“Traumatic brain injuries during deployments appear to increase the risk of troops experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home, according to Department of Veterans Affairs-sponsored research published Wednesday.
In some cases, a servicemembers’ chance of acquiring PTSD was doubled by serious head or brain injuries suffered while deployed, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found.
The findings add to a growing body of research on the long-term psychological and physical consequences of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where improvised explosive devices have often been the enemy’s weapon of choice, and head trauma — as well as psychological struggles afterdeployment — has proliferated. Past studies have shown the symptoms of TBI and PTSD overlap, and the research by the VA-funded Marine Resiliency Study made public this week adds evidence of a causal connection.”
Jamie Summerlin, a former Marine, won’t have a quiet post-Christmas day. Instead, Summerlin will run 101 miles from Shepherdstown West Virginia, to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis MD for the Military Bowl football game. The goal? To raise awareness about the lives of wounded warriors, and to gain donations for a community-based organization in Morgantown WV,“Operation Welcome Home.”Find out more at his website (and donate), “Freedom Run USA.”
My Insane Life as a Marine Wife: A Conversation with the Founder of an Online Support Network
What would you do if the man you loved, the man you wanted to grow old with, the man who made you laugh, who made you smile, who made you feel special…changed? By change I mean, “very empty, angry, depressed, explosive, and rather unpredictable.” The man you knew like the back of your hand…now a shell of his former self. What if…you add three young kids to this equation: 7, 5, and 3 1/2. Not old enough to emotionally understand why “Daddy is sick!” Too young to digest the daily and nightly chaos. You and you alone left to mend their emotional wounds, while trying to maintain a healthy and stable environment for them. What would you do?
Too often in the military families…the answer is GET THE HELL OUT! I’m not here to debate what is right or wrong in situations like this…as I’m not a licensed marriage counselor. My name is Chris E. and I’m a 23 year Air Force veteran. I’ve witnessed families like this and have mentored warriors in these situations. I’m also aware there are environments where safety is a concern. In those cases…yeah…run don’t walk. However, I do know first hand that leaving is sometimes the “easier” thing to do.
Military families are “STRONG” by nature, design, and necessity. I firmly believe having been retired now for four months and staying home with my wife…that her job is way more tough than mine ever was. I would suggest, Rebecca’s job is tougher times infinity!
“Roughly a year after he returned from his deployment to Afghanistan is when my husband’s PTSD started to become a major problem. He returned home in February 2011 and in February 2012, things began to go downhill very quickly. It’s been a major uphill climb from there trying to pick up the broken pieces and do our best to stay together as a couple and as a family.”
Multiple deployments, long hours…and kids…let alone three kids under 10 can take its toll on anyone. Add to this, a special needs child. Her youngest has Sensory Processing Disorder and high-functioning Autism. Rebecca truly has the “warrior ethos” instilled. Maybe because she married a Marine, or maybe because that’s just who she is. She did not run. Instead, she has hunkered down. Drawing experience from each “battle” she faced to develop new or updated TTPs. Her husband, a Marine Staff Sergeant has been through what I call the PTSD gauntlet. He’s done an intensive six-week outpatient PTSD therapy, group therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and medications. He is currently on a high dose of an anti-depressant and a mood stabilizer. Often times, finding the right meds, combo of meds, and dosage can be deadly. It is no walk in the park subjecting your body to these powerful “Black Box” meds. “Finding the right dosage was difficult, I do believe the medication has really helped my husband better control some of his symptoms. The therapy has also been a major necessity in helping him work through some of his inner demons. My husband still has a long way to go, but has also come a long way from the person he was at the beginning of this.”
“My husband very rarely discusses any information about his PTSD. I do wish that he would because communication is the key to understanding. I do know and understand though that my husband never intentionally wants to cause me any emotional pain or anguish.”
Rebecca took to the internet learning all she could about PTSD. She educated herself and sharpened her “battlefield skills.” She began journaling. “In the beginning of my struggles with my husband’s PTSD, a neighbor suggested I use a journal to help me “get things out”. I used it daily to help vent about the things I was going through or to say the things I needed to say to my husband but couldn’t.” With the help of her husband’s PTSD Therapist and PTSD Psychologist (who happened to be husband and wife) Rebecca began the first PTSD Spouse Support Group for the Wounded Warrior Battalion and associated mental health at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA. Still wanting to do more…she started a Facebook page called, My Insane Life as a Marine Wife.
“I started My Insane Life as a Marine Wife because I wanted to reach out to other spouses of Veterans with PTSD. When my husband’s PTSD initially took over and wreaked havoc on our lives, I felt very alone and isolated. There was no one I could talk to who understood what I was going through. I searched for support groups for spouses of Veterans with PTSD, but there just weren’t any in my area.” She says that the page has helped her immensely by having others to talk to who actually understand what she is going through. Collectively, these spouses take comfort in knowing that they are not alone in battling this beast known as PTSD.
