Tag Archives: guest post

Living with PTSD and TBI: A Spouse’s Perspective

woman-sitting-on-bench-aloneMy husband has been an infantry officer in the Marine Corps for nearly 15 years.

Between 2003 and 2009, he completed three combat deployments to Iraq. He didn’t know it at the time, but my husband sustained a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of an enemy ambush. He suffered from splitting headaches, ringing in the ears, and light sensitivity. For years, he quietly battled his symptoms on his own.

By the summer of 2010, he had reached his tipping point. He became critically ill, and denying treatment was no longer an option. At the time, I was pursuing my career goal of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. I ultimately made the choice to put it on hold in order to focus on my husband and his recovery. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Through the encouragement of several senior leaders, my husband began to explore different treatment options. He enrolled in a program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where he was officially diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). TBI’s and PTSD are often thought of as the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The stigma associated with these injuries is a major barrier for service members in need of mental health care.

Unfortunately, this stigma has prevented many injured service members, including my own service member, from getting help sooner.

During the recovery process, my husband and I were overwhelmed and concerned with how our situation would impact his career, and our marriage. Fortunately, we got through it with a tremendous amount of support from his leadership; everyone from commanding officers to general officers.

Those leaders ensured my husband would remain on full duty while receiving extensive medical care. With a combination of medical and psychological treatments, his condition began to improve. He’s developed a firm grasp and acceptance of his condition, and has been armed with the knowledge that it is treatable.

Making a difference in the lives of military families is crucial to me. As a result, my career goal is to obtain a license in clinical psychology and use my professional and personal experiences to assist wounded warriors and their families. Achieving this objective would not be possible without the generous support of the National Military Family Association. They provide military spouses with valuable scholarships to help them fulfill their educational and career aspirations.

Today, my husband is serving on full duty and desires to deploy again. I am very proud of his dedication to our country and family, and am deeply grateful for the support I received.

When it comes to asking for help, taking the first step is often the hardest. But it’s the bravest of all. My husband and I strongly encourage anyone in need of assistance to get the support you deserve.

sandy-cullinsPosted by Sandy Cullins, USMC Spouse and Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient who received scholarship funds from United Health Foundation to pursue her career in mental health

Mental Health and the Military: Reducing the Stigma

mental-healthThis month is Mental Health Awareness month – a time when the national spotlight is on mental illness and its effects on individuals, families and on our society. It’s also a time to educate ourselves to help end the silence and to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Mental illness exacts a real toll on our community. However, what is different for our community, the military community, is the way in which mental illness is viewed.

Mental illness as a whole is widely stigmatized. Adding to the already difficult reality of living with a mental illness, service members often view treatment as a detriment to their military career. This often prevents them from seeking out the services they need.

Families are reluctant to seek treatment, as well. Will it affect their spouse’s career? Who will know? Some spouses are afraid to admit to any mental health issues for fear they will burden their already taxed service member with their own issues. As a result, their struggles become private.

When you look at the number of people affected, the numbers are staggering. Overall, mental illnesses are now more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. One in every five families, and over 60 million Americans, are affected at some point in their lifetime by mental illness.

Our military families have very real needs when it comes to mental health. This is a call to action. A call to our leaders and our advocates to push for increased and improved services for our families. Our community needs help. In order to help, some obstacles need to be removed. For example:

  • Eliminate the barriers in connecting families with mental health resources.
  • Incorporate best practices when treating military service members and families.
  • Provide a seamless transition of care from duty station to duty station.
  • Provide an easier mechanism for military spouses in the mental health field to work with military families.
  • Start comprehensively tracking the suicide rate among military family members.
  • Increase/improve education and reduce mental health stigma.
  • Support the transition from deployment to reintegration AND the transition from military to civilian life for our service members and families.
  • Offer support to family members who have a service member who has been injured (mentally or physically) and provide support for CAREGIVERS.

Mental Health Awareness month is a great opportunity to voice your concerns. Educate yourself on the mental health issues that impact your community and advocate for increased and improved services for all. Only by tackling this together can we reduce the stigma and begin to help the number of families affected by mental illness within our community, not just during Mental Health Awareness month, but every month.

ingrid-yeePosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Research Psychologist, Military Suicide Research Consortium

 

 

Tough Mother: A Million Times Harder Than a Tough Mudder

In honor of Mother’s Day we would like to share the story of one former active duty military mom. Motherhood is tough. Combining motherhood and active duty Service is even tougher. We honor and appreciate all military moms and military spouses. Thank you for serving our Nation and being steadfast role models for our military kids.

