I Cannot Be This Person

In honor of National PTSD Awareness Day, please read this brave Marine’s story below:

***NOT FOR RESALE OR DISTRIBUTION*** Laura Hendrixson, 29, a former marine that was raped in the military and suffers from PTSD, alone at home and with her husband Craig, 30, in San Diego, Ca. on July 20, 2013. Laura was a US Marine, stationed South Carolina (or somewhere in the south) when she was sexually assaulted by "friend" – someone in whom she had recently confided some deeply personal information.  This was traumatic enough but the way the military handled it compounded the problem.  She was confined to barracks - to the same barracks as her attacker.  She was told to wear baggy sweats so as not to attract men.  She had to continue working with her attacker.  She was denied promotions and labeled a trouble maker for having reported the incident.  She became a pariah.   The result was that she left the military deeply afraid of the world, unable to do much – she rarely went out, was afraid to sleep with the light on, or take a shower, etc.  Therapy has helped her a lot.  She is still pretty timid but she now holds a job and is working toward a college degree.  She is married and has a Chihuahua.  She is getting better at doing the little things.   Shooting her will be a bit tough.  She doesn’t do a whole lot.  She doesn’t want us to shoot her at work.  I’m thinking that we’ll shoot a lot of details of her home – the showerhead dripping, lights on the ceiling, etc. to represent the stuff she could not do.  We’ll also shoot her studying and may go with her to San Diego State University where she is a student.Finding it hard to be home alone or feel comfortable in public places, Marine and MST survivor Laura Hendrixon is determined to get better for her family.

Laura Hendrixon had always thought PTSD came only after combat exposure–until it happened to her. “After being in the Marines for a year and a half, I was sexually assaulted by another Marine who was also a co-worker and a friend of mine,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to talk about, but I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to be stronger.”

The trauma affected her so much that she was afraid to take a shower when she was home alone. “…I would basically be in panic mode the whole time,” she said. “I would think…”Oh my gosh, I want to get a shower, but I can’t get a shower because I’m home by myself, and if I’m in the shower, I’m not going to be able to hear if somebody comes in the house.” I would get scared to the point that I wouldn’t close my eyes when I’m taking a shower.”

Laura was diagnosed with PTSD. Her doctor at VA suggested she get into treatment. “I finally had a doctor point out to me that, you know, it would be really good if I went through this treatment,” she recalled. “I knew I needed to do it because I can’t wait to have kids, and I was like, “I cannot be this person with kids. I’m going to, like, wrap them up in bubble wrap.”

Laura’s treatment at VA was a form of talk therapy called Prolonged Exposure (PE). In PE, the goal is for the patient to have less fear about her memories. It is based on the idea that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event. By talking about her trauma repeatedly in a safe environment with a therapist, the patient learns to get control of her thoughts and feelings about the trauma. She learns that she does not have to be afraid of her memories.

“I made a list of things I needed to be able to do: make left-hand turns, ride in an elevator, go somewhere by myself, get showers. It’s like, I need to learn how to deal with this stuff, now,” she explained. “It was very difficult at first. I had to go back to that moment and, you know, describe exactly how I felt, and emotions and fears, and everything about the moment. It did get easier. You actually record yourself, and then you listen to it, so in some way it tricks your brain into accepting that this did happen to me and, you know, I’m going to be OK, and it’s going to get better.”

Laura also credits her husband for much of the progress she has made. “My husband is a lifesaver,” she said. “We’re going to counseling together, and they’re helping us talk through some of the daily struggles that I have with PTSD. He’s so good for me; he encourages me to do things I’m not comfortable with. I definitely plan to keep moving forward with it. I’m always thinking, like, “Just do it!” I can do all kinds of stuff.”

You can see the entire AboutFace video profile of Laura Hendrixon on YouTube.

For more information on PTSD and ways to raise awareness of this mental health problem during June and throughout the year, professionals and members of the public can visit our PTSD Awareness page.

I’m FREE! FREE-FALLING!

Well, I must say I am going back and forth with my Self-care at the moment. I have a lot of work coming in and coming due, which is a good problem to have! I found a great app called 30/30 that lets me set blocks of time for work and breaks. And then there’s the day I went skydiving.

Yep. You heard me. I faced my long-standing fear and jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 feet, falling at 125mph breakneck toward the ground. And, as most things we fear, the anticipation and “what if” thoughts were WAY worse than the thing itself.

Phil, my tandem instructor, and me

Phil, my tandem instructor, and me

I thought I would go when I turned 40, almost 3 years ago. Nope. Chickened out. So, when a friend of mine got accepted into the Police Academy (with a full ride scholarship), something she’s wanted her whole life, I told her to pick something to do…my treat. I knew she didn’t drink or like to go to clubs, so I figured maybe a nice movie or dinner at a nicer place. Nope. Wrong again! SKYDIVING, she said.

