Carve out 2 hours, and let this stuff sink in: The Nieman Foundation shares this conversation between journalist Finbarr O’Reilly and PTSD researcher and trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk of The Trauma Center at JRI. Watch: Covering Conflict: War, Storytelling & The Impact of Witnessing Violence on vimeo. So many good points here that we agree on, especially when it comes to funding treatment. Society as a whole should be treated for PTSD, and no group should go wanting. Yet, mental health cuts are regular features in our culture, and the funding for veterans has a predictable cycle. Until this stops, seeking help for PTSD will be an uphill battle for everyone.
In NYC, a group of veterans from different eras meets for a weekly yoga class at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Chelsea. With their mats, blankets, bolsters, chairs and straps, they go through the physical movements to find their breath and calm the mind. While the veterans might be from different wars, the experience of war is a common thread. Listen as they talk about their experiences, including one veteran who talks about growing up with a father who was in the Korean war who had PTSD. Watch the video here on vimeo.
Disclosure: One of the projects I just finished up on on was to facilitate a free giveaway of this book through the World Wrestling Entertainment. Even so, the book is a good terrific find, very easy to read, speaks to veterans of all eras, and families will glean wisdom from it as well. I read it in one afternoon. -Kanani
Jillian, Paul Zipes and I have talked a lot about making sure that while we write about PTS, that we steer clear of pointing people to the assumption that everyone who goes through war comes back with it. It’s true that PTS, or PTSD is the condition most associated with veterans (even though they make up only 10% of the total PTSD population). Sadly, to most civilians, it isn’t courage, duty, or honor that characterizes a warrior, but often the impression that every person who has gone through combat, comes back irretrievably broken. This very stereotype is what dissuades people from getting help. While it always makes for a more dramatic story (especially in movies and television which provide a steady diet of anguish), we know the assumption isn’t true. Still, combat leaves its mark with everyone who goes through it. And while it might not be full blown PTSD, one clinical psychologist has come up with a term to describe the set of symptoms that are more common. “Post-Combat Reactions” are normal responses to war, according to Dr. Anne Freund, a clinical psychologist in St. Augustine FL, who has worked extensively with Police, First Responders and veterans in her everyday practice.
“There’s a big difference between PTSD and Post Combat Reactions. PCR is the normal reaction everybody has after war. We’ve seen it in wars since battles have first been fought. Everybody is walking around acting like they are fine and they are dealing with PCR. What they don’t realize is everyone is affected by war and that’s normal,” Freund says.
Not to be written off, these reactions can make life very stressful, almost impossible to function in everyday life. They can throw someone into a pit of anxiety or depression, and make having a family life equally difficult. Dr. Anne has written a book, Taming The Fire Within: Life After War, which is being given away free on WWE Tribute To The Troops as a downloadable .pdf. (Once the free giveaway is over, you can purchase it on Amazon). She wrote the book for veterans and family members so everyone can get an understanding on how to cope, and also build better lives.
“The term ‘disorder’ often conveys a stigma that fosters guilt, shame, confusion and the inability to communicate. We want veterans to realize they are not alone. When combat is over, the experiences still continue. It’s time to break the silence so healing can begin.” -Dr Anne Freund.
Recommended: Written in a non-clinical, conversational tone, full of photos, not too long, Dr. Anne pulls from her history of having worked within the community.
It can’t be said that Jerry Vest took the easy way when he chose a profession. An Army veteran, and a social worker, Jerry Vest has devoted much of his life to helping men and women once they come home from war. Recently retired from Ft. Bliss, he was the Senior Social Worker at the US Army Warrior Restoration & Resilience Center (R & R Center). In addition to being a primary therapist for warriors diagnosed with PTSD, he also was the head of Continuing Health Education, which offered a daily meditation/relaxation program, participated in weekly therapeutic outings, and facilitated their weekly, water polo activity. Just read his professional resume, and chew on this breadth of dedication and experience for awhile.
Jerry combines academic knowledge, hands-on clinical experience, and lifetime wisdom to help thousands of people coming home from war. We’re struck by a passion that doesn’t seem to wane. His life path was not an easy one, hence, there was never a need to be self-promotional. Rather, he took the long path, and the beneficiaries are the tens of thousands he’s helped.
Recently, Jerry posted one of his reading lists, Recommended Holistic Health Bibliography.
Jerry writes: “I have been engaged in the Dalai Lama’s interaction with Brain Science. Seems our science can learn much from Tibetan Buddhism about our Mind-Brain-Body interaction and processes.”
Dig through this reading list. There’s nothing to be lost for taking the long path: learning is a path of discovery, which can be both a pleasure and empowering.
“The world belongs to humanity. America belongs to the American people, not the Republican or the Democratic party.” -The Dalai Lama talking to Piers Morgan
This is a true story. The names have been omitted to protect the truly loving and caring. A group of well-heeled yogis, who have every earthly possession to make their lives comfortable, were given the opportunity to donate a few bucks to support our new community yoga classes for veterans at the VA and a local base. Their response: they didn’t think they should have to donate something that the government should already be providing.
