PTSD Stigma, A Tool for Accusations.

 

Understanding PTSD

Understanding PTSD

“Do me a favor. I took these two pictures today tell me witch one you prefer,” is what I posted on Facebook. I am now up to 39 comments. Most all pick B.

I know I need to fill you in on what’s going on with the VA and treatment. In my last blog, I was standing on a busy street corner at rush hour holding a sign in frount of the San Diego VA Hospital. (I will get back to that. This is more of a short story than a blog post. I have so much to say.)

Recently, someone wrote to me. Let me sum up what was said in that paper: This person said they were concerned that they didn’t think I was  receiving any treatment, and they were concerned I could be dangerous. Another comment was that since my service dog had been hit by a car on the 4th of July this year, I might be unstable. Scrubs is ok, by the way, but she did need some stitches. All of this this is coming from a person who has zero contact with me, but instead decided to use the stigma of PTSD as a tool for accusations. I would call it a form of bullying. And, that is the exact reason I continue to write this blog:  to help people Understand PTSD and the effects it has on the patient as well as the caregivers, and how we are treated at the one hospital we should be able to lean on the MOST.

Lets talk about this picture. All but a few said they prefer the way I look in picture with my beard short. I totally agree. What if I were to ask which guy do you think has PTSD. I didn’t want to know the answer, so that’s the way I went with the question. BUT, my long beard and hair does not make me a bad person. It is nothing more than a way of coping with anxiety out in public. When I look like this, far fewer people ask to pet Scrubs, my service dog, or approach me, than when I am all clean cut. I use this tool and my service dog to cope with anxiety instead of taking all the dangerous drugs the VA wants to give out.  I go out; I just need a little more space than most people. My beard is one of my experimental self treatments, and the results say I will keep the long beard.

As you probably know, more than 22 veterans, men and women, take ther lives every day due to the effects of PTSD. Those veterans are the only ones not in treatment; they are gone. If you have PTSD, agoraphobia , or are dealing with some form of high anxiety level in your life, you are “in treatment.” Some people just treat themselves. People use support groups, formal or informal. Mood swings, change of appearance, and even isolation: these are symptoms, also known as tell tail warning signs of the problem.

I was in treatment at the Va for awhile. I got to talk to a doctor every week for one hour. The first office visit was spent by me trying to figure this guy out. I thought the doctor was a bit “out there” talking to me about breathing. I remember the moment when I was supposed to sit with my eyes closed, breathing, and I was thinking, “Yea right, this guy is a quack.” A few weeks later, I also remember the moment I caught myself focusing on breathing, just like the doctor had said… that was a good moment. I actually looked forward to talking to him. I held onto his advice once he gained my trust. Best experience, to this day, was with that doctor. I also remember a moment when I had checked myself into the VA hospital for a 72 hour stay. I was pretty upset. The best coping tool at the time was focusing on the pathetic attempt to keep us safely locked in with the chain link fence. Really VA? 22 years ago the US Army taught me how to climb a fence. I believe it was one of our general orders: to try and keep trying to escape. I had a room with 3 other individuals. I found an empty room at the end of the hall. The door was open; it was completely empty with just a mattress on the floor. A nurse came by to check on me, and I asked, with tears flowing down my face, if it would be ok to be alone in this room. “Yes, you go right ahead.” I remember that moment, laying on the cold floor thinking, this is not what I expected. I was put into a cage: it was a pretty hostile   feeling environment. Just then, a male nurse pulled open the door, and was very aggressive. Then, he yelled at me to get up, flipped over the mattress, and said a bunch of other things I can’t even remember at the moment. I never considered him a threat; he was just a little bitty guy. I think the chain link fence and his alarm call button made him feel brave. Then, he proceeded to lock me in the room. Needless to say, I immediately checked myself out of the hospital after making a report. That incident “went away.” I still talk about it, but the VA has never brought it up again. That was a bad moment.

Where I am going with all this is: PTSD is a bad moment not easily forgotten. I have PTSD issues just from that one incident. It still really bothers me that the hospital treated me that way. But, when you think about how long we live, it really was just a moment in my life.

The VA Hospital uses talk therapy, aka exposure therapy, as one form of treatment. Remember, every Friday I got to talk to a doctor, and we would talk and talk and so on. When that doctor left the hospital, I was devastated, but I continued my treatment without him. I went to the extreme. Recovery is important to me. I went from staying in my house, where it was safe to driving all the way to Florida where I could attend convention of about 6,000 people and tell my story of PTSD and what it is like. I bicycled across the country 4,012 miles with my service dog on the back, talking to big crowds and random conversations at a truck stops. The following year, I was asked to be an official speaker at the convention in Long Beach. So, I would say my therapy is going really well. I continue to give formal and informal talks, wherever I go.

