Be Your Own Valentine: Mental Health Monday [PTSD]; featuring Kelsey Hanks

As amazing as my previous guest bloggers have been, today’s guest blogger is by far the bravest. Kelsey, a fellow Team INSPIRE coach, has agreed to share something that required great vulnerability and courage: her journey with PTSD. Many of us have likely heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but may not understand how it impacts someone’s day-to-day life. Kelsey has bravely stepped out to share her experiences with a heart of healing for others and for herself. Blogging is a new venture for Kelsey, so please, show her some love and encouragement by commenting below and visiting her site! My heart is so grateful for this woman. It is an honor, especially as a counselor, to feature her today.

Here’s Kelsey…

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Sometimes events in your life happen that will change you forever.  While some change you for the better, some change you for the worse. But either way you go, you are changed and you walk away from each event having learned something valuable.  The event that took place in my life was a life altering event.  It altered my life for the worse for a while, but then I found strength that I didn’t know I had and I conquered it.  I now know that sometimes the outcome of an event can be a choice that you make based on how you deal with it.

starsUntitledI was forever changed on a hot day in July of 2009.  I was two months shy of 21 years old.  I won’t go into the details of the event, but it was extremely traumatizing.  It left me with a wide range of brand new coping mechanisms that I would carry with me until after the birth of my first child 3 years later.  I could no longer be alone in my home with the windows or screen door open.  Going out at night caused my heart to race and it struck panic in me immediately.  Whenever our home would make a strange creak or noise, I instantly felt like someone was in our home and I would be harmed.  Night time became a time of extreme fear and obsessive cleaning to cope with that fear.  Turning the lights off in my own bedroom when I was alone at night was a task that I had to talk myself into on a daily basis.  I would lock the door at night, check to make sure I locked it, and then check again, and again, and again.  I got married in December of 2009 and my poor husband, Randy, inherited all of my issues.  I cannot tell you how many times I would wake him in the middle of the night to go scan our home to make sure no one was there, or to cry it out and seek comfort after a vivid nightmare woke me and kept me from falling back to sleep.

I never sought counseling.  I was “strong enough to handle it.”  I didn’t want to talk about what happened to me and to my mother that night.  I didn’t want to talk about the event that was already stuck on replay in my head every single day.  I lived with it every day of my life.  I felt no need to share it with anyone else.  The event didn’t feel like a memory to me.  The only way I know how to describe it is to say that it literally felt like it happened to me over again every single night.  It was like someone put in a movie of that night, turned it on repeat, and continuously played it over and over in my head.  It’s a horrible feeling to have a memory that has created so much trauma stuck in your head and you don’t know how to get it out.

1157396_10206880458507863_8895174263687051529_n.jpgMy breaking point came after my daughter was born.  Luci came into our world in  August of 2012.  My husband is enlisted in the US Navy so he was frequently out to sea leaving me to care for Luci alone.  If you are a parent, you know that often times evenings with little ones can be challenging.  They become sleepy and cranky, and if you throw in some teeth or a growth spurt, they might even fall into a sleep regression where they will fight sleep for hours upon hours.  As I have said before, I coped with my own fears in the evening by obsessively cleaning and checking the lock on the door.  Luci majorly disrupted my coping mechanisms.  Suddenly I had this little one demanding all my time and attention during a time of day when my anxiety levels were at an all time high.  It became too much to handle.  In January, Randy left to go out to sea for 6 weeks.  By the end of the month, I called my grandmother sobbing uncontrollably telling her I needed help and I needed it fast.  I felt so incredibly hopeless.  I didn’t want to care for my little girl at night.  All I wanted to do was be alone, clean, and make sure that no one was coming through that front door.  I couldn’t continue on in the manner that I was especially since I was Luci’s primary caregiver and at times, her only care giver.

12143169_10206467195936557_2524722294360929532_nThat month I self-referred for counseling.  I was told that I wouldn’t be able to be seen for TWO MORE WEEKS.  If you’ve ever been in the helpless place that I was, two weeks is about two weeks too long.  Luckily Luci had a checkup a couple of days after I referred myself and I explained to her pediatrician what was going on.  He was an amazing advocate for me and wouldn’t let me leave his office until he had me an appointment with the counseling department of the Naval Health Clinic that he worked at.  In my counseling, I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  I went on medication for a year and went through extensive counseling through the TAOS (Trauma and Occupational Stressors) clinic.  The main task of my therapy was to relive the memory over and over by telling the story to my counselor multiple times per session in order to process and convert the trauma from a reoccurring event in my head to a memory of something that happened to me in my past.  As homework after my sessions, I had to listen to recordings of my sessions and document my anxiety levels while listening.  I also set up a list of avoidances that I had as a result of my trauma and I had to work through each of my fears. These things ranged from only checking the lock of the door once a night to standing outside in my front yard at night when it was dark. These things were done very slowly and very progressively so that I was comfortable.

Fast forward to now.  Do I still have triggers?  Absolutely.  Am I cured of my PTSD?

Absolutely not.

strengthMy PTSD is something that I will always have, always deal with, and always have to overcome, but I am able to lead a much more normal life.  I no longer have the avoidances that I had before and I am able to parent both of my children effectively no matter the time of day.  I also now have the tools I need to get myself through the moments that trigger me in a healthy way.  Thankfully, I was self-aware enough to recognize that I needed help.  I advocated for myself and got the help I needed so that I could take care of myself and my little girl.  I loved myself enough to ask for help.  Having a disorder like PTSD doesn’t make me weak.  In fact, it has given me strength that I never knew was possible.  If you are struggling with something such as this, I assure you it is not something to be ashamed of.  Own it, love yourself, and reach out for help.  It’s out there if you just ask for it.

Kelsey’s Website: www.kelseyhanks.com

IG: @mrskhanks

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