GabyBeing a mom in the Marine Corps is definitely a roller coaster. There are some marvelous highs and abysmal lows. There are commanders who understand the need to respond to your child’s needs, and others who make your life hellacious for it.

While I was pregnant, I was working 12-hour days and pursuing my Masters degree. Oh, and my husband was deployed. My senior leader constantly gave me “helpful” comments like, “You know you’re wasting the Marine Corps’ time by being pregnant, right?” or (when I couldn’t PT) “Go home and read the What to Expect books because you’re certainly having trouble doing what you need to do here.” The constant jabs were mortifying and annoying, especially coming from someone who’d just welcomed his third child into his family.

Once our eldest was born, I reveled in the time I had with her during maternity leave. Like all children, she changed my world. It broke my heart the first time I had to leave her at childcare to return to work. I sobbed the whole way to the front gate. It was even sadder than having bid my husband good-bye six months earlier for his second deployment to Iraq. All too quickly, though, we both settled into a routine (that’s the milspouse in me).

While getting back into shape after having our daughter, I discovered something horrible: my ACL was badly torn and needed surgery. An out of shape Marine is the brunt of a lot of ridicule. It’s even worse when you’re an out of shape female Marine.

“Didn’t you know you’d blow into a whale because of pregnancy?”

“Why don’t you just stop eating?”

I heard these comments regularly.

It was a ton of pressure and unnecessary negativity.

Thankfully, I was assigned to a new section. My new senior leader was amazingly supportive, even when my little one went through a series of ear infections that had us at our pediatrician’s office every two weeks. He even suggested keeping a few (foldable) baby items under my desk so I could just bring her to work when her childcare center’s illness rules prevented her from attending class.

His positive influence and can-do attitude helped me overcome my struggle with getting back into shape after my knee surgery. I noticed once the negative emotional input from work was deleted, being a mom got a whole lot easier! I could enjoy getting to know my baby so much more.

I am thankful for both the positive and negative (yes, really!) influences from my Marine leaders during that time. Both shaped me into a better Marine, and parent, by providing me with an excellent example of what leadership should and shouldn’t look like.

I do my best to give my kids constructive input, even when what they’ve done is making me rage with anger or despair. We walk “through the valley” of their decision making together, pinpointing where they went wrong and how they need to fix it. They get disciplined accordingly, and I always make sure to follow it up with words of affirmation (and usually lots of snuggle time).

When I fail, as I assuredly do on a regular basis, I own up to it. I know I would like many people much better if they could just say, “I messed up, and I am really sorry about it.” I get down to my kids’ eye level, look at them in the eye, and tell them how I messed up and then apologize for it. They readily forgive me, tackle me with hugs and kisses, and I feel so much better having the ugliness off my chest and gone.

And that’s how my kids are being shaped by those two Marines.

Even though I loved being a Marine, I really had to give it up. Both my husband and I were working long hours (11+), and it was very difficult having to decide which one of us had “sick baby duty” so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble with our commands. When the doctor was doing my ACL repair and found many more problems with my knee, that made the decision easy. I would finish my contract and bid the Marine Corps adieu.

Several years later, it’s still one of the hardest decisions we’ve made, but it’s definitely one of the best ones. Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. It’s still tough work, just a different kind of tough. But our kids are wonderful and bless me every day. Our marriage is great. I am definitely thankful for the leaders I had, both good and bad, because they taught me so much and are still helping me be better every day.

And you know what they say, “Once a Marine (and mom), always a Marine (and mom)!”

Posted by Gaby, former Marine Captain, military spouse, mom

I’m a Military Spouse: I Started My Own Business, You Can, Too!

ecommerceMy story is not unlike that of many other military spouses. I met my husband on a ski trip in Colorado (okay maybe that part isn’t typical), and then dated him long distance before getting married and moving to South Carolina to be with him.

