Anyone familiar with my writing knows I am NEVER brief. Sorry. However long this piece may be I hope that the insight I share about Kendra Simpkins will be worth the read.
November 2, 2017, I had a scheduled appointment with Kendra Simpkins at her office in Sarasota, Florida. Kendra is an Army veteran with her MSW from Columbia University in New York City, my hometown. Kendra focuses her practice serving veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She is a practitioner of Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT) a therapy pioneered by Dr. Jon Connelly of Delray Beach, Florida, who is Kendra’s mentor.
I am a Vietnam era Army veteran, and worked as a Military Policeman at Fort Ord, California. When I completed my active duty, I began working for the California Department of Corrections as a Correctional Officer. I had a very diverse career in corrections retiring after 28 years as the acting Warden of a maximum-security prison. During my time both in the Army and in corrections I was involved in plenty of violent confrontations, some involving the use of deadly force. I have processed more bloody crime scenes, murders, suicides and stabbings than I care to remember. In all these years I have been involved in incidents in the community, both before retirement and after retirement, that called on my training and experience as a peace officer to take action which involved significant risk to myself. I thought that I was able to handle all of stress and incidents through the years and was completely fine. I grew up in a military and paramilitary climate that encourages soldiers and peace officers to “suck it up.” We don’t show emotion. We don’t let any of what we see or do effect our lives. Anything less is a sign of weakness.
On May 30, 2015, my life changed forever. My partner of many years died of breast cancer, her third time inflicted with this deadly disease. I was her caregiver 24/7 for most of 18 months and stayed side-by-side with her, my Battle Buddy, through radiation treatments, chemotherapy and all the side effects, the nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dehydration, pain, difficulty breathing, installation of a port in her chest because her veins were inaccessible, and a filter implanted to keep blood clots from killing her. I watched a vibrant, energetic, and damn good-looking woman waste away in front of me and there was nothing I could do to stop her inevitable death.
The resiliency that had carried me through three decades plus of a risky profession, a profession where I had control of outcomes, had failed me. At least that’s what I perceived. In response to her death, I drank too much, kicked myself thinking I should have done more or something different to change the outcome and keep Colleen alive. I lashed out at people for trivial things, was quick to anger and damaged relationships. I did some really foolish and potentially dangerous things. What I was experiencing was acute grief. What I learned from the bereavement group I attended through the hospice that cared for Colleen in her last two days of life, was that while experiencing acute grief my judgment and decision-making was seriously impaired. I also sought out treatment from an LCSW who counseled grieving survivors. All this ‘treatment’ lasted a little over 2 ½ years, and despite it all I was not feeling or functioning any better.
I am no genius, but I am self-aware enough to know I needed something different. A psychologist friend and colleague from my Department of Corrections days who knows me well and knew the relationship between Colleen and I, and knew what I was suffering told me many of the symptoms I was experiencing were consistent with delayed onset PTSD mixed with grief. That was now my focus. And that’s where Kendra Simpkins comes in. I needed a therapist that focused on what I now was able to identify as the enemy plaguing me – PTSD and grief.
My appointment with Kendra was set for November 2nd. We started the session at 11:00 a.m. and ended about 6:35 p.m. with only a 20-minute break in the seven-hour day. After dumping all the baggage, I had been carrying around for decades and the unending pain from losing Colleen, Kendra guided me through basically rewiring my brain to change the way I was thinking about painful events. I needed to stop reacting to threats that no longer existed, painful events that are in the past. Reacting to past events as if they are present is unrealistic. Thinking now that I can do something in the past, doing something different in the past is impossible – it couldn’t happen. If I were confronted with the same issue I would react exactly the same way I did. No regrets! No guilt!
Worrying about tomorrow? It hasn’t happened yet. How can I fear something that hasn’t happened? When tomorrow comes I will face the challenge whatever it is. Anxiety? Whatever it is hasn’t happened yet so anxiety is unfounded.
The constant feeling of hypervigilance, anxiety, guilt about something I cannot now nor could have controlled in the past is gone. The best seven hours I have spent in my 65 years.
From the seven hours of RRT, I formed an opinion of Kendra Simpkins. Kendra is fearless and pursues what sets her soul on fire. Helping veterans and first responders is her passion and it shows in her interaction. Some people come into your life just to teach you how to let go. That’s a real gift. I am very grateful to have received this gift.
I am forever in her debt. For the first time as far back as I can remember I have not felt this free and relaxed because I have been now able to let go of events in my life that have so occupied my thinking that days were a struggle.
If you think this is a rousing endorsement for Ms. Simpkins, you read it correctly. I hope more practitioners learn the RRT process so the unmet needs of those who have given so much for our country and communities, and now live with the trauma that comes with that service can be helped. I hope that more practitioners have the fire in their soul for this therapy that Kendra so amply shows.”