A Personal Story of Military PTSD with Special Guest

What if while deployed, your brigade lost several soldiers in combat? And what if, upon their return home, your brigade tripled it's loss due to soldiers taking their own lives once back to the states? Join us for one man's journey through PTSD.

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, the support options listed in this podcast are: EMDR therapy, Stellate Ganglion Block Procedure, Cognitive Reprocessing Therapy and Veteran Support Groups.

December 7, 2021
Show/Hide Transcript

Melissa Albers  0:01  
Hey everyone. Welcome to the self awareness Journey podcast. I'm Melissa Albers.

JJ Parker  0:06  
And I'm JJ Parker. This podcast is for seekers, seekers of happiness and joy seekers of a centered approach to success in life. Seekers of their true authentic selves.

Melissa Albers  0:17  
Get ready for some real talk on everything from anxiety, emotions and habits to love, compassion and forgiveness. We know you'll be challenged and enlightened by this conversation. We're so glad you're here. Let's dive in.

JJ Parker  0:34  
Well, so today, we have our friend Chris, with us on the pod yay, a

Unknown Speaker  0:40  
special guest. Hi, Chris. Hey, everybody. Thanks for having me.

JJ Parker  0:43  
So today we're gonna be talking about PTSD. Yes. Which is a pretty heavy topic. Chris has got some experience with this topic that I'm really looking forward to hearing about.

Melissa Albers  0:55  
Yeah, me too. Chris, thank you so much for sharing your personal journey. Because I think it's real easy to read about stuff and get into the world of theory about certain topics. And boy, oh, boy, it's a lot different when it's a personal experience. And we're just looking forward to you being able to share with us today. So thanks a lot.

Unknown Speaker  1:16  
Thank you for thank you for having me. And I truly hope that this this helps. This helps other people.

JJ Parker  1:23  
So Chris, why don't you just share with us like your, your brief, your brief story, like your your experience in the military and and how you got to where you are now. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  1:37  
So the the journey began, when I was 18, I made a decision to join the Minnesota Army National Guard to help cover my college expenses. I actually enlisted in 2000, February of 2000. And I was scheduled to ship out to basic training on September 11, which we all know, really, really changed the trajectory of everyone's deployments in time in the service going forward from that point. So I, I found myself in a very, very difficult situation where I was getting deployed frequently. Specifically, the deployment that I'll kind of point to was my time that I spent in Iraq.

JJ Parker  2:23  
So Chris, just like just a pause for a second, the time between, like when you kind of enlisted, and the point when you were deployed? That put that's like a very short amount of time. Correct? Yeah. Well,

Unknown Speaker  2:36  
yes, it was five years. Before apartment is four years. It's four years from the time that I enlisted to

JJ Parker  2:44  
being Italian. Catholic. Got it. Okay. Yep.

Unknown Speaker  2:47  
Yep. And if you account for basic training and advanced training, those are things you have everyone in the military has to do that before they'll deploy you. You know, probably about three years.

Melissa Albers  2:58  
Wow. Three years. Okay. So Iraq, yeah.

Unknown Speaker  3:04  
So that this, this is my experience. And I want to preface everything that I say today is this is Chris's unique experience. Every single person in the military has their unique experiences unique to them, their time their job. This was my experience, right? I was trained to work on radar systems and to do Air Defense Artillery, so shoot the enemy's Air aircraft out of the sky. When I got to Iraq, they walked us up to a bunch of very old Humvees and said, You're going to run convoys, and you're going to run the convoys in these, and to say that they didn't look safe was an understatement. They had cloth for the doors, so yeah, so it was it was a little overwhelming, you know, to say the least. So yeah, my, my time in my mission. Originally, it was to do convoys up and down, you know, Iraq, and it kind of transformed from convoys to also doing patrols. And then towards the back half of my time, I started to get interested in technology, and I started flying drones. And, you know, that was that was an interesting thing that happened. That was nice change of pace from convoys and patrols. Yeah. So

Melissa Albers  4:24  
tell us. When do you think your journey with PTSD began? Oh,

Unknown Speaker  4:34  
I would say anyone who knew they were going to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. If they're being honest, it it started before they got there. Because yeah, you you can't not see the videos of fellow soldiers dying. You can't you can't not see that. You can't not read about that. So you take that on Um, into account every night that you're training to get deployed over there. So I would say that it started before I ever got there. This like sense of anxiety and like, oh my gosh, is it going to be me? Is it going to be my friends? What can I do to to prevent this from happening? Very little? As it turns out?

