2 posts tagged “military”

Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Charles

Posted June 8th, 2015 by

We’ll be featuring three Team of Advisors introductions on the blog this month, and first up is Charles, a veteran Army Ranger who is also living with MS. Below, Charles shared about his military background, his thoughts on patient centeredness and how he’s found his second family in the Team of Advisors.

About Charles (aka CharlesD):
Charles has a diverse background. He served three years in the US Army 75th Ranger Regiment parachuting from the back of C-130 and C-141 aircraft. He built audio/video/computer systems for Bloomberg Business News. He worked as an application systems engineer in banking, as a computer engineer at the White House Executive Office of the President (EOP), and as a principal systems engineer for the US Navy Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) program. He is currently a contractor providing document imaging Subject Matter Expertise (SME) to the IRS. Charles was diagnosed with MS in July of 2013. MS runs in his family on his mother’s Irish side – he has one uncle and two male cousins with MS.

Charles on patient centeredness:
With experience in website design, Charles believes patient centeredness is a lot like user centeredness when designing a web site or a portal: “Information is organized according to the patient (or the user’s) view of the world. Questions that the patient most needs answered are listed front and center. The design is based on addressing the needs of the patients (users). Info is organized cleanly and logically with possible visual impairments, color perception problems, and cognitive issues of patients (users) always in mind. Research should focus on areas that will make the most difference to the patients. Ask them. Survey them. Get to know the ‘voice of the patient’ just like we look to capture the ‘voice of the customer’ in user-centric design.”

Charles’ military background:
“I joined the US Army in 1986. I did basic training and AIT at Fort Jackson, SC. After that I was off to 3 weeks of jump school at Fort Benning, GA. Then I went to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) again at Benning. I was then assigned to HHC 75th Ranger Regiment.

I spent 3 years with the 75th training for a lot of pretty cool missions. We trained a lot for airfield seizures. Basically parachute onto a foreign airport or airfield, wipe out all resistance, take the tower, and make way for our big planes to land shortly after. We had early generation night vision goggles (NVGs). I drove a Hummer full of Rangers off the back tail ramp of a pitch black C-130 that was still rolling after touchdown while wearing NVGs. They were no help at all inside the plane since they only amplify existing light. If you are pitch black you are still blind. It is a wonder that I did not kill anyone or damage the C-130 that night.

So I joined up right after Grenada and I got out right before Panama. I never saw any combat. These days I volunteer my time with, and financially support, a veterans group called gallantfew (www.gallantfew.org), started by retired Ranger Major Karl Monger.”

Charles on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors has been a wonderful privilege and an excellent opportunity for me. As a person with a brain disease, it is not always comfortable talking with others about my illness. When the Team of Advisors first met up together in Boston, I knew that I had found my second family. I was together in a room where every single person there was struggling with one or more diseases, many of which can be fatal. In fact, one of our team members, Brian, died after serving for only a few months. It was such a warm and welcoming environment. All of us were able to speak openly with each other and with PatientsLikeMe staff and we were heard. Each story, no matter how painful, resonated with the whole group.

All of us in the first PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors shared many of the same goals. We are an extremely diverse group, but we all bonded immediately. What we want is to help conquer the diseases that have caused problems in all of our lives. We want to improve the relationship between researchers and the patient community. We want to help health care providers to better understand the patient perspective. And we want to make the world a better place for the next generation and for all generations to come. PatientsLikeMe embraces those goals and we embrace PatientsLikeMe. Together we are taking on all diseases.”

Charles on healthcare for veterans:
“As a veteran, health care issues are very important to me. I have seen so many veterans return home with wounds to body and mind. Many are shattered and have no idea what to do with themselves next. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, others to fast motorcycles or weapons. Suicide is rampant among newly returned veterans. The VA is woefully underfunded to take on the mission of supporting wounded and traumatized veterans. In the halls of Congress, the VA is seen as a liability, an unfunded mandate. Many veterans are denied the coverage they so desperately need. Many active duty service members are forced out with other than honorable discharges for suffering from PTSD or TBI. This limits the liability of the VA to support the veteran after separation. A good friend of mine who died recently put it this way. He said to me, ‘The military operates on the beer can theory of human resources. Picture a couple of good old boys out for a good time. They go down to the local liquor store and grab a nice cold six pack of beer. They go down to the lake, they each pop the top and they each start chugging a wonderful ice-cold beer. When they get through the first beer, they crush the can and throw it away. They grab another and another until the beers are all gone.’

I didn’t understand how this related to the military. He explained, ‘The brand new ice-cold beer is like a new recruit. The military sucks everything they can out of the person until all that is left is the empty shell. Then they toss that out and go grab another one just like the last one.’

We don’t deserve a health care system that treats returning veterans as empty shells. We can do better, but the current system is clear reflection of the value system at play in Congress. Funding for weapons programs are highly protected. Funding for the people who wielded those weapons systems is not. My answer may seem a bit cynical, but that is how I see the current state of affairs.”

