“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.”
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.
For both veterans (and the family members or caregivers who are with them), the number of warning flags about possible conditions can be both scary and daunting. Maybe it’s our heightened awareness and a tendency to worry or think of the worst possible consequences. While WarRetreat is mainly about finding things that bring people relief, we also try to find more resources for vets and their families to understand what’s being reported, or if it does relate to you, where to go for more information.
In an article released by the News Tribune on Oct 24, it was reported that more veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury suffer from epilepsy. It’s estimated that 20 percent of OIF and OEF veterans experienced traumatic brain injuries during the wars. Many veterans experienced massive explosions from IEDs, resulting in having their heads rattled, unconsciousness, and mood changes. The good news is that Congress created VA centers devoted to epilepsy, treating some 66,000 patients per year. At one VA in Seattle, doctors helped on veterans bring the frequency of seizures down from one or less a week. While medication works for some, others opt for surgery or procedures that regulate the brain’s electrical impulses. According to one physician, most patients never have a seizure again after their first medication.
We went looking for more resources, and found the Stanford Epilepsy Center. As they write: “head injury is becoming the signature injury of modern warfare.”
In a video, Robert S. Fischer, M.D., Ph.D. says, “Head trauma is common and usually mild, but severe head trauma can lead to epilepsy.” Developing epilepsy depends on the severity of the trauma.
A severe case of head trauma, according to Stanford is: “Severe head trauma can be defined as either loss of consciousness or amnesia for greater than a day or internal bleeding in or around the brain. Severe head trauma leads to epilepsy in about 15% of adults and about 30% of children. Injuries with actual penetration of the brain, like a bullet wound, are even more likely to cause epilepsy, about to 25 to 50% of the time.”
However, “Mild head trauma, with loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes, is associated with barely increased risk of developing epilepsy compared to the general population.”
We think understanding –especially if you’re a family member, can greatly help reduce stress by clearing up some of the mystery. There are some very good videos covering a range of things from Understanding Epilepsy to Recreation & Safety with Epilepsy. For more information, stop by the Stanford Epilepsy Center.
The crisis always seems to happen at 4 AM. The neighbors never ask directly, but talk about you and your family anyway. Of course, there is the usual mix of things that don’t obviously go together –football, your shrink, and ball room dancing. Many military families will recognize these scenarios, and so it is on this familiar ground that the story unfolds in the film, Silver Linings Playbook. The film by Director David O. Russell and based on a book by Matthew Quick offers a glimpse into the life of Patrizio Solitano, Jr. “Pat” is finding his way to a new path, after emerging from a mental institution after the eruption of his Bipolar Disorder.
This is a film of humanity and truth. Those in the military family often feel they tread alone as they cope with the challenges of TBI, PTSD, depression, anxiety, or post combat stress reactions. Silver Linings Playbook brings a moment of relief as we see confirmation that someone else knows our path too. We recognize the moments of truth in the harried looks of the parents; or a crescendo of emotion brings cops and nosey neighbors to the door. It’s easy to root for Patrizio and his family because we know what it’s like when carefully laid plans are swept away by an outburst of chaos. But the best truth the film brings out is that while life is not easy, it’s not all horrible either. Silver Linings Playbook has a hopeful, yet uncertain ending. But that’s life, and we in the military family understand this.
For the director, David O. Russell, the film was a highly personal one as his teen age son has a mood disorder. Similarly, both Cooper and DeNiro have close family members they’ve spent time with as well. Watch the Silver Linings Playbook Interview.
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 aTardis). 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.
WarRetreat is proud to share the words of a Marine Widow, Karie Fugett. After two tours in Iraq, Jimmy “Cleve” Kinsey came home with serious physical wounds, PTSD and TBI. A young bride, Karie spent “the next four years in hospitals and hotel rooms,” as she accompanied her husband from treatment to treatment. He died while at a private non-profit treatment facility for veterans with TBI of an accidental overdose. Her journey since the tragedy has been a slow, gradual one, which she has documented on her insightful blog. WarRetreat is grateful to share Karie’s reflections on thankfulness.
On Thanksgiving: What I’m Thankful For
By Karie Fugett
When I was a child my family’s tradition for Thanksgiving was to go to my Grandmother’s house and have a massive dinner complete with turkey and all the trimmings with our entire extended family – pretty typical, I think. And like many families while sitting around the dinner table, before we ate we would each take turns saying something we were thankful for. I’ve always been a shy person, even around people I know, so I always dreaded the moment all eyes would be on me and I would be expected to say something meaningful. The thing that kills me though, is the fact that as my turn became nearer, I wasn’t only freaking because I was shy, but because I couldn’t think of anything to say. I couldn’t think of one thing. In fact, I remember being sixteen or so and thinking, “I can tell you something I’m not thankful for, if ya want…”
I spent most of my childhood thinking that way. I regret it because I wasted all that time. These days, instead of seeing the negative things, I choose to see the positive, and to me that’s what being thankful is all about – focusing on the good in your life and appreciating it. Realizing that things could always be worse (because they can), and holding on to the beauty you’ve been given.