Rebecca is no miracle worker…and she doesn’t “go it alone!” (Neither should you) She has a strong support group of family members, fellow spouses and loyal friends who have been by her side unconditionally. She says their love and support have helped her through the darkest of hours. Now, with the help of social media, she wants to be that “loyal friend” for others. “I’m just really hoping that others will be able to take comfort in knowing that they are not alone while battling their loved one’s PTSD. I want them to have a place to go to vent, ask questions or get advice from other spouses, to get resources and information on PTSD, and provide a place for spouses where others truly understand what they are going through. ” The facebook page has only been live for a short while and Rebecca has shared some intimate details of this not so glamourous life. She plans on sharing everything she can (within reason of course) in hopes it will help another spouse.
We are our experiences, and sometimes we find something that can help us to a different shore. Earlier this year, I went to a panel discussion given by poets. Two poets were of interest to me –in part because of their work, but also because of their backgrounds.
Both have well developed and prestigious careers. Dana Gioia’s career included a term as the head of the National Endowment for the Arts. During his term, he oversaw the effort known as Operation Homecoming: Writing the War Experience. Operation Homecoming took place at over 25 bases both CONUS and OCONUS. Writers and volunteers came to take families and troops through writers workshops. It was a huge project that culminated with an anthology, a documentary, and a website that still stands on the PBS. The workshops resulted in works that encompassed poetry, fiction, memoirs, letters, journals and essays. It is one of the best coordinated artistic efforts that involved big government, volunteers, and many others who made the machinery run. What did the troops and families get? A chance to find their voice and be heard. I can’t help but think that Dana Gioia had a personal reason for doing this: his sister is a soldier in the Army
The other poet grew up in the Navy, moving from base to base. I don’t want to make any assumptions how growing up military shaped his life, but his career has covered a lot of territory. He was the Director of the American Academy of American Poets, is a professor at a university, publishes books of poetry, and even writes for publications like The Atlantic. Anyway, Henri Cole is the reason I’m writing this. What he said during the talk was that “Writing isn’t healing.”
Over the years, I’ve heard, “Writing is therapeutic, it’s healing,” used to the point of senselessness. As if your PTSD will disappear, or your migraines are will stop. I asked him about it after. If writing is healing, why do so many people keep at it past the point when they’ve gotten their original story out? Healing isn’t a simple thing.
At every writing workshop at UCLA, there were people who were exorcising some part of their life onto the page. The childhood actor, the lawyer who wished she weren’t a lawyer, the bubbly writer with the funny family, the guy for whom alienation is his security. We tried to rectify something in our past, even if we were writing fiction. Writing is an obsession, a compulsive act. Some want to tell stories. Others want to make art. The good ones do both. Thus, the elusive peck for the perfect sentence, the perfect page, the perfect chapter, the perfect book. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Writing as healing might be a pretty high claim. It’s not magic. Crafting prose is takes every ounce or patience and humility you can find. It can be frustrating, and there’s always the inner and real-life critics to face. However, where I’ve found the most satisfaction (and where the discoveries lie) is in the process of editing.
Writing is like this: Stuff on the page, lots of it, and in no particular order. Editing is re-examining what you’ve written, and putting it in an order that makes sense to you (and hopefully to the reader too). You take things out, you put things in. You kick yourself, and sometimes you can’t see. But you dive into it again, because deep down, your story has to get out. So you chop sentences up, combine others, find new words altogether. But it’s less a fixation on one event, as it is taking it apart, rebuilding a scene, and finding a more logical way to make it work, make it understandable. Often you build a bit of distance between what happened, and where you are now.
What happened will still be painful. The violence and tragedy will not have gone away. The loss will still be felt. But by culling over the words, you begin to see things in a way that gives you a little distance. And sometimes, it’s that little glimmer that might give you the ability to cope a little differently. This is the part that makes you more self-assured. Maybe this in itself is healing.
Which brings me to the Veterans Play Project. I’m not sure we should get too hung up about whether this was healing or therapeutic. Rather, we should be very pleased these veterans are reaching out to an audience through art.
If you’re anywhere near Ft. Snelling MN, catch this production, and be proud of the men and women who went through the process of writing, rewriting, going through a critique, writing it again, and are now willing to share it with others. We shouldn’t just be proud, we should be enthusiastic about their drive, and for facing not only their memories, but that blank white screen to get their story just right. There’s courage in this, too.
Get your tickets. Go. And then come back here and tell us about it.