I panicked at first, but then thought that there was no better time to do this – she had been a few times already and liked the place that we went. I got brave and said, “JUST DO IT!”

And I’m so glad I did! I was terrified at the open door of the plane, looking out, but Phil, who was tightly strapped to me, wasn’t going to let me stand in the way of my goal. He pushed forward and I was falling! I only had that yucky-stomach falling feeling for 2 or 3 seconds, then it was like I was on top of a giant fan! After we pulled the canopy, all of Nature’s beauty was sprawled out in front of us to enjoy. The fall only took about 60 seconds, but it seemed longer because I was so in the moment.

logo100I highly recommend this activity, as long as the place you go has qualified, knowledgeable instructors and and outstanding safety record. We visited Westside Skydivers in Sealy, TX, which is about an hour’s drive. There were closer places, but my friend had experience with Westside, so I didn’t mind the drive. My instructors, Bob and Phil, and my cameraman, Nate, were all wonderful and knew how to put me at ease! Thanks, guys! And yes, I’m going again!!

 

Why Can’t We Have a Baby? The Stigma of Infertility

Just like people with “mental health” conditions feel there’s something wrong with them, so do couples who experience infertility. Like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bi-polar disorder, infertility often creates feelings of shame, insecurity, failure and the sense of being “damaged goods.”

Occasions like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be painful reminders of how life doesn’t always go as planned. For years, we’ve said with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders that no one expects to feel miserable after having a baby which is “supposed to be” one of life’s most wonderful experiences. Yet, 1 in 7 moms and some dads will have an episode of postpartum illness.

As a psychologist, I’ve been counseling couples experiencing infertility for over 25 years, and know that occasions like Father’s Day/Mother’s Day can be very challenging. Here are some recommendations to help you cope.

  1. Acknowledge whatever you’re experiencing. If you feel angry, sad, unhappy, lost, or numb, to name a few, let yourself be aware of what you’re feeling. Yes, men have a rough time on these occasions too.
  2. If you don’t feel upset or out of sorts, that’s okay. Everyone deals with the challenges of infertility in his/her own way. Respect the feelings you’re having even if they’re different than expected.
  3. Give voice to what you’re going through. Again, men are generally not eager to share uncomfortable or painful emotions because they’re raised to be the “strong ones” and want to be able to fix what’s wrong whenever possible. Instead of holding it in, speak to your partner or someone you trust. Letting go is healing.
  4. If unpleasant thoughts and feelings start to pile up, shift gears. Do something that has nothing to do with Father’s Day or fatherhood. Focus your attention on watching sports on TV, playing a video game, working in the yard or any activity you usually enjoy.
  5. Plan a pleasant day with your partner. Go biking or hiking or take a walk along the beach. Picnic at your favorite park. Go see a movie or visit a winery. Celebrate the two of you just the way your are.
  6. Stay away from restaurants or places where families may be gathering. Graciously decline requests to attend Father’s Day events. Respect your limits. You don’t have to “man up” today.
  7. Be proactive. Plan how you will spend the day in advance. Don’t be caught off guard if you can help it.
  8. FINALLY, remember there are many ways to become a family, and if you want to become a dad, there will be a way. Stay open to the possibilities life brings. You may not become a dad the way you imagined, but once you are it won’t matter how you got there.

Namaste

 

PTSD: It’s NOT a Shame

PTSDAs Diane has mentioned, June is PTSD Awareness Month.  In 2010, Congress named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day (S. Res. 455). Since then, during the month of June, The National Center for PTSD asks that the issue of PTSD be discussed openly and without judgment, in the hopes of reducing stigma.

Anyone who has dealt with mental illness either directly or indirectly knows that, indeed, not all wounds are visible…or measurable, for that matter. No, there’s no blood test to measure levels of depression, anxiety or trauma. Many people look “just fine” on the outside, while they are suffering greatly on the inside.

Trauma is not the same for everyone. Many people think of Veterans when they hear the term PTSD. While Vets surely are a group that’s at greater risk, anyone can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what traumatizes one person may not affect another. In fact, traumatic events don’t have to be “catastrophic” to cause this reaction! Losing a pet, having your child get off at the wrong bus stop, car accidents and other “everyday” events can cause traumatic reactions in some people.

On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike came through my neck of the woods. Since it was “only” a Category 2 storm, we decided to ride it out. I took a sleeping pill that night and had no clue if it was scary or not – I was asleep! However, the next day, I fell apart as we drove around looking at the damage the storm left in its wake. We lost our back fence – we were lucky that it wasn’t worse. But until recently, any time the power went out at my house, I would instantly panic. So, it wasn’t the catastrophic hurricane that caused the traumatic reaction – it was the loss of electricity that became my trigger!

