Michele Rosenthal’s Trauma, PTSD History & Mission
People are always asking me to talk about my trauma. I don’t usually. I feel we’ve talked about our traumas enough. To me, the point is to stop eventually talking about it and move forward. Deliberately then, I rarely reference my experience.
I do appreciate though, that you would want to know what happened, what qualifies to me to speak about trauma, post-traumatic stress and healing. Here’s the short version of my twenty-four years of undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), plus the years I spent healing after my diagnosis.
In 1981 I was thirteen years old. Life was good. I had a great family – loving parents, terrific younger brother. At the end of an idyllic summer I took a routine sulfa-based antiobiotic to clear up a routine bladder infection. As it turns out, I’m one of the 0.000005% people per million who are allergic to medications and react by developing a case of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, which in my case turned into its most extreme, life-threatening form: Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS).
To put it in plain English: I turned into a full-body burn patient almost overnight while an impotent medical community stood by and watched. There is no way to stop the progression of TENS. Treatment protocol is sketchy at best. The most that can be done is to put patients in a burn unit and let the illness wreak its havoc. By the time it was all over I had lost 100% of my epidermis.
When I was finally released from the hospital I returned home feeling lost but determined to resume life as if nothing unusual had happened. I refused to speak about my trauma or the feelings of terror, anxiety, fear and pain. I threatened anyone who tried to bring it up. After going through a stage of Acute Stress I slipped into full-blown PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks, insomnia, emotional numbing, dissociation, hyperarousal, hypervigilance, rage, intrusive thoughts, depression and complete avoidance of memories and situations that reminded me of my experience.
Over the next twenty-four years my PTSD symptoms increased in intensity. I developed full-blown anorexia. I triggered more and more often. I became chronically ill. My body developed strange maladies no one could diagnose or explain. My hair fell out. My stomach, liver, intestines and entire GI tract broke down and dysfunctioned. I had meltdowns, quit jobs, left relationships and bounced around unable to relax, commit or figure out how, when or where to focus my life.
After seventeen years of this my body completely shut down. I had the mother of all emotional meltdowns and finally wound up in therapy. It would be another eight years before I discovered I had PTSD. It would be another two hard years of healing before I reached where I am today: 100% PTSD-free.
My healing was accomplished through an accumulation of the following efforts:
2) information processing techniques, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Emotional Freedom Technique, Thought Field Therapy, Tapas Acupressure Technique,
3) self-empowerment techniques, including self-coaching myself to deliberately construct a post-trauma identity,
My mission now is to help others learn about PTSD and get on the road to healing. If I’d been aware, educated and encouraged to reconnect with my untraumatized self I would not have lost so much of my life to this wholly treatable and beatable condition. We each have healing potential; it’s my passion now to help survivors discover theirs.
We can’t always find meaning in our trauma, but we can learn to make meaning come out of it. That’s the philosophy that now guides my life as I take my experience and share it with others in the hopes that many of us will find peace and freedom.
I’ve been a writer since I was seven. My B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania contains writing elements, plus I hold an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College. I’m published and produced in non-fiction, poetry, and theater. My past professional career includes advertising, publishing, public relations, finance, and university teaching. My favorite hobby — and the one that had an enormous impact on my healing — is dance: Salsa, Argentine Tango and ballroom (in that order!).
Today, I work as a Post-Trauma Coach helping survivors shift from powerless to powerful and make progress on their healing journey. I am certified as a Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, Professional Life Coach and Hypnotist. Through these techniques I help clients access theirhealing potential by connecting to and developing their own strength, courage and imagination — all of which are ingredients in the PTSD healing process.
How can I help you or your loved one struggling with PTSD?