(Formerly called 4 Score Toward the Sun)
Presented by Mixed Blood, in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center
Created by Footprints Collective in Collaboration with Minnesota Veterans of Military Service
November 15-24, 2013 (Preview November 14) Performed at the Base Camp
(201 Bloomington Rd, Fort Snelling, MN- get directions)
Inspired by stories gathered from over a hundred Minnesota military veterans, this new play tells the story of veterans and civilians living in the fictional small Midwest town of Smedley. The stories of new recruits, veterans, and advocates from all conflicts and on all sides weave together as the residents of Smedley face the dilemma of how to honor the memory of those who have served in their community.
The Veterans Play Project is performed by a talented cast of 20 actors and musicians, including 13 veterans and active military personnel.
Guarantee Admission online or by calling the Box Office: 612.338.6131
SAN FRANCISCO – According to the results of a new study from the University of Michigan, commissioned by the Sierra Club, veterans participating in outdoor group recreation reported improvements in psychological well-being, social functioning and life outlook, suggesting a link between nature exposure and enhanced well-being.
Participants were surveyed before and after a multi-day wilderness recreation experience in groups of six to 12 participants. The excursions emphasized a variety of outdoor activities, from fly fishing and backpacking to kayaking, whitewater rafting and paddling, and generally did not include formal, structured psychological counseling or therapy.
The results suggest many positive impacts for veterans engaging in outdoor activities, including:
Participation in an extended group outdoor recreation experience may be associated with numerous benefits; compared to pre-outing levels, participants reported improvements in psychological well-being, social functioning and life outlook.
Participants also reported being more likely to engage in other activities that involved exploration and helping others.
Findings also suggest that veterans with serious health problems can benefit from group outdoor recreation experiences.
Researchers hypothesize that the benefits of outdoor experiences may be attributable to the fact that participants are involved in physical challenges, camaraderie, and achievement of an objective – all of which correlate with military experience and training.
“The Sierra Club knows anecdotally the mental, emotional and physical benefits that come from spending time in nature, particularly for returning service members for whom the outdoors can be integral to their reintegration,” said Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Director. “The results of the University of Michigan’s study reinforce these beliefs and support our efforts to make these types of experiences available to more people.”
“The findings suggest that extended group-based nature recreation can have significant positive impacts on veterans struggling with serious health problems,” said Jason Duvall, a research scientist at the U-M School of Natural Resources & Environment, and one of the study’s lead authors. “Although more research is needed and many questions remain, the use of extended group-based outdoor recreation programs to ease veterans’ transition back into civilian life seems to be a promising approach.”
Veterans were surveyed one week before, one week after, and about one month after participating. In addition to assessing demographic and background information, the survey measured changes in psychological well being, social functioning, life outlook, and activity engagement over time.
About the Sierra Club The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation. For more information, visithttp://www.sierraclub.org.
About the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment: The School of Natural Resources and Environment’s overarching objective is to contribute to the protection of the Earth’s resources and the achievement of a sustainable society. Through research, teaching, and outreach, faculty, staff and students are devoted to generating knowledge and developing policies, techniques and skills to help practitioners manage and conserve natural and environmental resources to meet the full range of human needs on a sustainable basis.http://www.snre.umich.edu
This fall I am offering special rates for private bodywork sessions in order to introduce my work to new clients. For new clients the first one-hour session will be only $40. (The regular hourly rate is $60.) And for veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the first session is free, with additional discounts available for follow-up sessions. My primary practice is Somatic Experiencing, which is a body-centered approach effective in the treating of PTSD, post traumatic stress, and other lingering effects of traumatic experiences.
Sessions are by appointment, weekdays, with some evening and week-end hours available. My office is located at 203 E. Dunklin, Jefferson City, MO, above the Buddhist Center. To schedule an appointment call me at 573-338-0104.
“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you,but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time.The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.”
Yeah, I know. You’re circling the yoga studio in your car, not sure if you really want to go in. Everyone walking in seems so… bouncy, and they’re smiling, and what the heck are they happy about? Plus, you’ve seen the “7-Days of Gratitude” started on FB, and a few of your friends have even posted things they’re grateful for.
What a bunch of goody-two-shoes.
After all, you’re intense. You’ve seen the most extreme part of life. War, poverty, suffering, pain. Violence, tragedy and danger. You’re fierce in your beliefs, and so is everyone else you know. You walk on the earth. But those people who go around saying they’re grateful? You’re not so sure. Reality check?