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“I am slowly building my self-esteem “ – PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick shares about her journey with PTSD

Posted March 4th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick is a veteran living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her story is one of learning to cope with emotions and frustrations. She’s living proof that things can get better – she’s a loving mother of two, has a great husband and is managing several other mental health conditions. Below, she shared about the sexual abuse she experienced while serving in the military and explained how her previous husband physically assaulted her. Superchick also describes the symptoms of her PTSD and how the community on PatientsLikeMe has been “a huge help” to her. Read about her journey below.

Note: SuperChick shares about her story of abuse, which may be triggering.

Can you speak a little about your PTSD and what led to your diagnosis in 1986?

I was originally diagnosed with PTSD after being raped while I was in the military. I believe I was more susceptible because I had been molested as a child and didn’t have good family support or dynamics. I worked through it, but was diagnosed again in 2007 after leaving a severely abusive marriage, where I was raped multiple times and choked at least twice. I was emotionally abused and didn’t even realize it was abuse. I stayed for fourteen years trying to change myself because my ex-husband had convinced me I was the problem and couldn’t do anything right. It destroyed my self-esteem and any healthy coping skills I had.

What are some of the symptoms you experience because of your PTSD?

Since being diagnosed with PTSD the second time, I have numbed my emotions, I experience anxiety, and I have trouble falling and staying asleep even though I may be thoroughly exhausted and am taking medications for sleep. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep. I sometimes have nightmares, although not nearly as often as I used to. I have difficulty fully trusting my current husband, or people in general for that matter, even though I know he would never harm me and treats me with tremendous respect. I have suffered from a very low self-esteem and for a long time felt responsible for the trauma. I react more intensely to triggering situations than other people would. I am slowly building my self-esteem, but that is still a struggle for me.

You’ve got two wonderful children – how does PTSD affect your family life?

Because my children spend half their time with their father, I worry about them when they’re with him because I know how abusive he can be. I worry about them being sexually abused or harmed and am very protective of them around anyone I don’t know very well. I’m afraid of my daughter becoming involved in abusive relationships when she grows older and my son becoming an abuser. In a positive sense, I am very affectionate and make time to listen to them and engage in activities I know they enjoy because I want them to experience healthy love. I am remarried to a man who truly loves and respects me. My husband and I try to model a healthy relationship for them.

It’s hard for my husband and me, though. The fact that I still have to be involved with my ex-husband and am told over and over again by the court system, child protective services, and all the mediators we’ve worked with that I have to get along with him makes things very difficult. It minimizes or completely dismisses the trauma I’ve experienced. My husband wants to protect me, and this makes him feel frustrated and powerless. There is no way to get along with a narcissist and abuser. I want to move on and not have him as the focus of our lives, but then something happens and it starts all over again. Sometimes my husband feels shut down when he suggests something I have already tried and found to be futile.

I’ve come to realize that while I have been dealing with all of this for over seven years, he came into this halfway through and is in a different place than I am, having to deal with emotions and frustrations I’ve already experienced and dealt with. He is beginning to understand that his approach can sometimes trigger my symptoms, so when he feels like I’m shutting him down I am actually trying not to go back to that pain. It’s hard in that respect for me to be there for him. We plan to go back to family therapy to help develop a healthier focus for our lives. We’ve been dealing with adversity that has out of necessity been the major focus of our lives, but now we need to move on.

How have you learned to live and cope with your PTSD?

I’ve been in therapy since before I left my marriage, and finally found a therapist who has helped me overcome many of the symptoms of PTSD through EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which helps change the way I react to the memories. For the most part, I am able to remember the trauma without it bothering me. I still experience triggers, but am able to process the emotions using cognitive behavioral therapy skills and journaling. When I am triggered, I make sure I take care of myself through prayer, talking with my husband and therapist, and doing things that help me relax, ground me, and fully engage my mind, like playing my flute and piano.

The community on PatientsLikeMe has been a huge help. I’ve been able to get support from people all over who have been through what I was going through, and that has helped me cope and make better decisions about my health. I was able to see what my main issues were through the mood map and monitor the effectiveness of my medications. There were many times the PatientsLikeMe community were far more helpful than my doctor.

You’re also living with bipolar II, depression and a few others conditions – how do these affect each other?

I believe the PTSD triggered the bipolar, because I never had symptoms until after I left my marriage and had symptoms of severe PTSD. As I look at symptoms of PTSD, it explains a lot of behaviors I didn’t fully understand, like self-harm, which began as I started to talk about and process the trauma of long-term sexual abuse in my previous marriage. As I’ve worked through many of the issues causing the PTSD, I’ve found that I no longer experience the symptoms of bipolar and have been able to decrease my medications. If I do experience depression now, it is short-lived and related to a specific experience.

As a veteran, what is one special message you’d send to your fellow veterans also living with PTSD?

I think veterans have experiences that only people who have been in the military can understand. Military units are like family, and I find I miss that sense of community now that I’m retired. Meeting with other veterans, especially those with shared experiences of PTSD, may be helpful because those people are more likely to relate well.

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