January 13, 2012

Combat PTSD: A Psycho-Social and Spiritual Wound

America, I gave you my soul in 1991. I didn't know it then that I would receive a psycho-social and spiritual wound that not even I could see. Of late we have heard much on the common symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD in the media and the soldier or veteran, you won't hear me talk about that much. I deal mostly in the chronic nature of Combat PTSD and it's many flavors and identities as it relates to me. I'm all about talking about the mental, physical, social and spiritual aspects of where going to combat can take us.

Along with the mental health issues where I perform the equivalence of aerial acrobatics in a paper airplane with an elephant pilot. Yeah, go read that again. I have recently started taking a new anti-depressant, Lexapro to help with the seasonal depression which buffers the chronic depression this last year. Since I have a "sensitivity" to such medications I get the distinction of trying novel and 'off label' usage of medications. Or I get to be first again, leading the way with taking new medications where hundreds of thousands of veterans will go!

The year 2011 was a year of grieving and mourning; I went into an inpatient PTSD program in Memphis, TN. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a tremendous tool I was able to learn and apply to novel ways of processing my war trauma. Long story short, I was able to reconcile and mourn 5 marine deaths. In doing so it unblocked a flood of mourning for my grandmother, mother, father and friends who had died since 1991. The year 2011 was the year I took my soul back.

Other symptoms of the Combat PTSD Veteran? Toxic levels of stress hormones and chemicals in the body can cause muscle and nerve damage over years from constant flooding of the body. Stomach ulcers, acid re-flux, chronic bowel problems. Then there are the side effects from the medications starting with erectile dysfunction from the medications to treat chronic PTSD I take 9, down from 15 two years ago. If you or a loved you is not on top of your medications they can kill you!

Speaking of family and loved ones. We have the propensity to push everyone away and many of us will alienate the ones we love. Combined with a sense of loss of community, no wonder we are still loosing veterans at a rate of 18 a day. I have the gift of hindsight for all the good it does me in repairing some relationships, if I can manage to keep dodging those land mines! Yeah, the flashbacks. We don't talk about those for two reasons; one because they scare the hell out of us and two, most of us don't have the language to describe it

I do, drop me a line.

29 comments:

  1. Scott I just found your blog today and all I can say is WOW. My name is Tina and I am the found of Project 365 Vets. A blog created to honor a veteran a day, every day of the year, through their stories told in their own words.

    If you would be interested in sharing your story with Project 365, we would be most honored to have your words grace our pages. Please take a look at our blog http://365vets.wordpress.com and let us know if you would be interested in taking part.

    Tina

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  2. Scott I was looking for PTSD blogs for my English class and came upon yours and I have to follow it during the semester. I got out of the Army last April, I spent 8 1/2 yrs as an 11B. Now I am going to school using my GI Bill. Im glad I came across your blog. PTSD is something that has affected my friends and my family. So I hope you do not mind if I follow your blog to help me with my PTSD project. Thank You
    Brandon Shonyo

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  3. Bshonyo, thank you for your interest, it is awesome that you want to use your experience to raise awareness. I am looking for writers for this website if you would consider submitting your writings on PTSD. If it works out we could add your writings on your project here.

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  4. Scott I would love to help where I can. I know that I am also going to have to make a video on PTSD for my class. So if that and my writing can help let me know. Brandon

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    1. Submit your writing to rmngen@gmail.com and I will review and edit for possible publication.

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  5. I am so fortunate I found your blog. I have fallen in love with a 3xIraq guy who is struggling. You have helped me have a better understanding of what he is dealing with (and what I am dealing with!). I have done research, but nothing spoke to me like this post did. Thank you. I wish peace for you.

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    1. Welcome and thank you, come on in read more and comment. I will answer your questions as best I can, and I can point you to articles to read.

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    2. I will be back! Thank you for your kind offer. I have never faced anything like this in my life; I feel so much compassion, but sometimes anger as well, because I just don't understand. It is hard to figure out how a man can function perfectly working twelve hours a day, and then not be able to talk with me for a week. I get it, but I don't get it.
      I plan to continue reading your blog. You've been a help already. Articles would be helpful as well. Thanks you.