My husband is an Air Force pilot, and by the time I arrived in South Carolina it was clear that we would be leaving in less than a year. I soon realized that moving would become a frequent part of our lives and that I would need to find a career that could adapt to our lifestyle. That’s when I learned about flexibility of running an eCommerce business. An eCommerce business, like Amazon.com, for example, makes a profit by buying or selling goods through electronic systems, or in my case, the internet.

Here are the five reasons that I ultimately decided to take the plunge and start my own business:

  1. My husband supported me. He not only supported me, but he agreed to partner with me in every facet of the process. I wouldn’t have been able to start, and effectively run, the business without his involvement. He is technically inclined and very detail oriented while I am, well, none of those things! I knew that in order to have a real chance at success, we would need to approach the business as a team.
  2. Low investment = low risk. It costs very little money up front to get most eCommerce businesses started. The biggest chunk of investment is time and effort. And trust me, it takes a lot of both – there are no short cuts! We have passed up a lot of time that could have been spent relaxing, or having fun doing more enjoyable adventures to get this business off the ground.
  3. Location independent. I loved the idea of being able to take the business with us at a moment’s notice, wherever we ended up. Perfect for military spouses and partners!
  4. A unique learning experience. I knew, whether the business failed or succeeded, I would learn so many new things. From website design, customer service nuances, and how to incorporate a business, I was excited about the challenge and the opportunity to learn and develop new skills.
  5. Great potential for growth. If we could be successful, the profits from this venture could support our family for years to come. It had the potential to pay significant dividends in the future, and that was definitely a huge motivating factor in deciding to start our business.

After diving in and doing a lot of research, we chose our “niche” – selling night vision equipment. We recently opened our store and have been pleased with the steady progress and growth we are seeing! eCommerce is not a “get rich quick” proposition and, like all business start-ups, is no sure bet. It requires an enormous amount of time and effort, patience, and drive to ‘stick to it,’ as any business does!

Have you ever started your own eCommerce business? What were your struggles and triumphs?

lindsey-almLindsay Alm is a military spouse entrepreneur and co-owner of ViperEyes.com. Her husband Adam is currently serving in the Air Force as a pilot.

Making a difference in the lives of military families

maryann-makekau-2

I took note of the uniformed soldiers passing by me in this morning’s airport shuffle. “Thank you,” I said with a nod and a smile. Given that an estimated million children have had one or both parents deploy to war, I thought: Are these troops returning from a combat zone or heading to one of the worldwide locations our Armed Forces occupy? Perhaps others are taking well-deserved leave time.

Communities have magnified understanding and support during our Nation’s 12 years at war. As one Vietnam War veteran reported in The Sojourn, “I think the public opinion has shifted 180 degrees … they do everything they can now to support, honor, encourage, care for the veterans.”

With more than 1 million service members transitioning to civilian life over the next five years, campaigns like Got Your 6 are working to bridge the civilian-military gap to ensure “veterans and military families are perceived as leader and civic assets.”

It’s been nearly thirty years since I’ve worn the uniform. My father was initially apprehensive, having served in the National Guard during a time in history when women didn’t readily join the ranks. This Veterans Day afforded the opportunity for my father and me to share military stories, face-to-face, for the first time since my enlistment. My position in military life shifted over the years, and so did Dad’s attitude. As I made the transition from active duty to career military spouse raising two “brats,” my parents praised the Air Force umbrella over my family.

Alongside Veterans Day, November marks National Military Family Appreciation Month as another opportunity to recognize our Nation’s troops and their families. Among those working to make a difference is Cody Jackson, known as “One Boy USO.” He’s been greeting and thanking our troops at airports for five years. He has sent over 4,500 pounds of care packages and he’s just 10 years old.

While moving is an inherent part of military life, it isn’t necessarily easy. The vast majority of military kids will have moved six to nine times prior to graduating high school. One of my children rolled with the changes, the other detested it and even climbed a tree refusing to be re-rooted during one of their six moves. Ironically, our “tree-hugger” child has now moved even more in her adult life, and loves it!

Military spouses must also find ways to navigate the interruptions in family life and careers. In recognizing the frequent moves, remote locations, and child care responsibilities, Hiring Our Heroes’ nationwide initiative strives to provide spouses with a path to find transferable, rewarding careers.

November is also Warrior Care Month. Advancements in battlefield medicine and body armor, have led to unprecedented numbers of service members surviving severe wounds or injuries. Recovering warriors, and caregivers alike, are among those needing our nation’s recognition and support – they have, no doubt, made a sacrifice for our own lives. Let us strive to make a difference in theirs, too.