You gun the engine, race ahead, trying to find a parking spot on the crowded street. Who the heck put this studio here, anyway? What fool thought to put it next to a Starbucks and a hot dog stand? You shake your head. Honestly, you like your intensity. And you don’t feel like “letting go.” Besides, what is that? Letting go. Do they think there’s a window in your brain to open, and your intensity will just go away? BIG LOUD AWFUL THINGS have shaped who you are now. And while there’s stuff you could do without –like the lack of sleep, or the reel that plays back and forth in your head …there were good things too. Like feeling you had a sense of direction, fighting for the person next to you, and knowing they’d do the same for you. Things were so certain ….and now? The only thing certain is everyone is talking about gratitude, and it kind of annoys you.
So now, you’re circling the block again, and you’re wondering…. yeah, you comprehend the meaning of gratitude. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness means more than it did before you went to war. Some of your friends lost the chance at all three in a gritty battle or alone, at home, when hope had run out. Will they understand war ushered in the best friends of your life? That the brother and sisterhood is unquestioned? Yeah, sure, there was trauma, but there were funny things that still make you laugh. Will they get it? It was the best and worst time of your life, and you’d do it again (only this time you wouldn’t lose your best friend). Do they understand it was the intensity that kept you alive? Do they know how much it pisses you off to be tossed off as an ‘adrenaline junkie?’ It seemed that way, but you weren’t though it’d be a lie to say that war wasn’t exciting. You were fighting for the guy on your left and your right.
Finally, you find a spot. It’s three blocks away from the yoga studio, but it will do. You park, gather your stuff –the yoga mat with the wrapper still on it, and a towel. You follow the others with yoga mats strapped to their backs. Some look rushed and harried. One even walks into you and doesn’t say, “sorry.” So maybe some of these yoga people are assholes, which makes sense: in any given group, there’s always going to be one.
You reach the door, no time to hesitate, there are people behind you. But you remember one thing someone wrote here on WarRetreat:
We know you miss your war. It’s fine. We’re not asking you to become anyone else. If you’re already grateful, maybe you’ll find more. But no sane person is going to insist. And maybe you won’t like yoga. Maybe your thing is to climb a mountain, ride a bike, or write a poem.
You check in, find a spot. The music starts. You sit, and breathe. And then you do it again.
It’s no secret that the effects of PTSD are felt among family and friends. The agitation, hyper-awareness, lows and highs are taken in by everyone around the person with PTSD.
“Kateri’s eight-year-old son now also counts the exits in new spaces he enters, points them out to his loved ones, keeps a mental map of them at the ready, until war or fire fails to break out, and everyone is safely back home.”
“If you have experienced a trauma it can be like having stared directly at the sun. Even after you look away the glare seems everywhere and prevents you from seeing things clearly. It can keep you from even opening your eyes at all for a while…”
Rosenbloom & William, 1999, p.6
The Headington Institute in Los Angeles offers this Self-Study Unit to help people understand the physical effects of trauma in the body. This unit covers a wide range of topics and is for humanitarian workers. However, anyone interested or experiencing trauma can read this and gain more understanding.
When you experience a dangerous or traumatic event, a series of approximately 1,500 biochemical reactions are triggered within your body. These reactions are designed to help you handle a threat by preparing you either to fight or run away. The general pattern is as follows:
Your recognition of threat and danger stimulates all your various stress-response pathways. Adrenaline and several endocrine hormones are released into your bloodstream.
Increased glucocorticoids stimulate the hippocampus (which is responsible for converting sensory experience into enduring memory). This allows the hippocampus to create vivid memories of the event.
Some other effects of increased adrenaline and other endocrine hormones in combination include:
Increased cortisol production. Cortisol is a steroid that counters pain and inflammation and keeps blood-sugar at a certain level.
Increased blood sugar. This blood sugar is used to feed your brain and muscles.
Increased heart rate. Blood is pumped more quickly around your body.
Changes in blood-flow. Arterial blood pressure increases. Blood is diverted away from your hands, feet and stomach, and towards your brain and major muscle groups. This helps the brain assess the threat and prepares the muscles for action.
Increased platelet levels. More platelets in your bloodstream help your blood to clot better and faster if you are physically injured.
Increased endorphin levels. Endorphins help to dull any pain you might experience. This helps you ignore pain long enough to act in ways that might help you survive.
“He isn’t sure he will return for another session with Schulte. Then he thinks: What’s the alternative? Pills, pot, blackout drinking. A lifetime of hiding in his darkened apartment?”
An engrossing, but difficult story well done by Christopher Goffard in the LA Times about the on-going healing process of Sgt Jonathan Warren. Though the process of exposure therapy under the guidance of a skilled therapist at the VA, Warren recounts his experience. What takes place seems akin to reframing –like a film under scrutiny, where forgotten details come to light to create a new understanding. Different therapies work for different people. This is his story, and his experience as he heals.