The reminder on my TV had been set for a week. My daughter and I were settling in for our favorite show premiering on Thursday night and ready for two hours of Grey's Anatomy drama.
Last season they introduced us to a new character, Owen -- a doctor suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to his stint in the military during war time. His girlfriend, Christina, was the unsuspecting victim of a horrific nightmare he was having related to his trauma. However, he was never able to talk to her about his symptoms of PTSD nor was he able to discuss the trauma itself.
This storyline was of particular interest to me due to my own, and my daughter's, acute PTSD diagnosis after surviving a devastating home invasion kidnapping, hostage, and bank robbery ordeal. I was so in tune with what this character was going through and could literally feel his pain in some of the scenes. Why? Because I know just how real PTSD is. But I also know it is possible to heal and move forward.
When I watched the big premiere, riveted by Izzy's gutsy "get a life" chat with the woman on the bench, I was also wonderfully surprised by the direction Owen's character was taking and the inclusion of a female therapist and Christina joining them.
"His Post-Traumatic Stress is fed by his avoidance of talking about it," the therapist said. (I can relate.) "If he is going to heal he MUST learn to talk about his trauma to you and to me (referring to Christina). Does he talk about his trauma? Does he talk about the incident?"
One of the 10 keys to healing from post-trauma that I discuss in my presentations is giving yourself permission to talk about your trauma and letting go of any shame related to your symptoms. When we talk to our friends and family members about what we are going through emotionally after violence, abuse, or trauma, we are educating them. It may be the only time they ever hear about what the symptoms actually are and what they can do to support you. They may not understand if they have never experienced it, but education and awareness is a great place to start.
I was also impressed that the show put the girlfriend in the therapist office with the client. Involving friends and family is a critical piece of the positive recovery puzzle. More treatment centers need to incorporate family and friends into the treatment process, even if it is a once a month orientation. I know what many of the treatments sites will say ... budget issues. I say baby steps now combined with leaps of faith is a great way to begin.
The plot came full circle when near the end of the show Owen not only shared his nightmare with Christina, but also went in to help a patient who had lost a limb and lost her will to live. He said, "I have been THERE. I know what it is like to want to die and as impossible as it was, I'm back. You have to do the work." When someone like me can speak from a place of "I've been there," I know how powerful it can be and how it will inspire positive change in someone else.
I want to applaud Grey's Anatomy and share a message with others who have survived violence, abuse, and trauma: Do the work. As impossible as it may seem, talk about your symptoms without shame and give those around you the opportunity to support you. The simple truth is ... there really is light at the end of the dark and frightening PTSD tunnel.
Michelle Renee speaks to universities and mental health professional/organizations on the topic PTSD is REAL and Hostage No More: 10 Keys to Breaking Free from Emotional Pain and Trauma. www.michelle-renee.com
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