6/25/18 #SameHere Hero: Kayla Shea Wilkerson

Today’s #SameHere🤙Hero is the newest member of We’re All A Little “Crazy’s” Advocacy Alliance: Kayle Shea Wilkerson.  She’s an RN, with incredible knowledge about how trauma affects our systems.  She combines raw information pertaining to her past: genetic predispositions, learned behaviors, sexual abuse, bullying, self-medicating, suicidal ideations, self-mutilation, disassociation, shame, to show us exactly how her mental health complications developed – both from a lived experience and researcher’s perspective.  It’s an honor that she chose to share the full details of her entire story with our community, here, for the first time,  So much can be learned from her share and how she’s turned her life around for the better, and we look forward to having her and her research and clinical expertise on our advocate alliance as well!


“There have been a number of life events that have been difficult for me, including: parental divorce,  a history of severe addiction (particularly alcoholism) on both sides of family: a) my father, b) my maternal-grandmother (passed away from alcohol-induced cirrhosis), C) my great-grandfathers on both my mother’s and father’s sides of family.


We now know trauma can alter DNA x3 generations unless there is an interruption in the generational cycling of trauma which is what I believe to be referenced as ‘Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma’ in today’s most current research literature. I truly believe if there is one SINGLE ‘term’ to sum up the underlying root cause of my history with Mental Health struggles, Intergenerational Trauma is the MOST fitting.


Lifestyle factors that I feel also likely played a role in my development/family dynamics included: two extremely hard-working parents; my dad worked 2nd and 3rd shifts at a steel factory for the first several years of my life – this is in my opinion what began to dysregulate his sleep and lifestyle patterns and led to his self-medicating with alcohol in attempts to get enough sleep: a pattern I observed and immediately fell into when I began working my first job as a nurse – trying to maintain full-time hours while also ignoring the debilitating anxiety I was living through at the time (multiple panic attacks, every day for over a year). Just as my father had done in his earlier life, I’d come home from work every night only to self-medicate myself to sleep.


To make matters worse, I was also in one of the very few serious relationships I’ve ever had. The first month of us being together, the guy I was dating (who also had SEVERE childhood trauma) told me he would kill himself if I ever left him. At the young age of 22, I was shaken by this and stayed with him for almost a year. I recognized the signs of abuse when they began bc I’d unfortunately seen way too many of my female friends (most of whom were now mothers and raising children of their own) go through similar situations in which they were “trapped” for years before getting away.


Having seen this in other relationships, I knew I couldn’t continue with this man, who was NOW living in my mother’s home with me (against my wishes which I clearly expressed, yet he covertly asked my mother about temporarily staying with us in my house until he found a new place – which he had no intentions of doing). This took place all while I was at work one weekend picking up an extra shift for one of my coworkers.


In addition to the above I have awful memories of screaming and crying in the middle of the night – I was a very phobic child beginning around age 3-4.  I was approached by a male family friend/touched inappropriately at this same age of 3-4 – this is also where I feel like my fears of sleeping at night were initially triggered.


I was body shamed as cheerleader by coaches and others; the weeks we had to wear one certain uniform that was actually much too small for me, I was told by my coach to ‘eat as many Oreos as you want, but no salt all week because we can’t risk any additional water weight or the uniform won’t cover your butt.’


The problem was I wasn’t even overweight at this point in time, I had just begun developing much earlier than my peers, so my hips and bust size were not accommodated by our petite sized uniforms retired from the previous year’s squad. My fellow cheerleaders were amazingly supportive.  It wasn’t peers who bullied me as much as coaches and other strong female influences in my life at that time who I feel as though may have projected their own body image insecurities onto me unknowingly, bc, after all, we are all only human. I don’t think any of this was intentional, I think it’s just part of what comes with the territory of adolescence in a small town where everyone knows way too much of everyone else’s business. 😉


I was sexually/emotionally violated for the first time I can clearly recall at the age of 17 (my senior year of high school) by an acquaintance of my brother’s. They shared a mutual friend at the church group they attended and would all occasionally get together on weekends at my house and have ‘video game marathons.’ There was one particular acquaintance my brother had even mentioned to me to steer clear of bc he was unsure of him. One Saturday morning when my brother must’ve had to be somewhere early and my mother was taking my grandfather for their weekly Saturday excursions, this male had spent the night, and when it was just me at the house the following morning, he came upstairs to my room and took advantage of me being alone, crawled into my bed, at which point I began asking him what the heck he was doing and he proceeded to try and have sex with me/somewhat ‘did’ despite my attempts to push him off.  Luckily he became afraid he was going to get caught and ceased trying.


I just pretended like it never happened, and in my opinion, this is where the trauma of just about any situation begins.  When we lie and deceive ourselves out of desperate attempts to conceal the VERY painful, and SHAMEFUL truth. major problems arise.


In terms of genetic predispositions, there was early maternal stress and a dysregulated HPA – stress response as a result (i.e. dysautonomia). I was a ‘difficult child’ and very difficult to calm down once I would get worked up or overwhelmed with emotions. I had a severe fear of going to the doctor when I was elementary school age. that I would lock myself in the bathroom and make my mother promise not to let my doctor give me any more shots otherwise I’d threaten to ‘never come out’ (a bit dramatic I know).  I would usually get so overwhelmed with crying, that the tears and mucus alone would make me sick, and I would end up crying until I would throw up.