This response isn’t atypical of those who are far removed from the realities of the politics that control the conditions of our veterans and their families. The truth is that funds are stretched, and while one would think that the VA provides yoga teachers at every single hospital, it doesn’t. We think it should too, and have written about the disparity of funding for yoga and other movement-based therapies in governmental institutions. However, to lounge on principles is akin to driving in a luxury car through a tough neighborhood and pretend to not notice the stress and suffering out the window.
Rob Schware, the Big Poppa of the philanthropic yoga movement and co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, writes in the Huffington Post, Veterans Trauma and Yoga: Are we moving quickly enough? He writes:
Are there enough yoga teachers and therapists to complement the work of other health professionals addressing the growing health crisis those now face who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even Vietnam?
Rob lists several resources, including our grassroots partner, Yoga For Vets. A civilian, Rob has an interesting professional background, and could easily sit back on the laurels of his career. But thankfully, he doesn’t.
I think the real issue is whether people are willing to put aside their personal politics, and help those in need. War is one of the less desirable products of our own humanity, and because we are a part of it, we at WarRetreat accept the consequences (both good and bad) that come from it. We know personally that war brings tragedy and suffering on every level. Driven by our own humanity, we own it. Because of this, we’ve witnessed the fruits of ownership, which is a sense of community, caring, and the creation of ways to address the suffering of others to offer a helping hand. Without ownership, we might as well lease a big car and drive through life, ignoring our environs.
This isn’t to say that we would dissuade anyone from being politically astute and even active. However, WarRetreat draws lines when it comes to bringing politics onto the mat –there is a fine line between activism and politics, especially in the U.S. where we live in a highly divided political environment that is both provoking and suffocating. One thing for sure, talking about politics makes people talk in short, desperate sounding choppy phrases. It tenses people up and closes people off. It seems to be the antithesis of finding stress reduction through yoga. Our goal is to help those who have been through the confusion of war find a bit of peace so that they may live the productive lives they desire.
There comes a point in your life, where you realize nothing has ever gone to plan. Or in my case, any plan I might have had, was always pulled back into line by the hand of God. Once you take the ego out of it, things become so much easier. Sometimes I think stubborness is the work of the devil (though not all resistance is bad). But that’s a philosophical conversation that ought to be had in a pub, with a drink, and maybe a book of Yeats nearby.
Some people talk about “keeping their sanity” or staying on “this side of normal.” But what’s normal now, certainly wasn’t even on the horizon of where I thought I would be say –20 years ago. Or how about 30? 40? 50? Well, yes, I am old enough to have a 50 years ago. Normal changes.
I’m bringing this up because many are coming home from war. Who they are now, may not have been on the horizon of their consciousness even 2 years ago. And yet they are changed. The challenge set forth is a false one: that they must get back to who they were before war. But in reality, no one really ever gets back to who they were even 2 years ago. Everything changes, and most of all, your experiences have shaped your perspective in ways you will still be discovering 20 years from now.
Families change too. Spouses, children, parents and friends. You’re not alone in feeling the drift, the growth, regret, hope, nostalgia, and even wistfulness. They’re in as much need of counseling and letting go of the myth everything (meaning you, them, or you and them) will revert back to the way things were. Because they know they won’t, and while they accept and soldier on, it doesn’t make it any less painful. One thing for sure: we can never go back in time. (Sorry, but the VA has yet to develop a Tardis). So never think you’re alone, because change is never easy for everyone. But one thing can make it easier: people you meet who will act as guides.
Just let those guides through an open door once in awhile. Who knows –it could be a person, a book, a poem, a song, a movie, an animal, or it could just be a day when you go outside and take in the open sky, noticing the shades of a sunrise. Some will be long term influences, others will just happen in passing. Look for those that have set off a spark within that compels you to take some positive steps to grow. Growth is change, it happens slowly. And while the mental or physical changes in you might have happened quickly, progress comes one step at a time. It’s not always easy. But just keep going toward the light, and when an open hand comes your way: grasp it.
Side note: Big nod of gratitude to the Nick Vogt Family, whose daily postings about their son’s progress on Facebook have been a window into a family built on unconditional love. We are thankful they share their journey with the public.
Our friend LtCol (Ret) Paul Fanning of the New York Army National Guard has sent in this wonderful event he is coordinating. As you know, there are lots of ways to work things out emotionally. One of them is through movement and breathe work, and being conscious of tension held in the muscles and mind. The other is by telling stories. I’ve always held that writing allows us to put things down concretely in paper. The therapeutic part comes later, when we go through our work and re-organize it. Through editing, we highlight the most important parts of the story, and let the other parts go. What we have at the end (and it can take a lot of passes before you think you’ve got it right), is an organized perspective of what happened and why it mattered.
On 24 March, in Saratoga Springs NY. Stories from the Sandbox by the men and women who served in Iraq.