JJ Parker  5:19  
Yeah. So, like, during the time you are during the time you were deployed, when you said like, is it me? Is that my friend? Like, that sense of like, you're in jeopardy? Your life's in jeopardy that entire time span? That's that was your day to day? Yeah, like, pretty much every day is like, like that worry that, that you might, like, you might be killed that day.

Unknown Speaker  5:47  
Yeah, and it and it's, it's interesting, because it's like you think about your job, your nine to five job that we have or your school routine that you have. And, you know, you would think that it's just dangerous, and you can just like, you know, something that'll happen to you and you're actually outside the outside the wire doing doing the missions, but the our bases got bombed and rocketed. And so frequently, and again, this is my experience depends on where you're stationed

Unknown Speaker  6:10  
all the time. You

Unknown Speaker  6:13  
know, it wasn't really ever like, Hey, I'm gonna kick my legs up. And it's cool. Now I'm fine. I'm saying like, I never you never had that sense. So

JJ Parker  6:22  
like you're you're on edge all the time? Correct. 24 hours a day.

Melissa Albers  6:26  
I remember when we were talking about having you on the pod long time ago, maybe it was even like last summer when we talked about it. You throughout just in a really short conversation. You threw out some stats that were so powerful to me, as it related to your do you call them a platoon or what do you call your group? I'm sorry, I don't have the lingo. Right.

Unknown Speaker  6:48  
So our entire entity was was that was a brigade. Brigade. Okay. Okay. Yep. So our brigade, I think maybe you're talking about the stats of soldiers that we lost on the deployment? Yes, I recall. Yeah. So yeah, I'm on the deployment. You know, total, we lost more more soldiers, but in totality, to combat operations, we lost nine. And when you fast forward, that was, you know, we left country in 2007. That deployment started in 2005, we left came to home 2000, the end of 2007. To date, we have now tripled the amount of loss of lives lost just to suicide. In other words, it was safer to be a soldier in our brigade in Iraq than it was to come home, your chances of living were higher.

Melissa Albers  7:43  
And, and so every so I have to tell you the last time that you told me that I got goosebumps everywhere, and my stomach got so sick, like, just thinking about that was so it's all overwhelming emotionally. So I want to just ask you specifically, because right here, I think is one of the critical reasons we're talking about PTSD is because PTSD, and several other issues of anxiety are lead leading cause of suicide, and our suicide numbers are going are skyrocketing today. Right. And I wondered if I could just ask you a few questions for us. Like the average listeners, right? Just trying to understand this. Emotionally understand it from the self awareness journey. It's like we this what we do we talk about stuff like this from a different perspective. Can you describe Chris, what does PTSD feel like?

Unknown Speaker  8:43  
Yeah. I, so I think that it for me, again, this is my unique experience. For me, this is what it feels like. If you can imagine two invisible walls like like putting pressure on you like from both both sides, like you can't go left can't go right. In they just kind of keep closing in on you. Your heart rate. For me, my heart rate always increases get very tense, I can feel it throughout my entire body like the as that transition is happening. You you become hyper alert, based on the type of PTSD I've experienced. I think that for, you know, there's other reactions that you can have, you can freeze up and just close down. You can get very aggressive there. There's lots of different reactions that people have my mind was just now I'm on edge, hyper alert time. Everything around me is a threat. It feels like everything in my environment could hurt me or hurt people that I care about. And I need to be thinking about all of those things and I need to be ready. So it takes a lot out of you, too. be in that state? It is. It's terrible. It sounds

Melissa Albers  10:05  
terrible. Yeah, it sounds terrible. And and I'm just curious like, so have you been able to pinpoint if there are particular triggers that push you to that point? Or do they come up and sneak up and grab? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  10:23  
Yeah, I think that, for me, at least just my personal experience, when I came back, I told myself, I was fine. You're, you're great. You got through, you got through, you made the longest deployment in the history of the military. And you're great, you're fine. You don't need help. And, you know, I very quickly started to realize, like, every day, multiple times a day, those invisible walls were coming down on me, and it's like, whoa, you know, in the way that I reacted to that trigger, which there were several that I wasn't aware of, until I eventually sought out help. But the catalyst for me to actually go and find help was my only sense of comfort, when I was overseas was always being armed to the teeth. Like, that's how I protected myself. That's how I protected the people that were around me. So I carried all the time. When I first came back, and I got to the point where I, I was putting a firearm into my backpack, and I'm like, What am I doing? i Why am I doing this like, I'm not being shot at everyday, I'm not being there's there's no threat, there's no immediate threat, all of this is is a perception. And something's not right with me. And I'm like, I, I need to do something. They that was, that was the day I remember distinctly like, Nope, I didn't put it in there. I'm like, I'm going to get help, instead. took myself out of college, and went to the VA and sought out help.

