prove it wrong. That old survivor ego surged into power and I downright refused to believe that I had survived my trauma – and was proud I had the strength to do that – and now was being revealed as too weak to put the past to rest.

Of course, this was an entirely wrong approach. I know that now. But back then it was critical to me that I be the one in charge making the decisions, choosing the labels, deciding the status of my situation.

The problem from a larger perspective is what Mike H wrote about recently: acceptance of ourselves. He’s also healing PTSD – and doing it through a Zen perspective. A few days ago he wrote: …the teachings of Buddha have taught me that it’s pointless to try to live up to anyone’s idea of how I should be. There is no way that I should be…. How I am today is how I am today.

I love this idea. I think that’s the absolute attitude we need to have in order to heal.

But back in 2005 that wasn’t my attitude at all. After banging around for 4 weeks denying it, telling my therapist, I’m not that bad, and, That condition doesn’t apply to me, I decided to sit down and educate myself about this thing that denying would not make go away.

I got online and started reading, and when I recognized myself in everything I read, I read some more, and then even more than that. I went to the local library and took out a stack of books so high I had to make two trips to the car to bring them all home. The more I read and learned the more I wanted to read and learn. I couldn’t get enough and a funny thing began to happen: instead of not wanting to be labeled or part of a group, I found myself so incredibly glad to have this label and know there was a big group to which I did belong; one that lived like I did, felt like I did, struggled like I did. I wasn’t such a freak after all!

And lo and behold – an epiphany: I did have PTSD and I was happy to say that. There’s a feeling of peace that arrives when we no longer sense an invisible thing but can actually name it, feel it, call it, describe and explain it.

This week we begin a new month, which means we’re moving on to Healing Resolution #4: I WILL EDUCATE MYSELF.

All through April we'll look at ways to learn about PTSD symptoms, causes, effects, treatment and healing. Knowledge is power. The more we know the less PTSD holds all the cards. And so, we begin to rise up and heal by taking back the power that is rightfully ours.

What have you done to educate yourself about all things PTSD? Leave a comment or shoot me an email with suggestions, links, and processes. The more we share the quicker we heal.

(Photo: dcolson5201)


Elizabeth Stanfill said...

Hi Michele,

Boy that denial sure can take over, huh? It truly is normal to be in denial and not want a label but, once we get over it we make an explosive jump.

Thank you for your words, posts, and blog! I love reading your thoughts in words.


Michele Rosenthal said...

@Elizabeth -- Got any destressing techniques to get over denial?? I think if I hadn't been so uptight about it all I might have accepted it sooner and begun to heal earlier....

Elizabeth Stanfill said...

Hi Michele,

Funny you should ask...

Denial is the number one sign of any stress and unfortunately no help can be given until the person wants it. You know, as well as I know, that denial is one powerful defense mechanism.


Michele Rosenthal said...

@Elizabeth - And there's the rub! For so long we say we do, but we DON'T really want to be well because being in PTSD feels so much safer....

Elizabeth Stanfill said...

That is so true and we only feel safer because it is what we know. It is our comfort zone.