This all ended up manifesting again later in life when I would become ‘overstressed’ trying to achieve what I perceived as academic excellence, but the problem was, I was never good enough to meet my own standards bc that’s how irrational and unrealistic I would get at times. (I now quote Brene Brown and refer to myself as a ‘recovering perfectionist’ – this in itself has helped me immensely by simply provided a ‘thought reframe’ as I call it.)


My main diagnoses I have that people are aware of include pretty severe ‘ADHD’ and ‘Anxiety/Agoraphobia with accompanying panic disorder’ – but this falls under the larger umbrella of diagnoses I’ve encountered in my last few years which are PTSD from another peculiar encounter with older family friend in 2015 that triggered my earlier life traumas.


In the summer if 2015 – the triggering event where I was approached in a sexually perverse way, I allowed to get the worst of me and bc of shame, I decided I didn’t really care if I lived anymore and I ingested a large number of medications knowing that it was enough I could potentially stop breathing in my sleep from respiratory arrest.


After confessing to my best male friend who I trusted at the time, he is the one who helped me realize I needed help and made me promise to tell my doctor when I saw him the next day for an existing appointment that had previously been scheduled.


I only agreed to this bc I knew at that time I wasn’t going to my appointment but I likely needed to go to the hospital because my desire to live at that point was essentially nonexistent.  I felt as though I was non-existent – and in my alcohol-induced and sleep-deprived stupor, I had what felt like the ‘craziest’ thing I’d ever experienced.


It was as though I was an onlooker of what was going on. I could see the situation taking place but from what felt like being outside of my body.  I began to panic at this point and went into a ‘meltdown’ in which I started hysterically screaming and crying, I’d also been self-harming earlier around this time and had the marks on my arms and legs that showed this.


My friend saw which is I think what probably made me feel the shame to the extreme that I just lost it – I remember him trying to comfort me (like a brother, not at all in a sexual way) and I don’t recall if he tried to gently hug me or even just put a hand on my shoulder to calm me down – but whatever it was, it was the last thing I vaguely remember before I went to swinging, kicking, screaming, and crying about how badly I wanted to die.


Luckily a close friend of mine who also was an adolescent psych nurse was at my house at this time – but outside on the phone with a friend. When she heard me screaming from downstairs, she came up and together, her and my other friend were able to calm me down enough to finally go to sleep.  I’d been up for over 3 days after the odd encounter with the older man who’d manipulated his way into my home.


When I awoke from this stupor it was time for the doctor appointment I knew I’d already overslept for, so in a panic, I called my doctors office. I began to pack a bag bc I’d hoped to drive myself to the hospital and not to worry my mother. But, she pulled in the driveway at the same time I should’ve been leaving to go to my doctor appointment. She’d sensed something was wrong but thought I was on drugs and wanted to go to the hospital for rehab – I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth at the time about my shameful sexual past. It was easier to just let everyone think drugs/alcohol were the problem – but in reality, they were only the mask.


Luckily I had an established and trusting relationship with my doctor – he called me directly by phone after my mother contacted their office that it was an emergency situation. I told him the truth and everything that happened and that I knew I was at risk of self-harm and felt I needed hospitalization. He was wonderful, never judged me once, told me he was glad I was honest with him – and within the hour, arrangements were made for me to go to a hospital where one of his practicing partners oversaw his patients during his hospital rotations.


I HATED it as soon as I got to the hospital. I tried to leave 3 times in the first 24 hours – luckily I had an incredible weekend nurse who understood me/was able to efficiently communicate with me without insulting my already shattered ego even more.


After 6 days on detox protocol and 3 days free of any self-harm ideations, I was discharged and that was the first day of the rest of my life.


I sought help then because I knew I was becoming what felt like hopeless, and I’d luckily been educated on what signs to look for in suicidal patients and was somehow lucky enough to recognize this in myself, but only after confiding in my friend.


What helps me now is writing and singing music. Anything that cultivates my curiosity and creativity puts me on a better path.  Also, yoga and breathwork have been INCREDIBLE at helping me learn to ‘self-regulate’ my emotions through mind-body integration practices such as ‘somatic experiencing’ (developed by Peter Levine, Ph.D).


I do still take some medication, but nothing like what I once did. I currently take an SSRI (Prozac is what has always worked the best for me). I am also taking medication for the ADHD and a mild benzodiazepine at night which I was initially put on for ‘mild seizure like activity’ after a sleep study I’d had at 17.


Although I have gone through long periods of times without taking medications, I’ve learned maintaining a semi-regular medication regimen is what works best for me. I do take what I call ‘drug holidays’ and skip my ADHD medication on some weekends because I just personally prefer to NOT have to take anything on some days if I can. (But, this has been discussed and approved by my personal doctor of course, as I would never condone making that decision on your own.)


I’ve told bits and pieces of this #SameHere🤙story but honestly, this is my first time disclosing ALL of this information publicly. I’m sure certain people will have their own opinions about my story and that’s to be expected, but whats important is that I share my story of WHERE I ONCE WAS and WHERE I AM TODAY, because there was a time in my life where I’d hoped that I’d no longer be around to tell my story.


Today – well today I hope maybe another person out there struggling with similar challenges can come across my story and realize that if I can persevere and make it through this, ANYONE can! Recovery IS possible, and I’m proof. I’m not perfect. I still have my moments/days, but all in all, I’d say the journey has been worth SO MUCH MORE than I’d ever anticipated and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next.”

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