How have military service members and their families made a difference in your life?

maryann-makekauGuest Post by Maryann Makekau, USAF veteran, author, and founder of Hope Matters

Help Veterans and Their Families “Make the Connection”

make-the-connectionWhen Reagan returned home from service in the Marine Corps, his fiancée, Tiffany, noticed he was on edge and frequently irritable. Although it took some time for Reagan to connect with the care he needed for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, Tiffany was able to help him understand that going to counseling was an important thing to do—not just for himself, but for his family, as well.

As a loved one of a veteran or service member, you provide support to those who have served, or are serving our country. You’ve been there for them during good times and hard times, and you might be the first to notice if they are having a tough time. Whatever challenges you and the veteran or service member in your life may be dealing with, and no matter how long they’ve been going on, you are not alone. Support is available. Every day, veterans and their families connect with resources and services to manage the issues they face, and find ways to improve their lives.

Make the Connection, a campaign by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), encourages military families to seek support and be encouraged by powerful stories, like Tiffany and Reagan’s, that showcase strength, connection, and overcoming challenges. At MakeTheConnection.net, veterans and service members from every military branch, service era, and background speak about their experiences during and after service, including how they faced adversity, reached out for support, and moved forward in their lives. Hundreds of short videos of veterans and their families are featured on this highly accessible online resource. The website also includes reliable information about mental health and resilience, signs and symptoms of problems, common life events and experiences, and a locator for VA and community-based resources.

Military families and others can support veterans and service members by exploring MakeTheConnection.net to download materials to print and distribute. You can also visit the YouTube channel, “like” the Facebook page, and share content with your friends to build support for veterans and their families. Support from the VA and other organizations helped Tiffany and Reagan, and it can help a veteran you know, too.

How Do You Keep Busy During Deployments?

Half-marathon-with-RickTwo years ago, I ran the Marine Corps 10K race for the first time. It was the longest run I had ever done in my life up to that point. I trained for that run because, like many who find themselves with a spouse deployed, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I needed a healthy distraction. So for months I would drag myself out of bed early on the weekends to do a “long” run while my husband was away.

I started running with the goal of lasting 20-30 minutes without stopping. It was the middle of a typical hot and humid Washington, D.C. summer, so this was no easy feat. Each week, I would increase my time by 5 minutes, or at least run for the same amount of time as the previous week. And every week, I would Skype, email, or tell my husband on the phone the update on my progress.

I didn’t have a formal training plan; I thought that if I gradually increase my running time, I would eventually cover 6.2 miles, which is the length of a 10K run.

Once I committed to do the race and paid the registration fee, there was still a nagging doubt that I could reach the finish line. I had run many 5K’s before, and regularly exercised. But the thought of running more than five miles seemed so out of reach for me.

Looking for more incentive, I signed up to help raise money for the George Washington University Cancer Institute. I was a graduate student at the school, and had many family members affected by cancer, so I was happy to join the team of runners to raise money for cancer programs and research.

On race day, I bundled up — it was an unusually cold October morning — and off I went, running with thousands of people happy and excited to be there. Thousands more spectators lined the road cheering us on, carrying signs like, “Don’t stop now, people are watching,” “Worst parade ever,” and “You’re running better than the government.”

Before I knew it, I was nearing the finish line, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t fainted! The Marine Corps 10K was exhilarating and exhausting, and had me hooked. I had no intention of stopping now that I had I found my stride, so to speak. When my husband returned from his deployment, I had to convince him to run with me. He wasn’t used to running without a physical fitness test looming.

Since that deployment-inspired Marine run, I have participated in the Army, Air Force, and Navy runs, as well as a few other races in Washington, D.C., and on October 26, 2013, I ran in the Marine Corps 10K again as part of the TAPS Run & Remember Team, which pays tribute to the sacrifices made by our military service members, and raises funds to create awareness and support programs for military families.

We might not have a deployment scheduled any time soon, but we continue to run. Our weekend workouts have become part of our routine now, an activity I look forward to all week long.

What activities do you like to do during your service member’s deployments? Share it in the comments section!

lalaine-estellaGuest Post by Lalaine Estella Ricardo, National Military Family Association Volunteer