JJ Parker  11:57  
Melissa and I are huge self awareness nerds, we've been working on this stuff for a really long time. And we love talking about it and sharing it with all of you, we've actually brought all of the stuff we've made into an online course. And we think it's really great. The course starts by learning about yourself, and how your mind body connection works. It dives into your thoughts and feelings. And then helps you learn how to become your true authentic self. Start your journey today. Head to the self awareness journey.com to learn more and sign up.

Melissa Albers  12:38  
So, JJ, I'm sorry, no, I might keep an eye rolling I my inner sorry. I don't mean to. But I think that this is also another I remember us talking about this. And I've also heard of this a number of times is that the resources so I'm not going to call out the VA. But that is one of the resources. There's there are other resources that handle PTSD. But I feel like they're extremely challenging for people that are in dire need. It's extremely challenging for them to get access in a timely manner. Right. Yeah. So for you, and you're at full cry. I mean, that must have been really hard for you trying to figure out how you would be best supported.

Unknown Speaker  13:21  
Yeah. And the thing that was challenging for me, I spent 912 days on active order orders getting trained for that deployment being on that deployment. And the military spent five days reintegrating me back into society. And I do remember like, when we were going through that, they were asking me like, Hey, are you ready to reintegrate? Nope. I said, Nope, I don't think I'm ready. Don't worry about it, your home base will take care of you. And there's this term, you might have heard about this in movies, but stop loss. It's a mechanism that the military can invoke, to keep you on active orders. So in other words, while I was deployed, I had actually fulfilled my original contract obligation to the service, which was 66 years of active duty service and two years inactive. So they put me on stop loss, so I could not come home. So I was extended. So when I came back to the US, I was I had no home base. I was done with the military. That was it.

JJ Parker  14:22  
For is very, like it was abrupt. Yes. Right. Yes.

Melissa Albers  14:27  
Yeah. So it was basically on you then to figure it out. I mean, really not to sound harsh, but it really was and like, you know, JJ and I talk about people having anxiety, we talk about these hard emotions that we deal with all the time. And yet, you know, normally you think, well, let's see, if you're having anxiety. You can go see a therapist, you know, and the therapist will be able to help you out and hear some ideas and even therapy is like backlogged right now, people can't get into it right. But something so specialized as this Chris seems to me Me, like the speciality of it seems like it would make it even more challenging and more difficult to seek out exactly what's going to help you. And when you're in a state of emotional turmoil, advocating for yourself in that moment seems like it would be extremely challenging. Yeah. I, I also just wanted to ask I remember you talking to about your particular case was so unique because your group, was there the longest, right? You talked a little bit about that, and and ensuing the ensuing change that happened as a result? Would you mind just telling that little bit of the story, too?

Unknown Speaker  15:39  
Yeah. So we are on the longest deployment in the history of the military longer than even in World War Two. And they actually Congress passed a law that no unit could ever be deployed that long ever again. I do believe we're at something like 99 point, something percent of anyone who was married, going into that deployment is now divorced. And then, of course, the terrible stats around the soldiers we lost in country and the ones that have chosen to take their lives after. Yeah, it's just we're not human beings are not designed for several years of trauma. Not that No, no, no. There's just not a great process. When you come home.

JJ Parker  16:29  
Yeah. So as like as a, like, just regular citizen. I've always just assumed that there was support for soldiers coming home. I just, like for whatever reason, I never questioned it. Is that nope, all these folks that are serving when they come home, they have all of the support and resources they need. And it wasn't until I met you, Chris, when you said, Hey, that's not the case. It's actually really far from that. Yeah. Which was, like shocking to me. Like I I couldn't, I didn't really book I couldn't really believe it. Like, how could that how could that be?

Unknown Speaker  17:12  
It? I should i? If I can, JJ, I just want to make sure I clarify one thing, because I don't want to discredit all the branches of the service. Because right? Of course, they do. Depending on if you come home, and you're still on orders, if you're active duty, they do have to weak reintegration programs, they do have the processes in place, like if you're on active duty orders. So my experience was not active duty, Army, Navy, Marines, I know that most of those organizations do have some things in place, but specifically where I have noticed the gap, and I've done research on this, the gap is for Army National Guardsmen, when they come home, those men and women when they come home, if they are not still on orders, or if they're still not serving, and they're done, there is nothing.

