Thursday, June 18, 2009

Meandering Michele's Mind: Recognizing the Role of the Obvious

From the day my trauma ended through all the 25 years I struggled with PTSD undiagnosed through the following years of my healing one thought was always bigger and more constant in my mind than any other. One thought followed me wherever I went, no matter whether I was having a good day or a bad, spiralling or healing -- it didn't make a difference. This one thought was there, more a part of me than my shadow. It constantly resonated in my head and drove every action, reaction and desire I had. It was the reason I got up in the morning and the reason I couldn't fall asleep at night. It was how I celebrated my survival and how I condemned myself for surviving at all. It defined who I was even as it stripped me of my identity completely.

And yet, it never occurred to me to discuss this thought in therapy. It had become as familiar as air, as involuntary as breathing, as unremarkable as a sigh. There were bigger, more terrifying thoughts and I spoke about them and cried and raged and carried on. And yet, I came to find out later, it was the one thought I never realized I should articulate that ended up being the very crux of my entire PTSD experience.

I have to make my survival worthwhile.

It wasn't enough that I survived; I had to be worthy of surviving. But I didn't feel worthy at all. Instead, I felt that my life having been saved was a waste if I didn't do something extraordinary with that life. Only problem was: I was too fractured to do anything, and didn't know what to do anyway.

So the years went by and this thought morphed and grew and became the monster behind my anorexia, insomnia, flashbacks, dissociation, rage, depression, anxiety and fear. It itself became a fear. Every day I put myself through tests to keep my body and my mind conditioned to survive again, and to ensure that I was worthy of another second chance. Every day a part of me melted into a pool of butter in the frustration of not knowing who or what or how to be a survivor who was worthy of saving.

Still, I never told anyone about this idea. In therapy I spoke about my fears of my body and the horrific elements of my trauma. I vented about what went on in my head and my body that could not be explained, contained or managed. I cried that I was too weak to heal. But I never told my therapist I didn't believe I was worthy of surviving much less healing. A small detail that really might have helped us both make more progress more quickly.

When I finally did admit this thought - because I'd eradicted all the others and it was the only one left! - it was because I'd progressed my healing to a place that I could see that this was a thought operating all on its own, independent of me and harming me each day. It was the reason my PTSD stress was so bad my hair fell out. It was the reason the nightmares came night after night. I was the reason I couldn't 'let it go'.

And then I let it go and the whole world changed. I sleep at night. Not just a solid, dependable 7 straight hours but deep, peaceful and rejuvenating sleep. I see the world as open possibilities instead of a pressure cloud sitting on my head. I feel a resonance in myself because I am no longer critical of my right to be here in my self, in my body, in this life.

I'm wondering today how many of us, when we seek help, forget to mention the most important, most obvious things. It's so much easier to talk about the big, universal PTSD symptoms. How often do we forget to hear our inner dialogue and say, 'Forget all that other stuff, here's what's really driving me crazy.' How often do we even recognize what's at the root of our PTSD experience because it's become so familiar we accept it as normal? How often do we accept what we shouldn't?

How often does our healing stall because we forget to mention one not-so-tiny critical detail?

(Photo: Stallard Images)


Anonymous said...

I can very much relate to this. Yes, sometimes explanations that could help my therapist and my recovery, I simply don't voice - either because I assume it goes without saying, everyone feels that way, or it's just so normal for me that I don't realise it's not normal!
Sometimes I don't even know what I'm thinking or feeling constantly, on a day-to-day basis, until someone asks a pointed question... and then it dawns on me.
And I find it so easy to just say what I think they want to hear... I'm so good at psycho-speak after all these years in therapy that I forget to just answer as 'me', instead of that impartial, analytical observer.
Can't see the forest for the trees, I guess...
Great post Michele, very insightful. You are such an inspiration xx

Anonymous said...

"How often do we even recognize what's at the root of our PTSD experience because it's become so familiar we accept it as normal? How often do we accept what we shouldn't?"

That one nailed me this week. :-(

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Jac - Thanks for your word -- of comaraderie and kindness. We're all so similar, aren't we? Individual in our traumas, individual in the details of our healing, but universal in our PTSD experience and in the curving path of recovery.

@Mike - Oh, Mike... the big ones always find a way to get ya. But you know what comes after splat!. :)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I just had this realization about myself this summer too. Its been a huge shift for me. Huge. Funny- I too think I got finally realized this about myself only afer working through so much other stuff. And I feel its the final key in my recovery. I wish I could say there was an instant change in me. Im working to remind myself daily- in meditation and all through the day as I talk to myself that I am worthy just for being me.

I recently found your blog and it supports me and helps me so much. Thank you for all your hard work.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Anonymous -- Glad you like the blog and I'm excited to hear things are shifting for you.

To participate in the blog as it is now, come on over to where we've moved: htt://

See you there, and happy healing!

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