At SHOT show, I ended up in several conversations about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and how military medicine, including the VA, kind of has their hands tied as far as doing much besides treating symptoms.
Part of the conversations stemmed from the success of “American Sniper” and the fact that Chris Kyle spent the majority of his time after returning home helping people dealing with these exact issues, and it was one of the topics that he and I connected the most on.
I’m going to share some things with you today to look into on your own and with your healthcare provider that could not only help yourself or a loved one with TBI and/or PTSD, but may help you sleep better when you’re facing high stress periods of your life, like financial issues, relationship issues, parenting challenges.
I’ve got to start this by saying that I’m not a doctor or medical professional. I’m not giving advice on what you should do…at most, I’m suggesting a few topics to talk about with your healthcare provider. These are all things that have worked for me and for friends of mine dealing with TBI and/or PTSD, but that doesn’t mean you should assume that they will work for you or a loved one.
For the rest of the article, I’m going to talk about TBI and PTSD. You’ll notice that most of what I talk about is also worth talking with your healthcare provider about the next time you’re going through an extremely stressful time. In other words, I’m talking about TBI and PTSD, but it applies to everyone.
Here’s the gist:
- We’re going to look at TBI and PTSD as primary issues. These primary issues cause secondary issues…namely sleep loss and brain/body chemical and biological imbalances. These secondary issues cause symptoms that both mimic PTSD and sometimes TBI symptoms and prevent the primary issues from healing.
- 100% is a relative term. Some injuries/damage won’t heal for some people.
- Holistic solutions that address the body as a complex, interrelated system tend to work better than short term fixes that simply address symptoms.
- False hope is cruel. I’m not going to blow smoke and tell you it’s all going to be better. I’m not a doc. I don’t know you. What I’m going to share with you has worked for a LOT of people, but it may not work for you or your loved one.
That being said, I know of people who have gone from being completely non-functional (mentally and physically–close to vegetative) from a TBI and written off by the VA as not having any chance of getting better to walking, talking, and using their hands again in a few short months of non-VA care that focused on their gut and brain/body chemistry.
Please understand that I’m not bashing the frontline people who work at the VA. No matter how good individual people may be, they are hobbled, hindered, and held back by overwhelming bureaucracy and red tape. Oftentimes, they’re reduced to only being able to placate symptoms without having the tools to try to fix underlying problems.
I want to start by describing a little of what goes on for some guys returning from high intensity combat deployments.
For most, it was either the best or worst time of their life. In either case, the rush of combat takes a toll.
Aspects of combat are simple and allow the mind to focus on a single goal with fierce intensity. “Now” is all that matters. Living in this mode, in and of itself, can make returning home to relationship issues, money issues, household chores, simple traffic, lines, and other stuff infuriating and cause them to yearn for the simplicity of combat, regardless of whether they actually want to return to combat.
I know guys who used to need to take sleeping pills almost every night between deployments, but slept like a baby when they were deployed. Go figure.
Next, some people feel “dead” or “numb” inside when they return and just want to feel SOMETHING…anything again. With one close friend and climbing partner of mine, it was because he’d over-taxed his adrenal system and was running on hormonal and brain chemistry vapor…he had no gas in the tank.
He did progressively more and more risky things in an attempt to feel SOMETHING. He’d rush packing his chute, hoping he’d have a failure and have to pull his spare and other similarly stupid stuff just to feel something close to how alive combat made him feel. I even had to save his life once when a stupid stunt went wrong. He got stuff straightened out, had a couple more good deployments, and is good to go almost 8 years from that time.
Others aren’t so lucky. They get motorcycles and ride fast enough to feel like they’re on the edge of life and death again…and go over. They do the same in cars. Or they find drugs that give them one or two good trips before getting addicted and auguring in.
So, here’s the thing with stress, TBI, and PTSD. You’ve got the problem, and then you’ve got the 2nd and 3rd degree problems.
A typical scenario is for someone who’s having trouble sleeping to self-medicate with alcohol to get to sleep.
Normally, it helps someone get a few hours of “sleep”, but not the recuperative REM sleep or the slow theta and delta brainwaves associated with deep sleep and rejuvenation. In addition, it sets off a blood sugar roller coaster that usually includes a shot of adrenaline a few hours after going to bed due to blood sugar dropping off and a fitful rest of the night.
Using alcohol as a sleep aid causes another problem…magnesium deficiency. What happens when you don’t have enough magnesium? Fatigue, confusion, irritability, muscle twitches, memory problems, delirium, hallucinations, and more.
Keep in mind that REM sleep is important. You can die in as soon as 5 weeks if you’re sleeping but not getting ANY REM sleep. Lack of sufficient REM and deep sleep also can cause many of the same irritability and short fuse symptoms that PTSD causes…in effect, amplifying the PTSD. The lack of sleep oftentimes leads people to excessive use of stimulants during the day which also increases irritability and short fuse symptoms as well as overtaxing the endocrine system in general and adrenals in particular.
