Tag Archives: trauma

My Insane Life as a Marine Wife

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“Before PTSD took control of our lives, my husband used to make me laugh all the time with the hilarious random things he would say and do. He was a very fun and playful Dad to our 3 children and I used to love to watch him play with them.” – Rebecca M.

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.

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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.”

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“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.

JP and I

“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.

CLICK HERE for additional resources.

A Tale of Getting Back Up

Time for a good ol’ inspirational story to get you motivated! We often try to share stories that you can relate to, in hopes that you will find your own “take aways” to apply to your own life. Today, we have a guest blogger, who is an amazing individual. Ella has been physically and psychologically tested in life, but continues to grow and prosper. I think we can all find at least one “take away” from her story.  -Jillian

This is Ella Anne Kociuba and this is her story.

ella2First off, I am nothing special. I have not made history nor have I discovered something outstanding, invented something useful, or saved the world. My name will soon be forgotten, it will most likely not be written down in history books for future generations to learn about. To the world I am nothing but a grain of sand in your shoe. That annoying little specimen that you can’t seem to find, no matter how hard you look but still you know something is in there, somewhere. That’s me. I’m there, I’m somewhere in this world trying to get you to look around at what’s to become of you. 

And for two years now I have been competing in endurance and obstacle events across America. I first got signed at the age of eighteen and shit sort of took off from there. I am currently twenty years old and my story of how I got to where I am today.. ha, well.. let’s just say, it wasn’t and isn’t easy. But you all should know this by now, that anything you want in life and if it’s worth it, it will not be easy. I like to joke and say that, ‘I am THE accident prone athlete’ and you’ll find out why here in a bit.

In case you are unaware of my story, enjoy a summary of my destruction:

At the young age of twelve, I was highly dedicated and competitive in Endurance Riding. Endurance riding is an equestrian sport, held usually on private ranches or national parks, where horse and rider must complete mandatory vet checks and ride the marked course through the land as fast as one can while making all the vet check standards. Races vary from twenty-five to hundred miles long but I mainly compete in twenty-five and fifty mile courses.

When one late evening, I took my horse, Socks, out for a training ride. A beautiful evening turned into a beautiful disaster (oh how cliche, I know!). Socks was spooked so suddenly by a deer jumping out in front of us and Iwas thrown off.

The initial fall broke the L4 and L5 in my spine, but somehow, I went an entire year without finding out. Yes, a whole year, 365 days(+-) of shit. I went to five different doctors, had numerous amount of x-rays, MRI’s, hard plastic back braces that went from my neck to my pelvic bone, laser therapy, chiropractor work, physical therapy, and heavy, heavy medications to cure me. But nothing was working and nothing was showing anything really wrong with me. I was no longer walking, sleeping, eating, smiling, I was no longer aware of my surroundings because the pain and sadness I felt consumed me. One chiropractor suggested I try decompression (decompression is a method where a strap is secured tightly around both ribcage and hips, then a machine slowly pulls from opposite ends). Because looking at my MRI, I had slipping disc’s and this would help me or so they said. We started the treatment and sure enough after a couple visits, something terrible happened.

Imagine what a guitar string looks like when it is pulled too tightly, it splits from it’s ends in a very chaotic way, well, this was my back.. This was how the tendons and muscles in my lower back felt like, they were splitting. The machine was literally pulling me apart. Darkness. Turns out the chiropractor who was working on me was not licensed to look at an MRI, so we had a decision of suing her for almost paralyzing me and lying to us but we resulted in not doing so and demanded our money and to stop their practice. A couple weeks later after the incident and I am still disabled. We found a back specialist, who said: “You need to go in for exploratory surgery soon, or you will be crippled.” On February 19th, 2007, they went in for an expected five hour surgery which turned out to be nine and a half hours long.

And what they discovered, was the reason behind my chronic pain and every single spinal misdiagnoses from past doctors. My doctor found a huge block of bone that was hiding a birth defect! It turns out my spine was never connected to my sacrum since birth! In addition, I was also was suffering from spondylolisthesis (a condition where a vertebra in the spine slips out of the proper position and falls onto the vertebra below it) with four vertebras. Of course, I had an insane amount of nerve damage, including nerve damage up into my neck from past back braces and the sciatic nerve which caused my left leg to be numb and tingly. Let’s not forgot to mention, I was battling depression due to missing out on my childhood activities, being with friends, walking around, sleeping, riding my horse, getting out of the bathtub without crying for my mother, having doctors give me ‘you’re just a baby’ diagnose for all my suffering, and just simply being pain free.

Ella and Jillian
Ella and Jillian

So, there I was, thirteen years old with four brand new metal rods, six screws drilled into my spine and sacrum just so I could walk and run around again. But I was informed that, “I may never play sports or ride my horse again.” Digesting these words burned more than heartburn can ever burn. And for two years, I went to physical therapy, two times a week and patiently worked towards my grim future.

Despite the struggle, my sophomore year of high school I began to run again and ride my horse, I cannot tell you how happy this made me. While my career in high school wasn’t so picture perfect, I wasn’t the best athlete on the team, I didn’t make newspapers, colleges didn’t know who I was, but I never once stopped pushing forward and giving my absolute best. Sure enough, after graduating, I started to excel rapidly in my fitness pursuits. I shut out everything that threw me off track and focused, I wanted to become something great so badly that it was my only thought. After a couple months of serious training and I found myself winning just about everything I entered into. I was contacted by a few sponsors and finally signed my first one, Flag Nor Fail, which turned out to change my life in the best way ever. After signing, I started competing out of Texas and found my name spreading, my story everywhere, and my smile becoming brighter than ever.

