Posttraumatic Stress & Broken Bones: What I’ve Learned

PTSD survivor Michele RosenthalJuly, 2010, I broke my toe. This was not the first time I’ve broken something. To date, I’ve broken 2 other toes, 1 metatarsal, 2 fingers, plus I’ve drastically fractured 1 kneecap and 1 vertebrae. If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you it’s because I’m left-handed, so I’m prone to being clumsy. If you ask me, it’s because I’m just not always paying attention.

Whatever the reason for the wreckage, this little toe that summer was the first time I’ve learned anything useful from my need to recuperate. I’ve written about the PTSD psychological and emotional journey earlier, but today, as we come to the end of a long year of all of you doing the diligent work of posttraumatic stress disorder treatment and recovery, I want to share with you something really, really interesting for us all.

It begins with this: a few years ago I received a rather angry email from a psychiatrist lambasting me for believing that PTSD can be healed. His point, he said, was this: people with PTSD are like a bone that’s broken. The fracture will eventually knit and heal, but it will always be weak, undependable and prone to more breaks in the same place.

Not knowing very much about the process of bone building or healing breaks, I believed in the science of the man’s ideas even while I wholly disagreed with the psychological implications of his metaphor.

And then I broke my toe that summer and set about studying what it takes to build bone, to heal a fracture and knit the elements. I had detailed conversations with my doctor and here’s the interesting tidbit I want to share with you today:

The place where a fracture heals is stronger than the rest of the bone. Did you hear that? STRONGER. It’s a scientific fact.

So, taking that psychiatrist’s idea that we are broken, and maxing it out: after we heal we are stronger than we were before. And, I think, as healed bones can be more sensitive to temperature and weather change, we, too are more sensitive and intuitively connected with ourselves and the world. For example, people everywhere will tell you that their bone that was broken can now predict rain. An ache comes in advance of something unpleasant. It’s a useful thing, to be able to predict when you might need an umbrella.

What if we are all like that? What if in the place we have been broken, our soul heals and becomes even stronger? What if the intuition for our safety that PTSD hones in us continues to operate below the radar keeping us safe, sending us only the messages we need to know when and if we need to know them? What if our healed breaks strengthen our intuition which, as Gavin de Becker suggests in THE GIFT OF FEAR, is already one of our innate assets?

What if those who decide we cannot be healed or helped are – just as that psychiatrist was – misinformed? Many times over the course of my PTSD symptoms and the mysterious illnesses that came with them I had to seek a second opinion. I didn’t believe the doctor who thought I might have liver cancer, and I didn’t stick with the guy who was sure I had Celiac Disease. When their advice didn’t help me recover and reach health and freedom I sought advice from someone else.

It’s up to each of us to do the necessary research, get the second opinions and find the people who are willing to be positive and discuss with us what we can do, rather than write us off and determine for us what we can’t achieve.

As 2013 winds down and you look forward to what you will and can and expect to achieve in 2014, imagine that you, too, can get a second opinion, another take, a more informed assessment of your posttraumatic stress disorder treatment plan. No one has the right to tell you that living with PTSD is all that your future holds. No one. Bring in this new year with even more dedication, determination, commitment and courage than you ever have before.

I believe each of us has enormous healing potential. The goal is learning to access it. Dig deep. You can do this. I believe in you and what you can do in 2014. Happy New Year!


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