Melissa Albers  18:03  
Yeah, and I want to say too, and you've made it, you've been very respectful in all of your feedback, Chris, which I completely appreciate, you've been very careful to say this is just my experience, and you're not making any hit on any of our military and no one takes it that way like this is this is we have these conversations, they're not easy conversations to have. But we simply do it with the pure intent of helping people. And that's what this is about. And so I am so appreciative of you sharing some of this stuff, because it's just, um, it's it just, it's heartbreaking. Honestly, this is just a heartbreaking thing to think about. Let me ask you something to be a little more. So we don't leave everybody laying on their backs and sobbing after this. You know, from your perspective, what, what are some ways that you can get so what's the best way to support someone that has PTSD? What are things that you appreciate and think would be helpful for listeners? If they know of someone that's dealing high anxiety, PTSD and those type types of things? You have any ideas? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  19:09  
I, you know, this is this is great, because on that journey that I've been on, I discovered a lot of the wrong ways to get that help. And I think you know, anyone who's being honest, you don't need to go to combat to figure out what the wrong ways are to deal with PTSD. But for me, I think the the things that are actually driving success, you know, good outcomes. For from a therapy standpoint, the VA has some really good programs, cognitive reprocessing therapy is the that's the therapy that works for me. There are others out there. There, they're all out there. I can rattle them if you're interested otherwise,

Melissa Albers  19:54  
well, I think you can list a couple would be really helpful for people and then and then I would also Just like to ask by people like us, like JJ and I, we get to see you, we get to be around you. How can we support you? Like how can just people, normal folks support those they love and care about when they know they're suffering from this? So those are the two pieces I was curious about.

Unknown Speaker  20:20  
Okay. Yeah. Um, so Okay, so I'll just few other things that I know are proven and can work. There is a procedure that can be done. It's an outpatient procedure, where they work on the stellate. ganglion block, it's an SGD, that has been proven to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. It's an outpatient surgery, you can you can find those procedures across the country, you can get yourself connected with other veterans that come out, like when you lose the camaraderie that you have when you're deployed, because that is one of the things that I I yearn for. Whenever I am around other soldiers who have had those experiences, I always feel a lot better because it's, it gives you that, yeah, you get that that sense of like EMR, eye movement desensitization, I know that that's what for some of the folks that I've spoken to. Then cognitive reprocessing therapy,

Melissa Albers  21:24  
and the eye movement. The EMR that you're referring to is a regular thing that there are actually a few people in Minneapolis that specialize in that. And it is also now used in therapy, not just military, but for other folks that are dealing with anxiety. So it's that's a great thing, too. Yeah. Okay, so those are great. Those are great tools and great, big, bigger things. How about just natural support are there? And you may say, I don't know. But I was just curious, like, are there things that you really appreciate that others can do to support you?

Unknown Speaker  21:59  
i So for me, this, this has been really a blessing getting to be connected with you. And JJ, because you have a platform, maybe this reaches somebody, and maybe they hear about a guy named Chris, who was deployed for a long time who went through similar struggles. And, you know, he went and sought out help, and it was hard. And it, you know, it worked for him. And it's Well, yeah, I would just encourage people to if you if you're noticing someone that is dealing with that, to let them know, there are healthy options that actually work. And because I think you do feel kind of helpless. Like before I was introduced to some of these therapies, I just assumed the only way I could get better is if I was on drugs of some some type of a pill. And I didn't want to be on a pill. And I also didn't want to continue to do the the other unhealthy things that I mentioned those, but

Melissa Albers  22:58  
I think that's really normal, though, I think people just get to a point where they're so desperate, they'll do absolutely anything to try to feel better. And you know that I think that's a real normal human condition. So Chris, like is during your days, this will be the last time I asked around this. But I think it's really helpful for people to have a sense of being able to support you, you know, like, so if you're having a triggered moment, or you're really struggling, struggling, is it helpful? If people say something to you, or they just show kindness? give you more grace? Do you just prefer to be left alone? Do you like to be hugged? Like, what are some strategies date just day to day strategies that you have found helpful, if any?