While my past battle quickly challenged me with the worst but slowly changed me into my best, I am still being tested with adversity to this day and battle after battle, punch after punch, I continue to fight. I have collected all the excuses in the world to use but shoved them down a drain, cause I cannot and will not ever give up on myself.

Not only is Ella’s story inspiring, I think she makes an amazing point in her story. Throughout life you are going to go through many different trials and tribulations, but regardless of that it is important to keep focused and keep your mind set on the bigger picture. That you CANNOT give up. You have come this far, why stop now?

It you would like to follow Ella on her journey check her out on her blog or her facebook!

How Trauma Affects Your Body & Mind

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“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.

Included:

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.

Invisible and Unnoticed

                                                                                                                                                                        

SFC Petry“Troops with visible injuries receive accolades, but those with unseen wounds are ignored.” – SFC Leroy Petry

SFC Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor recipient made this comment at the Warrior Resiliency Conference in Washington DC March 3 2012.  I was in the audience.  He also said servicemembers with internal injuries and psychological damage suffer the most, not necessarily those with external wounds.  Adding that when he walks into a room, his robotic hand clearly identifies him as an injured Warrior…however, when an injured Warrior has an invisible wound…they go unnoticed. Petry is referring to PTSD…an invisible wound!

These Warriors often go unnoticed forever.  Too many of them go unnoticed and without help.  An often lethal combination. I am not a doctor, nor can I say for sure that the Marine in the video that went viral recently has the said “invisible” wound.  I can say, that as someone with PTSD, and who has researched PTSD… uncontrolled fits of rage like that captured in this video is one of many horrible side-effects of PTSD.

I by no way condone the actions of the Marine in this video clip.  I use this clip not to bring discredit upon him, nor the Marine Corps.  Rather, to illustrate a point about this horrible side-effect of war!  Once again, I am not a doctor and have no proof the Marine has PTSD.

I want to share with a conversation I had with a fellow servicemember and co-worker.  We saw this video posted on Facebook.  My co-worker instantly noticed how inappropriate his conduct was and how it shines a bad light on all Marines.  I offered the possibility that maybe he had PTSD.  Quickly, my co-worker came back with how sick and tired he was about people throwing around PTSD…almost as if it was a “get out of jail free pass.”  He continued that it seems “everyone has PTSD.”  The kicker for me was when he said, “just because he has PTSD doesn’t give him the right to act like this.  He should know better!  He needs to control it.”

Really?  Control it?  You mean like turn it on and off like a light switch?  That’s like telling a person with autism to stop acting autistic and be normal…or telling a person with Alzheimer’s to stop faking that they can’t remember things.

When SFC Petry walks into a room with a silvery-purple hand, few people would ask him to dribble a basketball with his prosthetic.  For the record…he probably could.  We see this false hand and instantly make assumptions based on shared and accepted etiquette.  Therein lies the problem!  The Marine in the video, the co-worker who sits next to you, or the person you saw last week acting like a complete “ass”  at the restaurant potentially all have something in common.  They don’t have a high-tech hand, leg, or arm identifying them as “wounded.”

I wish it was possible to turn off my PTSD.  I often times wish I was invisible and unnoticed.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Having PTSD is not a carte blanche for me or any other Warrior with this “invisible” wound to act inappropriately. It is more a reason instead of an excuse.

It is difficult for those who suffer from this unwanted alignment to thwart or hold back emotional outbursts.  I asked my current “happy Doctor,” Dr. Sheela Reddy about what she thought about these “outbursts.”

“People do not have the empathy for someone who is having a “moment” .. and they don’t see the “guilt” felt afterward.  193_Sheela_101108If it were a switch you could turn off you would because the person engaging in the behavior that’s hurtful is also in pain but people only see the anger or “bad behavior” and not the pain within.”

So…the next time you see someone acting poorly…I ask you to pause…just for a moment.  Thanks.

“The Military Mindset & The Yoga Mindset Aren’t That Different.”

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.

“When I teach these veterans, I know that military training is there and I use it to my advantage to teach them,” says the teacher. 

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Jerry Vest’s Reading List: Keeping Up The Good Fight

Jerry Vest
Jerry Vest

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.

JerryVestHolisticHealthReadingListRecently, 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.

Dear Yogis: We Own This War

“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. 

Sunday Life Advice: “Everything’s Changed, Including Me”

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.

What's on my desk right now.

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.

In Saratoga Springs NY: National Guard Vets Tell Their Stories

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.

Upcoming Events: Earn CE Credits at a Trauma Seminar with Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Click for more information

An event worth trying to go to if you’re in the area.  PTSD research pioneer and physician Bessel van der Kolk will be at Kripalu at a 2 day seminar Frontiers of Trauma Treatment.

From the blog:

Program Details

For therapists, health professionals, yoga instructors, and other individuals interested in studying the nature and process of trauma.

Overcoming trauma means learning to fully engage in the present without being hijacked by survival-related emotions and sensations. Success means allowing yourself to know what you know and feel what you feel without reentering the misery of the past. Recovery depends on having physical experiences that contradict the sensations and feelings of helplessness and disconnection. Physical mastery of a body-based practice like yoga can open new pathways to current reality.

This workshop, based on the foundational practices of yoga and mindfulness meditation, includes

  • Current research on trauma
  • An exploration of the way overwhelming experiences change the capacity for self-regulation and how imprints of trauma are held in the body
  • How brain function is shaped by experience and how life itself can continually transform the organization of brain circuits
  • Specific techniques that address affect regulation, the integration of dissociated aspects of experience, chronic helplessness, and the reintegration of human connections.

Your increased understanding fertilizes the application of effective trauma interventions, including EMDR, yoga and sensorimotor processing, Internal Family Systems, and neurofeedback.