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I Cannot Be This Person

Close up of a woman with an angry expression

Marine Veteran Laura Hendrixon

by VA National Center for PTSD
Thursday, June 26, 2014

In observance of PTSD Awareness Month: June 2014, Inside Veterans Health, in collaboration with VA’s National Center for PTSD, presents the following profile of a Veteran who is living with PTSD and turning her life around with treatment.

Finding it hard to be home alone or feel comfortable in public places, Marine Veteran 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 VA doctor 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.”

 It’s embarrassing to talk about, but I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to be stronger. 

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, 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.

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 the National Center for PTSD website. This site offers resources such as:

  • PTSD Coach Online and the award-winning PTSD Coach mobile app, which provide self-help symptom-management tools. The app is always with you when you need it.
  • PTSD Continuing Education opportunities for providers, including PTSD 101 Courses, on the best practices in PTSD treatment (CEs/CMEs offered).
  • AboutFace: Online videos of Veterans talking about how PTSD treatment can turn your life around.
  • For continued involvement, please subscribe to the PTSD Monthly Update. Stay up to date on new information about PTSD and trauma year round.