Tag Archives: semperlove

Boston On My Mind: Resolve, Uninterrupted

gallery-boston-marathon-explosions27-4_3_r536_c534

Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis.*

Yesterday, my stomach was messed up. I couldn’t figure out why.  Perhaps it was something intuitive about the balance of my conscious world about to be shifted once again?  Or maybe it was just something I ate, a lack of mindfulness about my diet, a shortage of sleep following a rather stressful spring break. Then, news of Boston.

I grabbed my stuff, shuttled to yoga, went through the breathing and moving, the shifting to and fro on the mat. But then again, my stomach started fluttering.

I broke with routine, laid down on the mat, and held my hands over my tummy, thinking of my friend Deb, aka Yankee Mom, who is a no bullshit person, and also a well-trained Reiki healer. Things settled down, I rejoined the class modifying the poses –after all, a yoga practice isn’t about keeping up, as much as it is being in touch with how your body is feeling.

What Boston reminds us is that we’re not immune from the thread of violence being played throughout the world. From the IEDs that killed six in Afghanistan just recently, to what one friend, a  Marine veteran, referenced in a FB post late last night:

“Also today, at least 6 bombs went off in various cities in Iraq killing at least 33 and wounding another 70+. This followed a weekend in Iraq where a couple political candidates were assassinated over the weekend.”

breatheWhat differentiates us is how we respond to the chaos. Those who attempt to shift terror our way so it paralyzes us, or throws us into a cycle of instability as it has other places will be sorely disappointed. Carl Salazar, a Navy veteran and founder of Expedition Balance wrote:

I’m going to the movies. I’m going to sporting events. I’m going on airplanes. My kids are going to school. Not armed. Not worried. Not hiding. Brave, happy, free. Living. Alive.

F–k fear.

This isn’t to say we overlook the fact there are bad guys in this world. There most definitely is, and they live in fear 24/7. To accept fear, and have a life governed by it is conceding to their way of life. And that’s not acceptable. We will keep praying, breathing, and living in the now with purpose to be here for others. With each breath, we beat back the terrorists.

*City of Boston motto, which means, “God Be With Us As He Was With Our Fathers.”

Finding Your Seat – The Journey of a Veteran & Yogi with PTSD

IMAG0782-1My memory is fleeting.  I’m often startled by my actions.  My doctor is either the world’s worst doctor, or the most brilliant doctor.  I sweat…and sweat…and sweat.  Sleeping with a mouth piece sucks.  Enough about the easy things in my life…let’s dive into what is really tough about living with PTSD. 

I’m a 23-year (and counting) Air Force Veteran….Combat Correspondent…aka…Broadcast Journalist.  My list of ailments reads like a novel: A.D.D, PTSD, Sleep Apnea, Anxiety, and General Depression.  Add to this list, the fact for some reason my memory is deteriorating.  If that were not enough, the doctors have found a growth on my brain.  The good news is…it is NOT cancer.  That really is all I have to go on right now.  I absolutely hate taking medications because my body general has a tough time with them.  With that said, I firmly understand there is a time and place for meds…and currently, I’m taking several.  Did I mention…I’m also a yoga instructor?  Yep!

I began practicing yoga back in 1999.  Got hooked!  Was able to come of all of my A.D.D. meds for several years because of my practice.  In 2007, I began teaching yoga while deployed to Baghdad.  Then, I transferred to Vicenza Italy where I taught yoga twice a week.  I’ve studied and trained with experts in areas like: trauma sensitive yoga, veteran’s yoga, yoga for vets with PTSD, mindfulness, and meditation.  I’ve spent the past six years leading veteran-based (to include spouses) yoga and mindfulness classes.  I know this must sound like a lot of, “I I I,” and it should!  It is for effect.

“I” got so wrapped up in being a “care-provider,” that I neglected to notice, “I” needed some of the medicine I was sharing with others.  To make matters worse, I am no longer comfortable in my own seat.  In other words, when I lead a yoga practice, or meditation practice, everything is great.  However, when alone, with my thoughts…it is often a nightmare.

I struggle every day with so many different what if, or how questions.  How could I have PTSD?  I’m not an infantryman!  Why is my meditation not as good as it used to be?  Why can’t I sit?  I have the secret decoder ring…now damn it…let me meditate!  I know the benefits of food, movement, and mindfulness. (meditation/prayer) So…why can’t I just “let-go,” (aparigraha) use my military and yoga discipline, (tapas) and do what I know needs to be done?

The answer is much simpler than the solution.  Acceptance or Contentment! (Santosha)  I can’t find my “seat” because I’m still looking for my old seat.  Turns out, that’s not mine anymore.  Clearly, I’m not the same person I once was.  Simple public math would suggest that my “seat” isn’t the same either.  Well…that was easy!

