Sometimes, we survive an experience so horrific and beyond the boundaries of our coping skills that we get stuck in the moment of the tragedy. That’s what happened to me in 1981. I was just a thirteen year old girl taking an antibiotic for a common infection. The next thing I knew, I was struggling to survive an illness so rare none of my doctors had ever seen a case. Almost overnight I turned into a full-body burn patient and the medical community didn’t know what to do. By the time I was released from the hospital I had completely lost not only 100 percent of my epidermis; I’d also lost myself.

While the process of accepting and integrating traumatic events happens naturally for many survivors, I very quickly developed symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The only problem was, no one recognized them.

PTSD Diagnosis

Studies estimate that at any given time over 5 percent of the US population struggles with PTSD (as of today, that’s over 24 million, so if you suspect you’re in this group, you’re not alone!). Sadly, many survivors struggle undiagnosed because:

-they deny their symptoms
-they think PTSD only applies to the military (not true as causes range from combat to child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, natural disaster, car accidents, violent assault and medical drama)
-their symptoms are misdiagnosed; common mistakes include diagnoses for Bi-Polar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Although evidence of post-traumatic stress had been around for centuries, PTSD was only finally recognized as a clinical diagnosis in 1980, one year before my trauma. Mostly, it was applied to the military, which explains why no one immediately noted my classic symptoms, including:

-Intrusive Thoughts
-Emotional Numbing

It would be twenty-four years before I finally received the diagnosis that put me on the path to freedom.

For any survivor, diagnosis can begin as easily as taking a self-test that will apply the criteria of PTSD to your personal experience. Grouped around three categories of PTSD symptoms (avoidance, arousal and re-experiencing), the questions on a self-test can help you gain immediate clarity. Consequently, a family practitioner or a licensed psychiatric professional can make a clinical diagnosis.

Knowing what’s causing you to act erratically, live with enormous stress and struggle with dysfunction helps move you toward doing something about it.

PTSD Treatment

The goal for PTS recovery is to establish a healing relationship, a sense of safety, remember and mourn the past and then integrate it into the present where the survivor learns to recreate his identity and place in the world. There is no single method for achieving this. As individual as survivors are in their traumas they are that individual in their healing journey, too.

While many options exist for treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome, most survivors begin with talk therapy, which provides a focused analysis of the past and the development the ability to tell the story of the trauma. Methods that work in collaboration with this include cognitive behavior therapy and behavioral therapy, which help the survivor learn to cope, manage symptoms and mediate triggers. Prolonged exposure therapy is also very popular as it works on the premise of desensitizing the survivor to stimuli reminiscent of the trauma over a period of time.

In addition to traditional methods that deal with the conscious mind, there a several creative techniques that forgo the ‘talking’ aspect and directly work with the body and subconscious mind. Somatic experiencing, reiki, massage and cranial sacral work are all examples of processing out traumatic energy stuck in the body’s nervous system. Information processing therapies (including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Emotional Freedom Technique and Thought Field Therapy), plus hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming all work in the subconscious mind to help rewire and retrain the brain by severing traumatic neural pathways and creating new neural networks without the overwhelming emotional charge of the past.

Self-Empowered Healing

PTSD gets worse over time and does not spontaneously heal. Since this disorder does not have a universal prescription, it falls to each survivor to find his/her own path. This means the choices and actions you take are the single most important elements of recovery. There are five areas you can focus to empower your efforts:

Intention – You must have the desire to get well; if you don’t really want to get better the challenges of recovery will permanently knock you off track.

Education – Understanding what PTSD is, plus what is necessary for recovery, is critical to successful healing. Learning all you can by researching both online and off will give you knowledge; knowledge is power.

Connection – No one heals alone. Strength, courage and bravery are all supported by reaching out to others who can help achieve your recovery goals.

Communication – In order to receive the help and healing you desire, you must learn to find words to express what you want and how you feel. The PTSD tendency is to avoid but healing requires acknowledging and sharing.

Commitment – There will be many challenges in the difficult process of PTSD recovery. In order to reach freedom it’s necessary to be persistent and determined in your efforts so that you don’t give up.

Life After PTSD

The good news is that recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is entirely possible! Studies estimate that 90-92 percent of all cases are curable. After twenty-four years of living undiagnosed, I went on a healing rampage. It took me a few years and ten treatment modalities, but today I am 100 percent free of PTSD symptoms. And I’m not the only one. Over the past few years I’ve met and worked with many survivors of different traumas who are making the shift from powerless to powerful. By making choices and taking actions, learning about this condition and creating a proactive plan for recovery, survivors everywhere are discovering how to conquer the past and create the future. Trauma may change us but we are not doomed to live in its shadow forever!

Author's Bio: 

Michele Rosenthal is a trauma survivor, Post-Trauma Coach and the founder of Her radio show, ‘Your Life After Trauma’ may be heard weekly on-air and streaming online.