In the 35 years since the American Psychiatric Association added post-traumatic stress disorder to its definitive Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, PTSD has become a part of our national conversation — originally focused on combat veterans but now widely recognized among rape victims, disaster survivors and others who have experienced extreme trauma. Two new books suggest positive responses to this often crippling condition.
In her teens, Michele Rosenthal suffered toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome, a very rare allergic response to medication, searing off the top two layers of her skin as if she had been burned all over her body. Her physical scars healed, but she suffered severe PTSD, involving nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks and anorexia, for more than 20 years. In “Heal Your PTSD: Dynamic Strategies That Work,” Rosenthal encourages others with the disorder to use the lessons and tools that she says turned her life around. (Today she’s an author, blogger, radio host and life coach.) This is a cheerleading, you-can-do-it kind of book, with step-by-step lifestyle modifications interspersed with such boldface exhortations as “Healing happens when you value who you are” and “You are not in denial. You are coping!”
Jim Rendon doesn’t have personal experience with PTSD; he’s a journalist who takes a reportorial approach to the subject in “Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth.” So he tells the stories of 19 other people — people who survived combat, accidents, personal attacks or disease and who went on to remake their lives, find new narratives to propel them and emerge stronger than before. Sometimes, the new narratives fall apart and life needs to be remade again: One of his first subjects is Max Cleland, who achieved a successful political career after losing both legs and an arm in Vietnam, then had to overcome what he calls a worse tragedy: losing his U.S. Senate seat in 2002.
Rendon says he hopes to “paint a more rounded picture of the aftermath of trauma — one with pain and suffering, to be sure, but one also filled with hope and opportunity for change.”