The problem is…my wounds and injuries are all invisible.  When I look at myself in the mirror (minus the wrinkles, less hair etc…) I still see a very able person who rightly should be able to do anything…to include sit in “MY SEAT!”  How can I accept and be content when I know I’m able?  I found my answer in two different locations.

I have a friend who is wildly successful as a military photojournalist. I heard him talking to a class of brand new photojournalists about a mistake he made as a young photojournalist.  Turns out, JT was constantly in “friendly” completion with Preston a fellow photojournalist.  Preston aspired to be just like Joe McNally a very famous photographer.  JT tried to emulate Preston’s photos which emulated McNally’s. It wasn’t until a training seminar when JT saw the work of another photojournalist, Mary Calvert.  JT liked her work…realized he needed not to worry about what Preston was doing, rather find out what was so special about himself.  Once JT figured out his “seat” when it comes to taking pictures, he began to start taking some incredible images.  Today, he is the reigning Military Photojournalist of the Year…an award he has won an unprecedented seven times.

Sadly, the second place I found my answer…was from me!  As a yoga instructor, I find myself spending a lot of time doing three things.  1) I’m always looking for new ways to say the same thing in as many different ways as possible.  It is important to me to be able to relate to my students. I know that everyone has different points of reference, so I need to be able to figure out what their reference point is…and use my words to connect with them.  2) I also make sure everyone knows that everybody’s body is different.  There is no need to worry about what the yogi to your left or right looks like in pose, or what they can do that is better than you!  3) I’m always encouraging my students to be the best “YOU” they can be.  Did you see the answer?  It’s there.

My body is not your body.  Hell…my body really is no longer the body I had before.  There is no need for me…or YOU to beat ourselves up to be someone, or something we no longer are.  Just be the best “YOU” you can be.  That “You,” might change…and that’s OK…adjust and find your new “seat.”

 

To Work With Veterans -#semperlove

Clay Hunt and Jake Wood
Clay Hunt and Jake Wood

When Marine veteran Clay Hunt killed himself in 2011, it was a wake up call for everyone to pay attention to the deeper layers. From the surface, it seemed that the voraciousness with which Clay advocated for other veterans, rode with Ride to Recovery, and went with Team Rubicon on their maiden voyage to help in Haiti –that he was in the clear. But anxiety, depression, fears, and the video loop that replayed the trauma of war would not let up. Clay killed himself in his apartment in Houston.  Clay, like the “147,763 suicides in 21 states over the 13 years ” left behind friends, families and others who loved and always tried to be reassuring.

Last night, CBS news ran a story on the life and death of Clay. They interviewed his parents, mentors, and good friend –the founder of Team Rubicon, Jake Woods. Jake wasn’t just a friend –he was his  battle buddy, a brotherhood for the ages. He thinks of Clay often.

As I watched the segment on Clay, I thought of so many of the veterans from WWII and forward who came through our small surgical practice. The veteran who stood out was Bobby, a USMC Vietnam vet. He didn’t kill himself, but he tried several times over on his 20+ year path with alcoholism, incarceration, and drug addictions. The toll of this hard road took a turn when he arrived at the ER needing an amputation due to long festering diabetes. That’s how we ended up with Bobby.

Bobby
Bobby enjoying life, shortly before he died.

Bobby finally found himself, and developed an ebullient attitude in the years we took over his care. When we announced we were leaving for the Army, Bobby was the first one there to offer his good wishes. He helped our staff write resumes and post them online. Sadly, he died of a heart attack just before we closed. I think during the time we knew him, there was a mutual guidance between our staff and him. But Marines –they never stop giving even in death. I like to think Bobby watches over us.

I guess I’m writing this as a cautionary tale. There are legions who want to help veterans and are jumping into this full of determination and good will. Like anyone else, the paths of vets will be varied. Many will go on to live good lives, others will struggle like Bobby, and a few will lose the battle like Adam Razani, Peter Linnerooth, or Clay Hunt. Those who want to help should remember this: know your capabilities, work as a team, and seek help when you need it. You will never know everything, as digging beneath someone’s surface may not be your prerogative, but you must never lose hope.

Practice simple things in your helping. Listen, let others talk. Don’t railroad a conversation, as I once witnessed a nurse from the VA do (she was endemic of everything wrong with the system). Never mistake someone’s being “busy” or outwardly engaged in activities as a sign that they don’t need the occasional boost. Still, on occasion, we may lose someone with whom we tried very hard. That’s when we have to tell ourselves, “Dammit, I tried my best.” You gave to them, and never think they didn’t notice. Judge neither them or yourself.  Love that person and the memory of them with all your heart and if you can –stay in the good fight. 

Note: This post is dedicated to military veterans Carl Salazar, US Naval Academy graduate founder of Expedition Balance; Lt. Jeannette Shin, former USN chaplain; and Matt Murray, former USAF pilot and sherpa to many veterans. All have done incredible work.