You can listen to the old me on NPR or start at the beginning of this blog and see the transformation and recovery. I am growing and changing, like everyone else in life. I have changed my appearance. I have a new group of people I hang with just because of my appearance.

Understanding PTSD

Understanding PTSD

Looking the way I looked actually brought treatment to me. Let me explain. The people talked to me about their crazy hippie ways: talking about aroma therapy and even YOGA, for heaven’s sake… And my favorite and yours: living in the moment. The more I thought about living in the moment and how crazy that sounded to me, it also started me thinking about past moments: the good ones. You remember that one time… that moment you promised yourself, “I will never forget this day!”… and you forgot it anyway. Things started coming back to me like: the first time I got to drive the car on the freeway at 16 years old; the first time I asked a girl steady ( that’s just a funny story…that’s a good moment.). I remember crying at my wedding, I was so happy; that was a good moment. The birth of my child was a great moment. We pick and choose the moments we remember. I would rather recall my wedding day than the day it ended. I don’t know what to call it but PEACE, LOVE, and GROOVY. I have learned to listen, to understand, and not just to come up with a relpy. So, I learned from their words, to think about moments; to choose the moments I think about.

As far as my service dog goes: it was an eye opener when she was hit by a car, and I came to the realization that could have been it for us. I have started leaving her alone while I go outside, and from time to time, when I go over to see friends. Interestingly, my friends usually say, ” Where is Scrubs?” before saying hi to me. I think it’s funny.

Living in the moment has so many meanings to so many people. Having PTSD is living with the horrible moment(s) you just can’t seem to shake. My life has had some great moments with many more to come. I have been able to pick and choose which memories get to live, rent free, in my head. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but, with yoga, breathing, meditation, support from new friends and old, talk therapy (aka exposure therapy), my service dog, recovery is happening.

So, to finish this up to the present: it has been a month of waiting, and my new appointment at the VA is tomorrow. Wish me luck.

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My National PTSD Awareness Day 2014

Thomas skinner and service dog Scrubs at the San Diego va hospital

Thomas skinner and service dog Scrubs at the San Diego va hospital

National PTSD Awareness Day 2014

I have been in a battle with The San Diego VA hospital for a long time trying to get treatment for my service related PTSD. UNFORTUNATELY I have not had much luck. The doctors always seem to come up with a convenient reason why I can’t be seen at this time. So I am once again put on a waiting list of 2 months. This has happened more times than I can count. My case has been passed around from department to department : first the PTSD clinics ,then to the anxiety clinic where I was given yet 3 complete different reasons why there is no room at the inn for me to be seen. About a week ago I was talking to a VA advocate via Facebook. The advocate managed to get some co-director from the mental health department to give me a call. His sarcastic and condescending tone and comments set me off in the first 20 seconds of the conversation. I cut him off from continuing with his sarcastically toned comments and told him exactly what he could go do with himself. I hung up the phone. Texting once again with the VA advocate, I found out mister important co-director was pretty bent out of shape. I really don’t care what your job title is especially with the long waiting lists and the amount I have learned about how the VA operates. Take for instance the 22+ suicides of our veterans every day of the week. I started this blog post May 2011 so I ran the numbers at 24,090 suicides in the last 3 years, and to learn of the bonus pay for the people in charge at the Va. So I went to see my congresswoman Susan Davis, better late than never , I was able to state my case and left her office feeling hopeful. That was about a week ago. I know the congresswoman is just as busy and is dealing with hundreds, maybe thousands, of different problems so I knew this would not be a quick fix, so again I need to sit back and wait my turn. It’s National PTSD Awareness day 2014 and I was content to just stay in the house and try not to acknowledge this day. What’s the use all the work I have done and none of it seemed to make a difference? The government is just too big and full of talented speech writers and excuses on why we still have long waiting lists for our veterans. Half way through the day I was really disturbed. I was not seeing or hearing anything on the news or on Facebook about PTSD awareness day. Than I got mad because I was giving up on the day, the topic, and the fight. So I decided to go fly a sign in front of the VA here in San Diego during Friday night rush hour. I stood up, went to the depths of my closet and found my old BDU’s (camouflage uniform)and my American flag. When I put it on it felt like I was putting on a protective shield. To me the uniform stood for great power and a sense of pride. When I put it on I smiled, first because after 20 years it still fit but I also felt I was ready for battle, not to go and hurt anyone, that’s not in my nature, but the overwhelming feeling of confidence that I could do this. I stopped by my local Staples print department in Rancho San Diego whom I have used for the last 3 years when I needed something printed for my cause UnderstandingPTSD. I informed them on what I was doing and 5 minutes later I had a coupon. My sign was free. Thank you Staples. Sign in hand I head to the VA hospital. The first 10 minutes standing in the sun on the corner I remembered how hot the uniform was. I forgot to bring water with me. I was not really suffering from thirst but it is what I chose to focus on, after all, I was alone on a busy corner in San Diego with my service dog Scrubs during rush hour. I remembered the many many many funerals I participated in and how uncomfortable I was in the heat and the cold, thirsty or trying not to shiver, but when you are in the military you learn to suck it up. I just had to take off the uniform shirt. It was taking me down memory lane to a place I did not need to go. Many people honked at us, I am guessing as a sign of support. About an hour, maybe a bit longer, 3 very well dressed VA employees came down to talk to me. A woman and 2 men. My first thought was, “look who drew the short straw and had to go talk to the crazy guy on the corner waving a flag and a sign” This was the damage control crew. They were polite and very courteous to me and told me if I came up right now I would receive treatment and the help I was asking for immediately. I agreed and the three damage control met me at the front doors with a forth person who stuck with me for the rest of my visit. I was taken to the 2nd floor and had a nurse who was a Navy veteran assure me he was now in my life and he isn’t going anywhere. If I have a problem he will do everything in his power to help me. After telling my story and complaints to yet another person I was then escorted to a doctor’s office. For the next hour or so we talked and was promised I will be seen in a week or so and treatment will start in less than 2 weeks. I was told ” We are not back logged and have no waiting list”. So I was not actually able to receive treatment that day but yet again put on a waiting list. I received some insight on some of the notes in my medical records and informed them some of what I was hearing was a down right lie and that’s not what took place. So two weeks from today if I still have not started treatment of some sort I will be on that street corner every day, all day long.