See why this whole 2nd and 3rd degree thing is important? Someone gets TBI from an IED, comes home, can’t turn off the demons to go to sleep, so they zone out watching TV and have several drinks to get to sleep. They’re not getting good sleep and some of the side effects mimic PTSD. They take too many stimulants during the day and some of the side effects mimic PTSD. They fatigue their adrenals and some of the side effects mimic PTSD. They run low on Magnesium and some of the side effects mimic PTSD AND TBI. These 2nd and 3rd degree problems become problems in and of themselves and make it very hard for the body to heal & recuperate.
So they go to a counselor who gets them to talk through their problems but the 2nd and 3rd degree issues make it seem like the problem never goes away and they may not have the raw materials they need for their body to heal. The counseling doesn’t work because it’s only one part of the issue and one source of the symptoms, so they stop counseling and figure “that’s just the way things are going to be.”
Even worse, if they start taking anti-anxiety medication to address the symptoms without addressing the 2nd and 3rd degree issues, then they may or may not improve and you’ve got the side effects of the anti-anxiety medication to boot.
Depending on the cocktail of prescription drugs, in addition to the “regular” side effects, in many cases some of them bind with minerals that the body needs for various processes, interfere with digestion, or out-and-out ravage the digestive system.
So I’ll tell you what I’ve done and what friends of mine have done. This is not medical advice. Keep in mind that anything that actually does something in the body has a possibility of interacting with other medication you’re taking in a bad way and you need to work with a professional.
So what I and my friends have done is broken up into a few categories:
Nutrition, supplements, and chemistry
Let’s start with sleep:
Everyone knows that they suffer if they don’t get enough sleep. A handful of nights with only 3-4 hours of sleep per night causes the same mental processing problems as being legally drunk. You may get used to it and be a “functional drunk” but a lack of sleep has cascading issues…from immediate mental acuity to long term healing, recuperation, and immune function.
But how do you shut off the demons long enough to get sleep?
Ask your doc, but here’s what I have taken:
and used Adrenacalm cream
to help with sleep, but never all at the same time. Too much melatonin or taking 5HTP without enough hours to sleep normally causes me to have a “sleep hangover” the next morning where it takes a few hours to get going. I don’t have that problem with phosphatidyl serine or adrenacalm, but if I use too much adrenacalm, I have sore joints the next morning…presumably from not having enough cortisol. It’s fairly easy to take too much melatonin and it can seriously screw up your endocrine system. Work with a doc on dosing but keep in mind that MIT researchers found that .3mg was the ideal dose and that taking melatonin only works if your pineal gland isn’t releasing enough.
The next two are a crossover between sleep and mental.
EFT: EFT looks crazy and my mind tells me it shouldn’t work, but it’s worked every time I’ve used it over the last 10-15 years and it has worked for millions more. Essentially, it is the process of tapping meridians on the head torso, and hands in a specific sequence.
In practical terms, it will take something in the mind that has an intensity of an 8-10 (memory, fear, anxiety, etc.) and bring it down to a 2-3 in 5-10 minutes without drugs, equipment, rehashing the experience, or anything else. Oftentimes, this, in and of itself, can calm the mind enough to go to sleep without chemical aids.
In my opinion, EFT has been hijacked by people who aren’t firmly grounded in reality. It’s not a series of magical buttons, it won’t give you unlimited potential, and it won’t attract riches to you. Just because it’s been hijacked, doesn’t mean that the technique doesn’t work or is as wacky as some of the people who are using it.
For more information on EFT, I suggest going to www.eft.mercola.com.
A GREAT and also time tested technique to use with EFT is deep breathing. Stomach breathe (make your stomach go out instead of your chest when you inhale) in deeply for a 6-10 count, hold it for a 5 count, and exhale fully for a 6-10 count. The simple act of fully oxygenating the body can help many people can go from having a frantic mind to sleeping in less than 20 reps of this.
Alpha, Theta, and Delta brainwave states: Alpha, Theta, and Delta brainwave states are slower brainwaves than what people primarily have when they’re awake. These brainwave states are associated with healing and recuperation—both mentally and physically. You can get to these states with intense focus, self-hypnosis, “meditation”, and other tools. Natural birthing & pain control techniques use these states and sometimes just visualizing your “happy place” with enough focus, detail, and intensity, will let you slow down your brainwaves.
In short, if you can still your mind, it’s much easier to get to sleep.
Many Christians won’t touch these techniques because of how their use has been abused by bad people in the past, and religions built around the alpha, theta, and delta state experience. I’m a Christian—in fact, I’m the wacky kind who actually studies my Bible every day. Fact is, this is not supernatural to focus or relax unless you ADD a religious component to it. It’s how God made us. Deep relaxation and focus, in and of themselves, are inert, but can be used for good purposes or bad.
In many ways, deep relaxation and focus are similar to sex for Christians—stay with me on this. God made us in certain ways. We have predictable responses to certain stimuli. In and of themselves, deep relaxation, focus, and sex are not good or bad. All of them have been used in evil ways. Religions have been built around the experience you get from each. And all of them can detract from God. But all of them can be a part of a healthy Christian life when used in the proper context.