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  6. Communicate with your Veteran

    Understanding Your Veteran

    Start here, also the first two years contain much to explain how we think. I am working on putting together posts to cover how I got through these times, I need suggestions so, keep reading. I apologize that the site is hard to find the information needed.

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    1. Okay, thanks. I will.
      Forgive my anonymous status. He is very, very private about this.....

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    2. No problem at all, the first two years I wrote here was under the pseudonym Roman General. Come up with one of your own if you wish, that way it will help me remember the thread of though we have going.

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    3. Oh boy. Read 2007 and some of 2008. Pretty overwhelming (understatement). Now I am even further from knowing this man... but I plan to persevere.
      I am wondering, since I have not read everything, if you graduated in 2011, what you are doing now, and if you still have issues with acid reflux (my personal pet, which I have overcome and have some ideas about)?
      Thank you so much for putting it all out there.
      And now you have a name for me!

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    4. Hello HTU, It can be overwhelming, pace yourself. The anger can be contagious, beware. The beginning of this blog was more about venting, it will help to get through that, you will be able to understand better when you see your veteran exhibiting the behavior described. In those times you will be able to put it together and have a better understanding of how we think. This will help to gauge our reactions and better prepare you for dealing with the delusions that can shadow our reality.

      I did not graduate yet, the social work program at the University of Louisville would not work with me with my PTSD. My mistake was not registering with the disability resource office. Suffice to say, I will not be returning to the social work program there. You can read the article on how they screwed me out of my degree, three months away from graduating summa cum laude (Kent School of Social Work Screws over Combat PTSD Blogger).

      Right now I am working on my mental health, going to therapy, started a non-profit and training my own psychiatric service dog. I take omeprazole for acid reflux, would love to hear your suggestions.

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  7. I HAVE BEEN FIGHTING PTSD BY MYSELF BECAUSE I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT IT WAS.I AM A VETERAN OF OPERATION DESERT SHEILD DESERT STORM.I APPLIED FOR HELP BUT WAS DENIED WITHOUT EVEN BEING SEEN.DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS? MY EMAIL IS RONCLARKSON67@GMAIL.COM

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  8. Hi Scott, my name is David Jacobson. I am not a veteran and have never seen combat. My friend, Brandon Shonyo, who had written to you about his project at school was a veteran with PTSD. Sadly, he took his own life a few days ago due to the overwhelming stresses of life, family, and memories. Speaking strictly for myself, I wish I had done more to let him know how important he was to those around him. I don't understand what it is to have PTSD, but I understand what it is to know someone who has it. It's a terrible tragedy for every family member and friend who sees the one they love and care for deteriorate and eventually give in to the demons.

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  9. David, after reading your comment and it struck me. I cried hard yesterday and have been thinking about him since. I wish we were able to connect better and get the writing going, it's been a great asset and savor many times for me. Writing and connecting with other veteran and family members is what keeps me alive at times. I am in mourning today for Brandon and your family, know that I will keep working to help raise awareness and help our vets and families.

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  10. Scott and David,

    My name is Jake Colston, I had the chance of serving with Shonyo in our first tour in Iraq (1st ID 2/2 Infantry 2nd Platoon BAD BOYS). I am deeply saddened to have heard about our friend (I got a phone call about a few days ago)concerning Brandon. He was always a loveable guy, I remember chatting with him maybe a month ago for a few hours... for a while it seemed I was his drunk call. lol:) Unfortunately having been diagonosed with PTSD myself and knowing the maddening stresses it presents and the way it upends your vision of reality. Can do nothing but sympathize for the loss of our friend. He was truly a loving guy who will be sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers truly go to his family and to all of his friends including his old army buddies.. BAD BOYS!

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  11. You guys mourning for Brandon i am sorry for your loss. I knew Brandon since he got to germany first and did spend alot of time with him before his first tour to Iraq. He was always a bright and brilliant soul, full of plans for his future becoming a combat photographer. I have crazy memories of him and i ll store them in my heart, i ll never forget him.Over the years we managed to stay in touch and i followed his story until i found out that he committed suicide. It just knocked me of my feet, all i could think of was what a waste, is there no proper help out there besides of stuffing patients with pills turning them into zombies? I am with the army circus as a contractor for about ten years now and i have seen many soldiers and friends changeing after deployment, no treatment besides of drinking and taking pills, i listened to stories of their familymembers and children and i always encouraged them to stay strong and help them when they struggle.
    PTSD is in my opion underestimated. Soldiers are left alone in this condition and state of mind. Its sad that these guys giving everything for their country left behind like beat up dogs after their fullfiled their duties. I wonder what other nations do for their heros. And i am hoping the help will improve in future.