PTSD symptoms – anxiety, panic, sudden anger, nightmares, flashbacks – can be caused by just about anything and is the brain’s natural response to protect your psyche from pain. They are also signals that you need to process the event, no matter how “small” you perceive it to be!

PTSD is NOT a shame…it’s an opportunity to get help and come out on the other side a healthier, happier and more resilient person! To find therapists who specialize in PTSD in your area, visit psychologytoday.com‘s therapist list. For more information on PTSD, visit The National Center for PTSD.

“Climb Out of Darkness” to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health

Last week, I blogged about “Teens Tackle Depression Stigma,” and what two Michigan teens are doing to reduce stigma about what I call “emotional health” conditions (depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar, eating disorders, etc). Click here to view the post.

This week I want to mention two events that are occurring in June also aimed at reducing stigma. The first is “Climb Out of Darkness,” sponsored by Postpartum Progress.  This event, started by Katherine Stone, focusses on raising awareness and diminishing the stigma associated with “emotional health” conditions affecting pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and pregnancy depression. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with these illnesses.” Click here to learn more about it, find a climb near you, and register. 

The other event , “KNOCKOUT STIGMA,” offers St. Louisans a fun, interactive platform to raise awareness about mental illness, one of the most unrelenting human diseases. While raising awareness to combat the negative effect of STIGMA, this event will connect our community to the worthwhile work of Independence Center. Held at The Title Boxing Club in Rock Hill, participants will enjoy a fun one-hour workshop while benefitting a good cause. Click here for more info.

DID YOU KNOW? One in five people worldwide have a “mental” disorder at some point in their lives. Over 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.Treatment works, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a licensed professional. STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION and NEGLECT prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001)

While we’re making progress in reducing stigma, there’s still to do. Please help support these events, and those you know with “emotional health” conditions. Namaste.

 

New PPD Book Launches Tomorrow

For one in five women, the joy of motherhood is a mirage that seems further away with every step you take toward it. Postpartum Depression (PPD) is the #1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth, yet millions of women suffer through it alone.

Pamela Zimmer is a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, and a #1 bestselling author. She is an expert in PPD and a mentor to women. Her heart is open, she’s been through PPD, she knows exactly how to help women heal and reclaim their joy in motherhood.

Her book Reclaim The Joy of Motherhood – How I Defeated Postpartum Depression is the one she wishes she had while fighting her own battle. She openly shares her story and experience, offering hope and healing, and a practical pathway to happiness for anyone going through PPD. She also offers insight for family and friends seeking to understand what their loved ones are going through. Her message is simple: Everything’s going to be okay.

On June 3rd Pamela’s book will become available through Amazon.com. Please go to www.ReclaimTheJoyofMotherhood.com anytime on Tuesday June 3rd to purchase Pamela’s book and join her on her mission to spread awareness of Postpartum Depression, and help women all over the world begin their own personal journey of healing to happiness today.

Teens Tackle Depression Stigma

A month ago, one of my colleagues mentioned that her daughter had an article which was about to run in a very important publication. She said she couldn’t tell me where yet, but sent me a link just before Memorial Day to her daughter, Madeline’s piece with the other co-editor of their high school paper, Eva, which was published in The New York Times.

If you haven’t seen this already, click on this link-http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/opinion/depressed-but-not-ashamed.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. Until more of us speak up about our personal experiences and encourage our family and friends to do the same, we support the conspiracy of silence which contributes to people of all ages and stages of life with “mental illness” including depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, addictions and eating disorders feeling alone, isolated and flawed. The word alone makes you feel bad

As I tell my clients, no family is untouched by “mental illness.” Everyone has emotional health vulnerabilities inherited from their gene pool,  and under the right circumstances, they develop into clinical conditions. In my family, several generations have experienced clinical depression and anxiety, and I experienced some mild depression following the birth of my first child.

In fact, women often  experience clinical episode during times of hormonal and major life changes-puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. To encourage childbearing women to say something and not “suffer in silence, ” when experiencing postpartum depression, New Jersey created their “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign. For more info on this program, click on this link-http://www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/postpartumdepression/pdf/PPD-brochure.pdf. Or, visit Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress and find a Climb to help support your recovery.

To hear more about Madeline and Eva’s editorial and the story behind the editorial, listen to their NPR interview by clicking here- http://www.npr.org/2014/05/24/315445104/students-struggle-with-depression-and-with-telling-the-story

And, let your voice be heard. Namaste