BROOKSVILLE — It's not just battle-worn soldiers who come home with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Just ask Michele Rosenthal. She suffered an allergic reaction to a medication at age 13 that left her entire body blistered like a burn victim. But it was the damage to her psyche that took the longest to heal.
"Fear is an emotion all of us have," said Rosenthal, 43. "It's hard to get over it. You've got to unravel it."
Now, she is taking that message on the road as a PTSD survivor and author. Speaking last week at a symposium at Pasco-Hernando Community College, she said PTSD awareness is critical to helping both individuals and their families recover from traumatic experiences.
"Nobody heals in isolation," Rosenthal said. "We heal in a community."
Studies estimate that up to 70 percent of adults in the United States will go through a traumatic event in their lifetime, and up to 20 percent will struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, up to 40 percent of the military returning from Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, Rosenthal said.
"Many students are connected in some way to PTSD," said PHCC psychology instructor Kathleen De Sousa, Ph.D., who helped organize the symposium. From soldiers who have returned from combat zones to victims of child or family abuse, trauma can take many forms. And how the brain processes that trauma varies greatly from person to person.
"Some of us take it to another place," said Rosenthal, author of Before the World Intruded: A Memoir of Trauma, Survival, Identity & the Pursuit of Joy, to be released later this year.
Rosenthal, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, described her personal experience of receiving a sulfa-based antibiotic at age 13 and suffering an allergic reaction to the medication that ultimately resulted in Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome. Afterward, she refused to speak of the experience and ultimately experienced a range of PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks and rage, as well as depression and insomnia.
She was undiagnosed for 24 years, in which her symptoms increased in intensity, and she became chronically ill.
The PTSD mind-set can be difficult to reverse, said Rosenthal, who eventually received a diagnosis and therapy. "Fear becomes normal and sensations of calm and serenity become abnormal."
Today, free of PTSD symptoms, she said her mission is to help others struggling with the disorder.
About 125 people attended last week's event, ranging from students and local veterans to representatives from social service agencies.
Vietnam War veteran Rocky Rocks attended the symposium with his wife.
"It was eye-opening," Rocks said. "I was glad to hear about the possibility of PTSD being curable and not just with chemical solutions."
The PTSD Symposium was sponsored by PHCC, the North Campus Psychology and Psi Beta Clubs, BayCare Behavioral health, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness/NAMI Hernando.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.