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  12. Brandon was my best friend and my husband. Now we have reached over a year since he ended his pain. It doesn't get easier but with each day I remember something he contributed to this world. Because of him I am out of the army now and fulfilling what our lives could have been together. He snuck his way into Afghanistan to do stories on me. His passion for the truth and for wounded veterans was so intense he didn't take time to focus on his own issues. I should have known I should have seen it. Not one day goes by where I don't see his face. His life won't be in vain. I am dedicating my life to working with suicidal veterans. He will still do good even though he's not here in flesh but he's here in spirit. I truly love you Brandon

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    1. JOS? Please contact me. I knew him years ago. 05. So sorry for your loss.

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    2. You say you truly love Brandon, your husband and best friend, but the police reports say that you and your boyfriend went to claim his body. What's that about?

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  13. please contact me at rmngen@gmail.com. I would like to post his work on the Veterans PTSD Project and I have connections at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. I would I want to do a story on his life and work thank you

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  14. Well, where do I start. Brandon and I went to combat together and shared multiple experiences that changed who we originally were. We both ended up being selected to become army recruiters very shortly after our tour to Iraq in 2004-2005. We went to school together and leaned on each other countless times. Neither of us knew what emotional state we were in and how to get through it other than sucking up how much life sucks and to rub some dirt on it and continue with what we were told to do. After graduating the recruiting school we went our separate ways, he went to New York city and I went to Phoenix Arizona. we stayed in touch through phone calls on occasions. One day while I was recruiting I snapped. My station commander ripped into me for not making any contacts or appointments to conduct and let me know how he thought I was the biggest piece of shit there ever was as a recruiter. I proceeded to lean over his desk to knock him out but I was tackled by another recruiter in the office. that recruiter told me to go home and cool off. so I did; I started to clean my ar-15 and load a magazine of 5.56 rounds in to the magazine and drank my frustration and anger away. I woke up loaded my assault rifle into my truck and proceeded to drive to work. For some reason my mind stopped and I had a moment of WTF am I doing? I changed directions and went to the nearest airforce base to talk to someone anyone. I was placed into an inpatient program for 2 weeks, fed anti-psychotic meds and ambien. My commander came to see me and actually cared and wanted to help me. I went through intense PTSD Group therapy sessions at the airbase and went to AA meetings for a year. I went back to work at a different office and was receiving the treatment and help I needed to understand my issue with PTSD and alcoholism. I heard that Brandon had gotten a DUI not once but twice as a recruiter in New York and the Command he was under sent him back to the Real Army instead of seeing how they could help him or find out what's wrong with him. He went back to the infantry and I finished my tour as a recruiter and went back to the infantry as well. I finished up my time in Alaska and moved to El Paso where I learned that Brandon got out of the army and was married, planning on going to school in photo-journalism. I thought he had turned his life around. He did sneak his way into Afghanistan to see his wife..... He came back and stayed with me and my family for a while. He continued to drink more than he should and was given multiple pills from the VA to help with his anxiety and depression, his ptsd was noted and he was receiving disability for it but never got the treatment or care like I had received. I am not sure as to what was going on between him and his wife but it wasn't good. arguments and fighting seemed to be a weekly or daily event. He believed she was seeing other men and she wanted to leave him. Brandon came to live with me and my family for about 4 months. I received orders to deploy again, and thought Brandon would be ok he had a place to stay a new sister and nieces to care for him and love him the way he should have been. But that didn't stop him from making the choice to kill his pain. I got back from a combat patrol and my first sergeant directed me to call my wife as soon as I got back into the base.

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    1. Would you be willing to do an interview for a suicide awareness campaign? We can talk about the experience here and what it means to memorialize him online. This shared experience is cathartic. I fight this every day, even on the best days my mind still tries to kill me.