This weekend, I attended the premiere of the documentary, HIGH GROUND at the Boulder International Film Festival. The documentary, produced by Don “The Lion King” Hahn, and directed by Michael Brown, follows the true story of 11 veterans and a Gold Star (and Blue Star) Mother as they climb Mt. Lobouche in Nepal. As they recount their wartime experiences, they find teamwork, friendship, and healing on the way. Their injuries include TBI, PTSD, blindness, and leg amputation. It is an incredibly beautiful journey, and each veteran not only shows heart, but also reminds the viewer of the determination of this nation’s Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, National Guard and Sailors.
The transition back into civilians life is a slow journey. We can hope they keep going forward along the path. Traumatic memories manifest themselves physically and affect how one thinks, perceives, acts, feels, and responds. Every culture except ours has a way of working out trauma and grief physically: through dance, ritual, art, communal ceremonies. Here? We isolate.
But traumatic memories are stored in our bodies, or as one researcher has said, “In the muscle.” In part why the High Ground journey to Mt Lobouche was so successful is that it involved teamwork, people watching out and depending on one another, as well as a high amount of technique, use of breath, and physical conditioning. It combined a lot of emotional, physical, intellectual and mental components.
The mountain is a metaphor for other challenges –both seen and unseen in life. It was a victory just to be on the mountain, to have gone through all of the arduous work to get there, let alone make it to the top. WarRetreat extends a hand of gratitude to everyone, including the organizations No Barriers and World Team Sports, for making their journey possible, and to producer Don Hahn and filmmaker Michael Brown for believing that theirs is a story worth bringing to the American public.
Readers of various journals and websites may have noticed a shift in language concerning what is presently known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are many who are advocating a change from PTSD to Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI).
The way medical and mental health conditions are described, and the causes we attribute them to changed a lot during the later part of the 20th century. As late as the 1970′s, Down’s Syndrome babies used to be called Mongoloids. In the 1950′s and 60′s, Autism was blamed on bad mothering. (Watch the devastating film Refrigerator Mothers). With the development of science, society has tried to do away with terms that could be construed as pejorative and inaccurate. For instance, what was known for a long time as manic depression was replaced by bipolar affective disorder. Scientists say the term more accurately describes its physical and emotional manifestations.
As others have found, the quest for more accurate and less stigmatizing terminology is a slow one. For instance, to this day, public schools categorize children as “Severely Emotionally Disturbed” to get a higher level of funding for the student whom they are required to provide schooling. It’s not a diagnosis, but a way for the bureaucracy to categorize children to get more funding. Still, the categorization doesn’t really get to the core of the cause, and has a stigma that is long-lasting for both parents and child.
I bring up these examples to illustrate a point: what we call a malady and what we attribute the cause to becomes very personal because at stake is one’s self identity. The person who has been through combat doesn’t want to be characterized as “disordered,” even though their actions and responses may be just that. ”Disorder,” carries with it a heavy weight that sounds permanent. Simlarly, the image an average bystander has of PTSD is more sharply focused on the word “Disorder” than on “Traumatic Stress.” The result can be heavy stereotypes which affect everything from seeking treatment, to how the media depicts veterans.
Last autumn, Army General Peter Chiarelli called for a change from PTSD to PTSI (Injury). The reason –a disorder sounds more organic in cause, like something a person were born with. What they suggest is that PTSD is an injury caused by exposure to combat.
“It is an injury,” Chiarelli said. Calling the condition a “disorder” perpetuates a bias against the mental health illness and “has the connotation of being something that is a pre-existing problem that an individual has” before they came into the Army and “makes the person seem weak,” he added.
On the same page as General Chiarelli is Jonathan Shay, M,D., PhD, who writes in Odysseus in America, Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming on page four:
“…it is evident from the definition that what we are dealing with is an injury: “The person experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.”
Shay thinks of it as a “psychological injury” rather than a disorder.
But what about the other 90% of the PTSD population, which are civilians, not veterans? Does one group reserve the right to change it for the rest? The term ‘psychological injury’ is applicable to the entire PTSD population of women, children and adolescents –not just veterans. Perhaps to make a change to the diagnosis name, General Chiarelli might need to appeal to a much wider group of advocates. I don’t think the Army can or should proceed alone.
Will PTSI carry less stigma and drive more people to seek help? That remains to be seen. But perhaps the difference is that a disorder seems to be something that is organic and unchanging. To most, the perception of an injury is it’s a temporary state that can be corrected over time and managed with treatment. Does an Injury have more hope than a Disorder? That’s what many are betting on in the quest to get people into treatment.
Matthew Tull, PhD writes about handling Stress and the Holidays, specifically for people with PTSD.
“Spend some time just thinking about what the holidays really mean to you, and then try to come up with ways that you can connect with that. In the end, you may prevent undue stress and anxiety while at the same time increase feelings of happiness and satisfaction.”
Mary Tendall and Jan Fischler have written on This Is VietNow about the impact on families during the Holiday Season and how they can alleviate the stress when a loved one has PTSD.
“Finally, acknowledge this difficult time and offer verbal and nonverbal support. Most important, remember that the key to having an enjoyable holiday is to forget what the season is supposed to be like, and create experiences that work for you and your family.”