Archive for May, 2015

Invisible but Real

About ten years ago I had the great fortune to join my grandfather and other members of our family as the Navy held a ceremony honoring sailors who took part in the Battle of Midway.  As I reflect on  those few days in Washington DC with Grandpa Bruck and crew, there are memories I hold close to my heart.

There are two which stick out more so than others.

  1. While most of the family went to visit some of the other memorials in the surrounding area, Grandpa and I sat on a bench near the WWII Memorial. Not much was said, just enjoying each other’s company.  People would approach us, wanting to shake his hand, offer “Thanks for your service,” and call him a hero.  He obliged with the handshake, gave a nod to the thanks but would respond by saying, “I’m no hero.  The heroes are at the bottom of the sea.”  He was always the humble man.
  2. At the ceremony itself, many great words were said about all of the veterans. They asked each of them to stand to be recognized.  When it was Grandpa’s turn, he insisted that our whole family stand.  As much pride he held for the Navy, he had even more for those around him.

Growing up with Grandpa as a WWII veteran, four of his sons (which includes my father) also Navy men and my lone uncle on the other side of the family serving in the Army, I heard many great stories about their time in the military.  Stories of pride, service and brotherhood.

While there are many great stories, there are just as many stories of veterans returning home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Even though it may be invisible from the naked eye, it is very real.

The following information is taken from www.ptsd.va.gov

What is PTSD-

It can occur after you have been through a traumatic event that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like: sexual/physical abuse and assault, combat exposure, terrorist attack, or natural disaster.

Types of PTSD-

  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)

You may have bad memories or nightmares. You even may feel like you’re going through the event again. This is called a flashback.

  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event

You may try to avoid situations or people who trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.

  • Negative changes in beliefs and feelings

The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel fear, guilt, or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. This is another way to avoid memories.

  • Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)

You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. Or, you may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. This is known as hyperarousal.

Other problems that may occur-

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Drinking or drug problems
  • Physical symptoms or chronic pain
  • Employment problems
  • Relationship problems, including divorce

What treatments are available?

When you have PTSD, dealing with the past can be hard. Instead of telling others how you feel, you may keep your feelings bottled up. But treatment can help you get better. There are two main types of treatment, psychotherapy (sometimes called counseling) and medication. Sometimes people combine psychotherapy and medication.

Psychotherapy for PTSD

Psychotherapy, or counseling, involves meeting with a therapist. There are different types of psychotherapy:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for PTSD. There are different types of CBT, such as cognitive therapy and exposure therapy.

One type is Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings.

Another type is Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. You also go to places that are safe, but that you have been staying away from because they are related to the trauma.

A similar kind of therapy is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma.

Medications for PTSD

Medications can be effective too. A type of drug known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also used for depression, is effective for PTSD. Another medication called Prazosin has been found to be helpful in decreasing nightmares related to the trauma.

IMPORTANT: Benzodiazepines and atypical antipsychotics should generally be avoided for PTSD treatment because they do not treat the core PTSD symptoms.

As we enter this holiday weekend, I encourage you to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, and all that our veterans endure, visible or not.

be well-

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Silence and Solitude

I have been on the fence over the last few days as to whether or not to write a piece about my experience from last week.  After much back and forth, I think it is important to share my experience, even if it’s for my own benefit as a way to document my first silent retreat.  My hope is that maybe it will inspire others to go on retreat someday.

Having built a strong foundation of a daily meditation practice and after the encouragement of a dear friend and feeling like I was ready, I set forth for my first seven-day silent retreat.  “No tv’s? Could you do puzzles or board games like cribbage?”  These were a few questions asked by my friend when talking about my time away last week.  My reply, “Nope. Complete silence.”

The act of Noble Silence…not just limiting, but disconnecting from speech, reading, writing, anything with an on/off button.  Seven days of sitting and walking meditation from 5:45am-10pm every day.  My hope for this retreat was to deepen my meditation practice.  It has done so much more than that.

In one sense, it’s difficult to really explain what I mean by that.  For those of you who have seen the movie “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal, it’s like him finding that one thing that changes his life/makes him happy.  An intangible for most and it’s going to be different for each person.

In another sense, I have already seen how this experience has changed my life.  Here are just a few:

  • learning to create space between stimulus and reaction/response
  • having a strong anchor to help come back to center
  • the importance of metta for myself

When I first arrived at the retreat center, it was like being back home where there are rolling hills, farm land and forests.  Being in an environment like this always brings a sense of peace to me.  Because I arrived before registration began, I was shown my room and invited to take a walk through the woods.  There were several well-marked trails to choose from.

At 3pm I looked at one last picture on my cell phone and turned it off until silence was broken seven days later.  During the registration process I was assigned my yogi job, breakfast put-away.  This meant each morning after breakfast I put away all food leftover and helped clean the dining hall.  I also signed up to be a bell-ringer.  I was to ring the bell around campus before our last sit each night.

During the opening remarks, the teachers explained the schedule for the week, what emotions may arise, the five precepts, and talked about the importance of Noble Silence.  The idea of silence throughout the whole week was so we could dig deep within ourselves to notice.  Notice thoughts, mindfulness, awareness, hindrances, attachments.

Each day brought on a whole range of experiences from how my physical body felt to thoughts that would float in and out, and emotions that would stir and then bubble and come to a full on boil.

One of the most vivid memories I have from last week was on May 7th.  This was an emotional day to begin with because it was the anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  Around 8:20pm, I stepped outside to watch the sun set.  A few other were out there and then more and more gathered.  It was the most beautiful red and orange combination with slivers of low-lying clouds.  I was perched on the stone wall and watched the sun set through the silhouette of tree branches.  As I sat there, I kept imagining what the sunset looked like in Portsmouth, Iowa with the cemetery overlooking the rolling hills.  If it were the same as I had, Grandma would surely be smiling down on us.  When I went back into the meditation hall for our last sit of the evening, that was the most serene 45 minutes I had all week.

Each day we had a metta practice; loving, kindness and compassion.  And everyday was geared toward different people in our lives; a loved one, a neutral person, a difficult person, the world as a whole, and one day for ourself.  Showing others how much they mean to me is very important, whether it’s a hug, a text message or just a friendly thought I put out to them.  When we had to show metta toward ourselves, this was much more difficult.  And that was a big take-away for me, learning to show more compassion to myself.  The teachers offered mantras or phrases to put out for each of these people as suggestions.  Most of them worked but I definitely found a few others that resonate more so with me.

By the time Sunday morning came around and we were ready to break silence, I felt so at peace.  I’m not sure what I was expecting by attending the retreat, but I certainly received what I needed.  “That one thing is what you need to figure out.”

When asked if I’d go back, yes, most certainly I will be back.

be well-

 

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