This process of receiving treatment started 3 years ago with my now ex-wife and my mother, then the minister of my church Rev. Bill Peterson, awesome man, I might add. He got me to the VA. Then I found out I should go to the San Diego county VA advocate office. They did the voodoo that they do filling out loads of paperwork on my behalf. A year later I was denied benefits for my PTSD. They say the army as lost my service records. 3 years fighting this battle is not a long time from what I have been told by other veterans, some being victorious with their VA claims. Others have just given up and to this day have not received treatment, some ending up taking their own lives, some ending up on the street flying a sign “disabled homeless vet anything helps God bless” . The person who talked with me the most was a UCC Chaplain named Nancy Dietsch. She is a Chaplain at the VA hospital in San Diego. In my opinion the chaplain office is the best kept secret the VA has to date. What a valuable resource. I was never once told about the chaplains and the resources they are able to provide. I got that info while I was in Florida at a convention. I was never told about the caregiver program for a family dealing with a loved one battling the side effects of shell shock aka the thousand yard stair aka combate fatigue, aka PTSD post tramitac stress disorder . I bicycled across the country speaking to thousands, and went to speak at two conventions on both sides of the country. We were on NPR ,Fox News, and countless news-papers and public speaking engagements, none of which seemed to get me any closer to some real help. What helped was the news of the treatment our veterans were receiving in Phoenix, AZ. But it all came down to this old hippie and his dog standing on a Friday afternoon on a very busy street corner with a free sign that said SD VA denies treatment to vets PTSD. Stay tuned. Let’s see what happens over the next few weeks.

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San Diego VA Health Care System

Scrubs my PTSD CounselorWith the recent monstrosities of what I’m hearing on the news the last few months about the treatment our veterans are getting at the VA Hospital; the news did not surprise me, it actually made me happy. Let me explain. 22 of our veterans, our fellow brothers and sisters take their lives every single day. An idea I thought about or considered on a regular basis for a long time. So what did I do about it? The total destruction of my marriage, separation from my family and friends, the lack of treatment and the lack of resources at the San Diego VA hospital totally pissed me off; sorry this is as mildly as I can put it. Seeing as how I was already dealing with my PTSD symptoms, I was raring for a fight, but this time I was going to pick the right battle for the right reasons. We need change. I realize I can’t change my past but at least I thought I could change the future for somebody else, maybe just save that one relationship or talk to that one person. My PTSD service dog and I bicycled from San Diego to Vermont to the National Center for PTSD to raise awareness about the very real injury with no visible scars. We made it in many newspapers and some local news channel. I hear Scrubs and I were even on the today show. NPR was my favorite in Tulsa. Some say I have a face for radio. We did many public speaking presentations as we traveled by bicycle. I’m sorry I did not keep accurate account but I would say if I had to guess about 7000 people we spoke to in person. I was privileged to do a presentation about Scrubs, my PTSD service dog, and a brief talk at the PTSD awareness event given by Dr. Friedman, the director of the National Center for PTSD and the wonderful dedicated staff at the center for PTSD, On PTSD awareness day and 2011. None of these shenanigans really seemed to make a difference. Sure it was an interesting article in a newspaper or sound bite on a TV show but nothing was changing. The suicide rate had actually gone up by two people a day. To the veterans trying to get help or unable to get help with the VA healthcare system the many suicides, the long waiting lists for treatment, the sea of red tape, the downright lack of treatment is old news to a lot of us veterans, But somehow the right person said the right thing at the right time in the right place to somebody and all of a sudden Arizona is on the national news. This makes me happy. Talking to other people in public and friends in private about a disorder we’re diagnosed with is the hardest thing in the world to do. Many times destroying marriages, tearing apart families, pushing away lifelong friends if I keep it a secret maybe nobody will know (yea right). Then explaining the symptoms to the doctors and students over and over and over at the San Diego VA hospital just to be put on the waiting list or to be given yet another reason why I can’t get treatment this time. Hearing myself say these words out loud sounds crazy and foreign to me because I haven’t always been this way. So to whomever you are that made that complaint, talked about their treatment, talked about their PTSD. The story was interesting enough to the right person and the veteran was brave enough to tell someone their story thank you. That makes me happy.