Before you write me off as a freak of nature –whose life is obviously perfect, let me tell you it is most definitely not perfect. But my changed point of view when I reached my depths. Sadly, I found that sometimes we only realize what we have in life after we’ve lost everything.
For me, it took losing my beautiful husband. After going through a stage of general hate for everything in existence, I started to come around. My thought process began to change. Instead of focusing on what had been taken away from me, I focused on what I had been given. I realized how lucky we all to even be here, and through that everything just seemed more beautiful and significant to me.
I realize now that life is a cycle of ups and downs, beginnings and endings, and I needed to quit picking it apart. Everyone goes through tough times, but it’s all about how we react to them. In life, we create our own happiness – it is not something that is handed to us. It is not up to the Universe to deal us the right cards. We have to set out to find them ourselves despite our circumstances. And even when things aren’t ideal, it is still up to us to find the good and hold onto it for dear life. Life isn’t always fair, but that doesn’t mean we have to be miserable. And believe me, this isn’t always easy.
One of the things I recommend if you’re struggling with this is to volunteer. Volunteering can really help put things into perspective. And sometimes, something as simple as a walk down a nature trail can help. Seeing nature, the purest form of beauty, is a great reminder of how lucky we all are to be here.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe I could have ever been so blind. It’s embarrassing to say it took such a traumatic event to open my eyes.
This Thanksgiving I will be with my new boyfriend, his family, and two other military widows who have become great friends of mine. As we sit around the table, whether we discuss what we are thankful for aloud or not, I will take a minute to look around and remind myself of how blessed I truly am. This year I’m thankful (and forever indebted) to my husband for giving me the ability to be truly thankful for every little tiny thing in my life -what an amazing gift.
I’m thankful for the time I had with him, even if it was cut short. I am thankful for the ability to live to tell his story so that he will not have died in vain. I am thankful for the experiences we had that have given me the ability to promote change for other families – maybe that was the purpose of all of this.
I am thankful for my friends for pulling me through everything. I’m thankful for my dog – my first Christmas gift from my husband and best friend in the whole world. I am thankful I will not be alone on Thanksgiving. And more than anything, I’m just thankful to be alive.
I challenge you, no matter where you are in your life, to put your worries aside this Thanksgiving, and every day, and find beauty in the things around you. Allow yourself the gift of seeing the many things you have been blessed in. There are many, I promise.
Dave Emerson and I want to keep yoga teachers and followers in the loop about challenges or treatments. Two stories about two Marines were recently published in The Washingtonian Magazine by John Pekkanen. The articles detail the difficulty recovering from wounds that exact both physical, and behavioral changes. Pekannan has written two excellent articles that detail the complexities involved in treatment of their injuries and establishing long-term comprehensive treatment plans. Two Marines are profiled who are in treatment on 7 East, known more formally as the TBI unit at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
There are precise reasons why these programs work. Programs like this are strategically staffed with a variety of professionals: neuropsychiatrists, neuropsychologists, speech, recreational, occupational, and physical therapists. Built into the treatment plan are benchmarks for progress, a behavioral modification system with a rewards plan, as well as a schedule of activities. In addition, programs like 7 East are small so the treatment team can focus. It’s a 24/7 program.
Unfortunately, there are few programs like this in the United States. Ideally, one should be at every military hospital, and also accessible through the VA. Let’s hope a consistently pushy public will help make this happen. In addition, critical to the success of veterans is the involvement of the family. Individual and multiple family group therapy sessions, which discuss common issues, coping skills and goal setting are crucial for the long-term outlook for these patients.
One other point I wanted to touch on was the byline accompanying an article about LtCol KC Shuring: “Nearly five years after the ambush, a Marine still battles the demons of PTSD”
Dave, who works professionally with chronic, complex patients with PTSD in educational and clinical settings will tell you that many survivors suffer for long periods of time from the emotional and physical side effects of the memories of trauma. So it’s important not to put too much weight in the word “still.” However, with more articles such as those written by Pekannen, the public have a better understanding of the symptoms, treatments, and challenges as we find effective and lasting ways to help veterans and their families.