We go in and out of these states to various degrees all day long. If you’ve ever been “in the zone” in sports or work (and tried to get back to that state) you’re familiar with alpha state and the quest for it. If you’re comfortable with deep relaxation and focus, go for it. If you’re not comfortable, don’t. If you’re on the fence, dig into it and come to a conclusion.
One of the things that I tell my boys is that every cell in their body is made up of what they put into their mouth. I know it’s a little more complicated than that, but the truth in the message holds. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The better fuel you put into your engine, the better it will run. In the case of the body, the better it will heal.
Sometimes, even with good nutrition, months or years of stress add up and it takes more than just food.
I work with Dr. Tom Incledon at Human Performance Specialists on the nutritional aspects of mental and nervous system performance for shooting. (HumanPerformanceSpecialists.com 480-883-7240) Tom’s not an MD…but he’s got more advanced degrees than anyone else I know and has a staff of docs who work for him.
Tom’s approach…on professional athletes, executives, and guys with TBI/PTSD is to test the body. If there’s stuff in there that shouldn’t be, get rid of it. If there’s stuff missing that should be in there, figure out how far up the line the problem is and get the levels corrected.
Take an example of a guy who was in one of the Stans and gets a TBI from an IED and gets shipped home. There’s a decent chance that he has one or more novel bacteria/parasites in his system from the tour. There’s a decent chance that the good bacteria in his gut (which is relatively weak) got wiped out from antibiotics he received and from ongoing medication. There’s a good chance that his adrenals are stressed and his brain chemistry is off. There’s also a good chance that some of the prescription medication that he’s taking will deplete the body of minerals and other nutrients that it needs faster than he can replace them and there will eventually be 2nd and 3rd degree problems as a result.
So, Tom starts by doing testing to make sure that the gut has enough good bacteria, and that there are no parasites, fungi, yeasts, or bad bacteria living in the body. If anything is missing, he fixes it. If anything is there that shouldn’t be, he fixes it.
80% of the body’s immune function comes from how effectively the gut is working. If the body is wasting too much energy on immune function because of an inefficient gut, it’s not going to heal as effectively as it could.
Also, if your gut isn’t breaking down food properly and can’t extract the nutrients that your body needs, those nutrients are going to end up in the toilet and your body isn’t going to have the tools that it needs to function, heal, and rebuild.
Next, Tom does an extensive blood panel to see where vitamin, mineral, amino acid, fats, and other nutrient levels are. There’s no one magic supplement that helps everyone…If you’ve got plenty of vitamin C, taking more won’t help and could give you digestive issues. If you’ve got scurvy, taking more vitamin C could save your life.
Some nutrients will lower cholesterol and increase testosterone levels…if you’re low on those nutrients, you could have high cholesterol and low testosterone. If you take drugs to lower your cholesterol and supplements to increase your testosterone, there are oftentimes 2nd and 3rd degree problems that result. This is the case with several systems in the body and why it’s so important to test and address problems at the source and take a holistic approach rather than simply trying to address symptoms.
When you get rid of stuff that’s parasitic to the body and give the body the raw materials that it needs and combine it with ongoing nutrition and adequate sleep, you create an environment where any healing that MIGHT occur has a much better chance of happening. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not overnight. And your idea of where full recovery should be may not mesh with reality—it may fall short of where you want it to, or it might go way beyond that. But helping people with TBI and PTSD is one area where I pull out the stops and try to stack the deck as far in their favor as possible…to the point where, if it were a game, it would be cheating.
If you want to go this route, you can work with Tom or someone local. I know Tom, trust Tom, and recommend him to friends, but work with whoever works best for you.
A high-tech, Star Trek tool to consider…
One thing that you want to look into is pEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field therapy). This is a tool that is used by the US and Russian space programs, Lance Armstrong used it between training sessions, and there are more than 400 studies on pEMF that the NIH references on PubMed. Even so, it’s still considered “pseudo-science” by some.
When I’ve used it, they stick EKG type pads on my body and ran low (non-painful) voltage pulsed currents through my body. Some combinations of frequencies reset the thyroid, others speed post-workout recovery, one of our babysitters used pEMF to knock out her Lyme disease after trying other treatments without success for years.
The idea behind it is that if you get the head right (electrically) and the head talking to the body right, a lot of problems go away.
Will it work for you? Ask your doc or a medical professional locally who uses pEMF and see if it’s a possibility.
I’m not going to go into depth on this, but it’s an important part of life in general and trials in particular. God can give you peace when nothing else will. He’s not a jack-in-the-box and I don’t pretend to understand Him 100%, but He can give peace that passes all understanding. Ask Him. Talk with Him. He’s awake when no one else is around to listen.
To summarize all of this, if you give the body what it needs to heal, it can do incredible things with horrible mental and physical trauma.
As an example of what “non-traditional” treatments can do after military and VA medicine have hit the wall, look at what Carrick Brain Centers have done for Marcus Luttrell. He was admittedly in a REALLY bad place mentally and physically after a TBI and has been able to have an amazing recovery after working with Carrick.
Thoughts? Questions? Let me know by commenting below.