Army Vet, Thomas Skinner

PTSD Awareness Adventure 2012

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Avoiding Compassion Burnout

 How PTSD Affects the Family

Awareness Adventure 2013

San Diego

I follow Love Our Vets on Facebook one of many, dealing with PTSD. I read an article today on their Page and just had to contact them. Less than an hour and Welby O’Brien gave me permission to use her article on my website.

Those of us who love someone with PTSD are especially susceptible to burn-out. Compassion fatigue. Although the month of November is dedicated to Caregiver Support, every day of the year we need to support the supporters! What can we who give and love day in and day out do to keep from dying on the vine in our noble efforts to care for the needs of someone we love?

We all have unique warning signals, sent to us graciously by our own bodies, to let us know we need to make some changes. For me it is insomnia, headache, grinding teeth, and forgetting to breathe. (That one is pretty important!) :)   When we get better at tuning in to our body’s loving messages, then we are better able to do what we NEED to do in order to be at our best. If we burn out, then we are no good to anyone!

Recently I was received a desperate call from a wife of a veteran with PTSD. She was at her breaking point. Total collapse! Burn out in every sense of the word. It took over an hour to calm her down and get her to just breathe. Then we focused on what she could do for HERSELF, one sense at a time. Warm tea, a bubble bath, bowl of soup, her favorite CD, a massage, prayer, connection with her counselor, and a walk. She had gone way too long without caring for herself and it almost did her in. She is now much more aware of her limitations and when to take time out for her. A good reminder for all of us.

The reason I asked Welby O’Brien if i could repost this blog was it struck a nerve when I read it. I first started going to the Va Hospital in San Diego mid 2010. I was married with children. I went to the VA every Friday to see my doctor. Not one time was the Caregiver program mentioned to me or my family. I am now divorced.  Would the program have helped to save my marriage? We will never know.

VA Caregiver Link

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Bicycle Travel with Tom and Scrubs

Tom Skinner and his PTSD Service dog Scrubs are at it again. Starting in November 2013 we will set out on our bicycle from California heading to Texas and then we will travel all the way up to Alaska. Tom and Scrubs will be giving presentations along the way to raise awareness about PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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Hobie Kayak gearing up for the Mississippi River

This Hobie will be our home for most of the summer, 2552 miles down the mississippi River. Testing and training in San Diego. Follow us on Face book to get regular updates on Tom, Scrubs and the rest of our team this summer.

 

 

 

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PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013 New Kayak

DCIM100GOPROI am spending as much time as I can on the water these days. I really need to know how to use this boat and I have to make sure Scrubs is not just comfortable but safe. She seems to enjoy it and she actually sleeps a lot when we are out on the water. I guess after riding 4000 miles on the back of my bicycle, lying on a trampoline and gliding above the water would seem like a vacation for her.

As I start to talk to people about this year’s PTSD Awareness Adventure, the comments and responses I’ve been getting lately all focus on the water. People talk about the currents, the river barge traffic, tugboat traffic, and speedboats. They talk about the locks and dams and portaging.

Army Vet, Thomas Skinner

PTSD Awareness Adventure 2012

To me, this all seems a lot less dangerous than 4000 miles on the interstate and on the side of Route 66 which I encountered on last year’s Amazingly awesome bike trip across the country. I will be careful. I’m interested in the current, the turbulence in the wakes, in the shoreline and how it changes as we go down south. I can’t wait to feel the Mississippi and how she holds us and pushes us down river. I would like to take a picture of every mile of the shoreline so I when I am done I would have 2552 pictures.

The ocean is pretty tough in this little craft. I get beat up or at least that was what I was feeling the first time out in the ocean past the breaker walls. I did not know if I could trust my equipment. The bow of my kayak would be swamped and then the waves continued until I stopped them with my body. The kayak took it in stride as yet another wave soaked us from head to toe. The cold water would take my breath away. I love that part. The tough part was me not knowing how the kayak would handle it; how I would handle it; how Scrubs would handle it. Now we sail around the bay during the week and like to hit the ocean on Mondays. I am thinking that ocean kayaking to Mississippi River kayaking styles should be a fairly safe transition.

Understanding PTSD

PTSD Service dog Scrubs has a nice spot to ride.

It may seem like we’re just playing in the bay every day on a brand-new Hobie Mirage having a good old time, but in actuality we are in training. Okay, so we are playing and having fun in the water, but for the bigger picture – my mission! I like pushing this thing really hard. I want to see what may break and what’s going to hold up before we ever leave San Diego. I am very impressed with my new Hobie. Tomorrow I will be building some custom platforms for scrubs so she has her dog bed with shade up and off the water.
PTSD service dog scrubs has a new spot on the boat

PTSD service dog scrubs has a new spot on the boat

I have a presentation coming up on May 19th at Holiday United Church of Christ in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The presentation I give is called “What Comes After Welcome Home”.  I tell my personal story, describe signs and symptoms of PTSD, and give a demonstration of Scrubs’ abilities and how she helps me with my PTSD.  This is the presentation that I will do with the new team as we kayak 2,552 miles down the Mississippi River this summer for PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013.  The schedule should be up in the next few days detailing our venture down the river!
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Stigma of PTSD

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  What if you were afraid yet had to rely on your own personal courage?  We all have courage and the day my courage was tested is a day I will not soon forget.  Courage is not endless yet there is no chart on which to measure, but all courage has its limits. I am sure if you take a moment you can remember a time when your own courage was tested and the feeling of reaching the limit and telling yourself that it was a close call. I have found myself, more times than I can count in the past years, relying on my courage. Most of the time It was an expected feeling and I actually put myself it that situation. For instance, the summer of 2008 while in Dyea, Alaska coming face to face with an Alaskan brown bear (grizzly bear) the urge to run fast and far from this magnificent creature was stifled by my desire to take his picture and to enjoy that very moment.  The feeling of adrenalin pumping through my body with all its might is something I will never forget. It’s the unexpected courage that is the hardest to deal with, all the while feeling I have reached my limit of courage yet somehow pushing myself to extend the limit just a little bit further.

Where am I going with this?  I don’t know, but if you keep reading, I will keep writing and try to explain a time in my not so distant past when I reached my absolute limit.  It was my courage to live. I had convinced myself, and was content with my plan, to end my life. That’s when someone close to me had to get up the courage to call the police, my doctor, and the VA hospital to get me the help I needed so desperately.  I hated this person for that.  I realize that hate is a strong word, but it is not strong enough to describe my feelings. “I had a plan, and you screwed everything up. I hate you!” I think were my exact words. I held on to that for a very long time. This week I found myself needing to do the right thing and not taking the feel-good easy way out of a bad situation.  I had to call and get help for someone who was not able to help himself. The battle in my head and the battle with my heart were powerful. I realized I was being selfish and thinking about how he was affecting me and I did not want him to hate me the way I so easily once hated. I pulled up the courage and made the call for help. This only took seconds to make up my mind, but it felt like an eternity.

After this emergency was out of my hands and in the control of a doctor, I sat and cried, once again feeling the adrenalin of courage I am so very familiar with. I just went numb, but started to feel I did the right thing.  Then I realized I did not just help this person but I also recognized the hate I once felt toward the person who had helped me. This was a gift I was not able to recognize in my time of need.  Today, however, I did recognize it as a true gift, so I called the person from my past and said I was sorry for putting her in a position that made her have to call the police.   Just like that, the hate I have felt all these years toward this person was gone.

The courage to fight the stigma of PTSD is something I battle every day. The comfortable feel-good place of hiding in my house is just not an option I am willing to settle for. So if you need to seek help but are worried about being labeled with PTSD remember it is not a weakness to ask for help.  It takes courage to tell a friend or make a phone call but you are not alone and “If we all do it, we can break down the stigma and help others who are not quite so strong yet, to have hope.”

Copyright Thomas P Skinner

Brown Bear in Dyea Alaska, By Thomas Skinner

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PTSD Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD

I drove to church this morning.  I did not get much sleep last night; my head was filled with thoughts of self-doubt about PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013. I don’t think I can do this again, leave the safety of my room for that long again.  I just can’t do it.  It is just too scary.  When I arrived at church someone hit the panic button (me), made a U turn and home I went.  For the last 6 hours the trip was just not going to happen. I just can’t do it.

Just the stigma of being diagnosed with PTSD is too much for me to do anything about.  I am just one person.  I can’t fix this or change anything so why am I putting myself in this position of embarrassing myself by crying during a presentation?  Why should I leave the comfort of my house?  At times, going out in public feels horrible. Last night at 3:30 in the morning I convinced myself this is not for me.  I quit.

Then I received an email when I arrived home from church (Thank you Lord! Read you loud and clear.) from someone who followed me on the web last year as Scrubs and I left the comfort zone of my house to head east on a bicycle. I read this email with tears.  Feeling inspired, I read a poem I wrote on my trip last summer entitled “My Pilgrimage”.  I may not have made it into the sanctuary today, though I feel God was cool with me feeling like crap, but not ok with me quitting. I would like to share, with their permission, three letters from individuals I had the pleasure of receiving on last year’s trip.

 

First Email:   Thanks for this service as well as for your service to your country. This certainly seems to be on the forefront of something we are going to have to be dealing with for a long time and from now on. Thanks for being there and doing this. And helping me to be still for a while. Peace be with you as you travel out-of-doors. ~ From someone you do not know.

Second Email:   What a wonderful journey to bring awareness to PTSD. My kids’ dad was a Vietnam vet, who spent 27 years suffering before receiving his VA benefits, and then died 5 years later from the fallout of PTSD. He would have loved to see your journey, and I believe he can from heaven now. He left behind 93 handwritten pages of his memories of war that we cherish now. I so wish you could come all the way to Maine….our coastline is incredible, in both southern, and down east Maine. I am a 26 yr postal employee, who is grateful for this job that has supported my family all these years. God Bless you in your efforts to share with the world, the effects of war. You are bringing light to the darkness by sharing your gift.

I have to tell you about one line in particular that stands out from the 93 pages left behind by our PTSD vet, deceased in 2002, chronicling war and its fallout. As his plane landed with new soldiers in Vietnam, he spotted a large barn surrounded by blood. Being a small town farm boy from Maine, he was certain this must be the butcher shop where they prepare the animals to be fed to the troops. As the plane got closer, he realized this is where they brought the wounded soldiers. Those memories along with survivor’s guilt haunt a person for life. His nights brought out the memories, as he relived those stories to me. For a young bride of 20, those stories then became like ‘bedtime stories’ to me. I became educated on the horrors of war, and remember those stories vividly now 40 yrs later.

Third Email:   I have a husband that has PTSD not from combat but, he was a Forensic Service Officer in Australia. I was researching on the web for a simple definition of PTSD (not that there is anything simple about PTSD) and I found your web page. I just had to write to you and tell you what an inspiration I thought you are. We have lived with PTSD for eight years now and I will not lie and say it has been easy but I must say it is people like you that give us inspiration to keep going. Thank you for helping me with my research of a definition, and I wish you all the courage and strength in your journey.  Keep safe.

You are most welcome to use my letter to you, and I have to thank you for putting me in touch with some new friends, we have shared a lot of information (mostly them sharing with me) and they have been very encouraging.

I too have started an education program out here in Australia and the NSW Police Dept are piloting us shortly (we have named our group HeadsUp NSW Inc.) . My husband is an ex-police Officer and with him telling his story about his PTSD and myself telling the story from a family point of view, it makes an impact on the audience. Keep talking Tom, keep educating, as one of my psychs told me, just one voice can make a difference. If we all do it, we can break down the stigma and help others who are not quite so strong yet, to have hope.

 

Thomas Skinner Photo by Century Cycles

PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013 must continue!  Last year our actions encouraged a family on the other side of the world to start an awareness program. With 18 PTSD suicides in the United States every day one of our veterans takes their life every 80 minutes. This has to STOP with your help and support.  Just one voice can make a difference.  If we all do it, we can break down the stigma and help others who are not quite so strong yet.  If you are able to support us on PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013 please do so.  I will not let you down.  To all of my fellow veterans, I say THANK YOU for your service and remember it not a weakness to ask for help.  I have PTSD and I just rode my bicycle 4,012 miles with my service dog. That’s not weak.  Please keep up the encouraging words and support and don’t forget to thank a vet for their service.

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Mississippi River PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013

PTSD Awareness Adventure 2013

Tom Skinner and PTSD service dog Scrubs

 

 

My name is Thomas Skinner.  I am a US Army veteran currently raising awareness about a very real wound called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with my service dog “Scrubs”.  I am reaching out to veterans and their families in an extraordinary way. My goal is not only to help veterans understand PTSD, but also to help civilians understand the stigma attached to the diagnosis of PTSD.  No person is quite the same after serving in the military and many carry the invisible scars of duty for a lifetime.

 

Tom and Scrubs arrive at the National Center for PTSD in Vermont

 

Last year I rode my bicycle 4,012 miles from San Diego, California to the National Center for PTSD in Vermont. Along the way, I gave my formal presentation entitled “What Comes After Welcome Home” to churches, civic groups, businesses, museums, and colleges as well as being featured in newspaper articles, local television news, and a main feature on National Public Radio.  I am thankful for my sponsors PlanetBike, and Performance bike for the amazing support and supplies on last year’s Awareness Adventure.

 

This summer, for “Awareness Adventure 2013”, I will be canoeing 2,552 miles down the Mississippi River from the headwaters in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana  to again call attention to PTSD.  I will give my presentation along the way in numerous towns and cities as i travel down river raising awareness about PTSD and the stigma attached.  Media outlets, businesses and corporate sponsors will be an integral part of helping me spread the word and raise more awareness for understanding PTSD.

 

An adventure of this magnitude requires the support of many individuals and groups. My first major supporter, and now the program management, is the United Church of Christ of La Mesa, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in La Mesa, CA.  All funding, support and donations are managed through them and are tax deductible.

 

As a business person or concerned individual, you may be in the position to show your support for this project by adding your donation of money, equipment or supplies.  Corporate sponsors are also necessary for the larger items that will be required to complete my mission down the Mississippi.  My committee can work with you in many ways to spread the word about your involvement. I really need your support for this incredible mission.  Anything you can do to help is greatly appreciated by all of us; Thomas Skinner, the United Church of Christ of La Mesa and by the thousands of Veterans and related Civilians that will be touched by our mission.

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San Diego PTSD Service dog Presentation.

Service Dog

PTSD Service Dog “Scrubs”

 

On Wednesday I will be speaking at an event in San Diego. I will be giving demonstrations of what scrubs dose to help with PTSD.  Hope to see you.

 

2013 Behavioral Health Panel: Psychological Trauma and Its AftermathPsychological Trauma and Its Aftermath

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An estimated 70% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives.* Whether abuse, an unexpected death, surgery, an accident, combat, or a mass disaster, the effects of trauma can last well after the event itself. Our reactions to trauma are varied and complex. Learn more about what makes an experience traumatic and therapeutic options for individuals experiencing trauma-related symptoms. *From PTSDAlliance.org

Featuring:

  • Sonya B. Norman, Ph.D.
    Director of PTSD Consultation Program for the National Center for PTSD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of California, San Diego
  • Steven Thorp, Ph.D., ABPP
    Program Director of the PTSD Disorders Clinical Team at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego

Free Event

Congregation Beth Israel • 9001 Towne Centre Dr. • San Diego 92122

5:30-6:30pm • Resource Fair & Light Appetizers
6:45-8:30pm • Panel of Professionals

For more information, call (858) 637-3231

The Behavorial Health Committee of Jewish Family Service of San Diego provides resources and services for coping and living with mental illness and seeks to eliminate stigma by increasing community awareness. Linda Janon – Founder of the Behavorial Health Committee

Date: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Time: 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Address:
Congregation Beth Israel
9001 Towne Centre Dr.
San Diego, CA 92122

 

 

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With A Little Help From My Friend

Today was probably one of the hardest days in my recovery with PTSD. I have not been riding my bicycle.  I have not been leaving the house.  Maybe three or four times in the last month.  My avoidance has gotten out of hand these days. I find it easier to come up with a reason not to go outside a lot quicker than I used to.  My anxiety level goes way down when I’m at home.  But at the same time I feel like I’m putting myself in a cage.  Isolation seems to be my best friend, and the safest bet.

Today I received a wonderful thank you from my very dear friend about PTSD awareness on my Facebook page.  I did not reply, I guess I was feeling guilty because I haven’t done anything in the last few months to raise awareness about PTSD.  I hadn’t done anything to even take care of myself.

So I took what feels like the biggest step of my life – I asked a friend for help. That moment of silence after I asked felt like an eternity.  I felt embarrassed.  I felt ashamed.  It’s hard to tell someone you are basically stuck in your bedroom and you need their help to get out.  My friend said yes.  It’s going to feel good to get back on my bicycle again. Well mentally it’ll feel good, but physically it’s probably going to hurt.  It’s going to hurt bad.

Since the http://www.understandingptsd.org/ptsd-awareness-adventure-2012/national-center-for-ptsd-finish-line/I really haven’t posted much on my blog.  I didn’t know what to say since I was not riding anymore.  Visitors from my blog started writing to me telling me about their situations and what they’re going through; their personal dealings with posttraumatic stress disorder.  I had not prepared myself for that part of writing about PTSD.  I was not prepared for the response.  So I just quit writing.

I’ve done a couple presentations in California.  I even went to a festival and made some new friends.  All thanks to a new friend of mine that taught me to think about things in a different way.  That worked for a while.

I have so many new friends on Facebook. They “like” my pictures.  I “like” theirs.  For those of you familiar with Facebook I was given big thumbs up everywhere, the thumbs were flying.  Unfortunately I had convinced myself that I was making new friends and being social.  I would text my friends on Facebook, people that I only met once.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re good friends I just can’t get out of the house.  I now realize that on my pictures I was pretty much alone. And my friends were in big groups and at parties out in public.  Coming to that realization I sunk even deeper.

I absolutely hated the fact that I had to ask for help.  I did not like the way it made me feel about myself.  I did not like having to admit how mentally weak I was.  I’ve been a soldier – I can handle it.  I just rode my bicycle 4000 miles! So I became pretty angry with myself and very, very disappointed.

Christmas Eve was probably my hardest day of 2012.  That’s when I decided that I needed to ask for help.  I didn’t get any help or relief that night and I forced myself to try to have a good time.  On Christmas day I knew exactly who it was going to be.  It took me about 8 days to build up the courage to ask for help. If you are dealing with PTSD, remember it’s not a weakness to ask for help.

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Understanding PTSD Fills a Void

Thomas Skinner in Pennsylvania

Commentary: La Mesa UCC’s Welcome Home Ministries fills a void

Written by Rev. Stephen Boyd
September 17, 2012

Rev. Stephen Boyd with Tom Skinner and his service dog, Scrubs
On Sept. 9, the United Church of Christ of La Mesa (Calif.) welcomed home one of its own – Thomas Skinner and his service dog, Scrubs. Tom had recently returned from a cross-country bicycle ride to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As a young man, he enlisted in the Army in 1985 and served his country well. However, through the subsequent years following his discharge, he realized that he had changed and began to experience symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as PSTD. In an effort to raise awareness of this rapidly increasing social phenomenon, Tom and Scrubs set out from La Mesa on March 10 for a cross-country bicycle ride that would take them to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in White River Junction Vt.

The UCC of La Mesa has been Tom’s family church for most of his life. Watching him grow as a child and witnessing the eventual changes of PTSD, the congregation created the Welcome Home Ministries to raise PTSD awareness and to support Tom in his more than 4,000-mile trek to the National Center for PTSD. Created in 1989 within the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Center offers research and education on the prevention, understanding and treatment of PTSD. Currently, there are seven divisions nationwide that support men and women who are working through the challenges of this medical condition.

Tom arrived at the National PTSD Center on June 27, PTSD Awareness Day, successfully completing his goal and sharing his presentation, “What Comes After Welcome Home,” with many folks along the way. The power and significance of Tom’s presentation were that he shared his personal story. Through his own experiences, Tom was able to help other veterans, church members and people, understand and recognize the signs, symptoms and effects of PSTD. In addition, as he shared in his presentation at the Welcome Home celebration, it was an educational experience for him as well. He learned of the many men and women across this nation who live with PSTD, and received a deeper appreciation for the variety of human experiences which can result from this devastating and debilitating condition.

Tom’s Welcome Home was a great celebration. The congregation was obviously supportive and filled with pride, knowing that they had been an integral part of his success. Tom gave his presentation with a great sense of accomplishment and treated those present with a demonstration, showing how Scrubs takes great care with him by managing his environment and surroundings.

While his objective to bring the message of life during PTSD was clear, he continues to be a man with a mission. At the heart of his message is a growing sensitivity to not only our returning veterans, but everyone who has lived through a life-altering experience. However, specifically with the increase in the suicide rates among our men and women in uniform, the stress of deployments and family separation, moral injury and the challenges of service members living in harm’s way, PSTD is a real and integral part of our society.

In addition to celebrating Tom, it was wonderful to celebrate a congregation who is taking the return of our veterans and their reintegration into our communities seriously. The UCC of La Mesa’s Welcome Home Ministries has taken the first step in making a commitment to the San Diego area to be a place where veterans can feel safe and begin the challenging journey of re-entry into family, faith and community life.

On a personal note, I met Tom and Scrubs a year ago at the General Synod in Tampa. Scrubs was busy serving Tom, and Tom was out there extending himself, telling his story and seeking out others who needed his brand of hope. Through our visit this past week, I can say that Tom has been clearly changed by his trip. A year of presenting his personal story, ambitiously riding his bicycle across the United States, and reaching out to many has made quite a difference in Tom’s life. He will tell you that you are not cured of PTSD – you learn to live with it and control it. It is apparent that he is doing just that. Congratulations to Tom, Scrubs and the UCC of La Mesa for a job well done.

copied from this link, thank you Reverend Boyd

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Understanding PTSD Awareness Adventure in Pictures

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National Center for PTSD Finish Line

Tom Skinner and PTSD Service dog Scrubs arrive at the National Center for PTSD Finish Line

Tom Skinner and his service dog Scrubs bicycled 4012 miles from San Diego to The national Center for PTSD in Vermont to raise awareness about PTSD

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