Unknown Speaker  23:46  
So that's hard. That's hard to answer. Because I don't really ever ask for

Unknown Speaker  23:52  
help. Right? Well,

Unknown Speaker  23:53  
I would say this is sort of been a personal journey for me. And I think that you know, what you should do if if you're on that path, and you're seeking help, is just be brave enough to go and try it. Go and go and try, go and try some of these therapies that are out there for you. Or maybe

Melissa Albers  24:18  
even be brave enough to say, I don't normally ask for help, but I'm having a tough time. I don't know what else to say. I mean, even just being able to get vert, you know, even verbalize something. So give someone that awareness, you know, because, because I think we all get pretty good at hiding our feelings. You know, even if they're really really, really big ones. We get really good at putting up that wall.

JJ Parker  24:41  
Yeah, one of the bravest things you can do is be vulnerable.

Melissa Albers  24:45  
Yes. Yeah. Yeah, we say that all the time. Chris, is there anything else that you wish we would have asked about or JJ, did you have any other last check Chris, is there anything else that you wish we would ask about?

Unknown Speaker  24:59  
Yeah, So I, I, you know, zooming up like the 30,000 foot view, I've been reflecting on this a lot. And I've been thinking about what is the what is the one thing that if it changed, it would change the outcome for people like me in the future. And I think just specific to the minister, like in Minnesota, the Army National Guard, if their funding for deployments required, and they actually had the funding approved for a post deployment mandatory, you know, you will be at, you know, Camp Ripley, you will be at Fort Snelling, you will be there for 30 days being evaluated with your, with your peers that you're deployed with. So you got that camaraderie, just to make sure that you're set and you're good. And we can reintegrate, you. And if you're not, we'll be able to identify that and get you the resources. And you know, maybe the stats that I'm talking about? Those aren't true anymore in the future.

Melissa Albers  25:59  
Yeah. Yeah. Is there anything that you think our pod listeners could do to further that idea? Or just keep it in the mind? And if there's ever an opportunity, people should be talking about it?

Unknown Speaker  26:13  
Yeah. If people are connected into anybody who's a part of the Senate, or the Congress or and can change policy and law or the funding of the deployment cycles for soldiers, I think that would make a huge that would that would have a profound impact. Yeah,

Melissa Albers  26:41  
well, Chris, I'm, I'm so appreciative of your time today and of your story. It's just been, it's it's an amazing, it's amazing to be able to know you and see how much of a thriving member of society you are given what you've gone through. It's absolutely amazing. Yeah,

JJ Parker  27:01  
thank you, Chris. You're an inspiration.

Unknown Speaker  27:03  
Yeah, you really are.

Unknown Speaker  27:05  
Well, thanks for having me. And I like ice. Like I said, when I started, I hope it helps somebody.

JJ Parker  27:09  
Did you enjoy this episode? Please go to your favorite podcast platform to subscribe rate and leave a review so others can discover it as well.

Melissa Albers  27:19  
Growing self awareness is a lifelong journey, and there's always further to go, and it's better when we're all in it together. Please think of someone you know who could benefit from hearing today's conversation and share this episode with them. We can't thank you enough for listening. Until next time, happy exploring seekers.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Discussed in this episode

Let's get real

Meet your guides

JJ Parker

JJ Parker is a serial entrepreneur passionate about building creative strategy, efficient operations, and unique marketing perspectives. Parker got his start as a student at The Minneapolis Institute of Art, and soon after launched his first company Tightrope Media Systems (TRMS) with a high school buddy in 1997.

Melissa Albers

Melissa is passionate about developing people’s self-awareness and ability to positively interact with others. She focuses on the importance of building influence, and highlights the most important relationship we have is with self first. Ms. Albers speaks on leadership and self-awareness, and has shared the stage with John Maxwell (Leadership Author and Speaker), Lee Cockerell (Exec VP of Disney) and Les Brown (Motivational Speaker) to name a few.

Learn more about the topics in this episode

The Art of
Self Awareness Course

Have you ever wished that you could be happier inside more of the time? Does your productivity take a hit when your mood dips? Do you wish you would just do better but don’t know how?

If you answered YES to any or all of these questions, this course is for YOU.

Join The Self Awareness Journey to learn how feelings, when explored, inform us of our thoughts which ultimately cause our actions. When things don’t go as planned we often blame outside circumstances, people or timing. But most of us are unaware of our core feelings so we are never quite able to manifest our true desires.

Intrigued but want to know a little more?

Drop your contact information below and we'll keep you updated with our latest tips for increased self-awareness.