      It is through talking with vets and sharing with caregivers family members what it is to live with PTSD and the psychic phenomenon that goes on with it.

      It helps me to deal with my stress and life to live for a reason and that is to help other veterans and family members live thrive and strive. I don't do it successfully I just keep trying. The work I'm working on now is surrounded myself locally and nationally.

      Email me if you interested we can or Google Hangout or other service. My email Veteranperspective@gmail.com

      When I posted this article, Brandon and I talked about doing something similar, and unfortunately he took his life before we could. In a way, some of the work I do is inspired by our interactions then. Since talking to him I've done a couple of suicide awareness campaigns for veterans organizations.

      I'm doing another one for The Veterans Project. We advocate for cannabis as a replacement for the pharmaceutical cocktails from the VA. Cannabis works better than any medication I've tried for managing post traumatic stress.

      When it is legalized and given to veterans with military trauma resulting in a sharp decline in veterans suicides.

      #raisearedflag #22aDay #veteransuicide #morelike55aDay

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  15. Continued.........That moment I called home and my wife picked the phone up crying and apologizing will always be a scar in my memory. Brandon snuck into my bedroom and found my springfield XD-40 pistol and acted like everything was fine and he was on his way to school as my wife remembers. He walked out to the construction site about 500 meters from my house sat down by a dirt hill and took his life. He was my best friend, battle buddy, and inspiration to find happiness. This is such a kick in the gut for me, Brandon and I always talked about suicide and how it was a cowards way to handle their problems and I believed we both truly felt that way. To anyone that views this blog and are having issue dealing with PTSD here is some advice, all the stuff you don't want to talk about to anyone write it down, everything you smelled touched felt seen heard and write it out. Acknowledge your issue about PTSD, and read your story over and over and over until your feel it again, until you cry, until you smell and hear what your brain shutdown during the fight or flight mode. Brandon never got to this point and wrote his story. I do not know what made me look his name up today or find this blog with him in it but I am truly humble wish and hope and pray that this story will reach out and help those suffering.

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    1. Dear anonymous
      Thank you so much for posting your experience, and more so, that of Brandon. I knew him. And it haunts me everyday that I did not answer his last midnight phone call with me, needing to talk. What caught my attention with your post is your question as to why you were looking him up. Those that knew him truly, miss him dearly. So much! However, my first thought was that your post was two days before his birthday. His is the same as my brother's. I have celebrated two birthdays since I met him in 04, Barcelona. I know you don't know me, but I'm glad that you received the support you needed. Please keep in this issue, fir yourself and for Brandon. He was an amazing man with a huge heart that hurt easily. No matter how strong he would be. Thank you again.

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    2. Thank you for reaching out, the support shown here for Brandon's friends, family and loved ones. It' s important to keep talking, here or anywhere. The sharing and processing together brings us closer and keeps his memory alive. Warming us as these bonds strengthen over time as we honor his memory. Anyone willing to do an interview with me email is veteranperspective@gmail.com

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    3. Thank you for reaching out, the support shown here for Brandon's friends, family and loved ones. It' s important to keep talking, here or anywhere. The sharing and processing together brings us closer and keeps his memory alive. Warming us as these bonds strengthen over time as we honor his memory. Anyone willing to do an interview with me email is veteranperspective@gmail.com

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  16. Anony,

    I am back and writing again. My last article was on the veteran suicide tsunami we been talking about here for 8 fucking years. Someone awake yet, anyone?

    I know you know, from our conversation over the last several years. Would you contact me for friendship and a new battle buddy? I understand the psychology of death and how it keeps trying to kill you. My new email, veteranperspecitive@gmail.com

    I am also working on a new suicide awareness campaign and think Brandon's story needs to be told through you telling your story, his story is yours. I am posting regularly on the page, https://www.facebook.com/VeteransPTSDperspectives/

    We could use your voice, and talents. I am putting together a content creators and marketing company. Part of our mission is running suicide awareness campaigns. I need someone to head it up, I can train you on how to do it and connect you with the writers and graphic artists.

    I want to help you get your story out to everyone, the public is awakening. Over 500.000 veterans died waiting for care, while another 150,000 (low estimate) took their own lives.

    Keep working on it and I join me, so we can help as many as we can.

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Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee