PTSD is an injury, not an illness

I had a working vacation this week.  I took 4 days off, didn’t see clients, left the state, crashed at someone’s place that is in a heavily traveled city (for free, score!) and forced myself to work.  Boy, do I know how to party 😉

That being said, I’m proud of what I accomplished over those four days even if it was not everything I wanted to get done.  I am the kind of person that always starts with a giant “to do” list, knowing it might not be possible to get it all done.  I know there are others out there that either don’t use a to do list (any accomplishments are a bonus) or have a very realistic to do list.

I did accomplish taking 13 hours of CEUs in trauma, and passing their exams, allowing me to sit for the Certified Clinical Trauma Provider exam which I passed on the first try.  Its not just the initials that I get to add to my alphabet soup, its the knowledge I got from these courses.  I take a lot of Continuing Education hours.  I’m required to do 40 every two years, but that’s not the only reason I take them.  Some I chose because of their reduced price, their convenience or because friends and colleagues are taking them.  This particular set I chose to take because I wanted to sit for the CCTP and I wanted even more information about trauma.  Because PTSD is in the forefront with today’s news stories, in the military and frequently trending on social media, it gets a lot of attention.  It also gets a lot of funding and research.

These two days of classes gave me a whole new way of approaching trauma with my trauma survivor clients and for that I’m grateful but it also gave me a new perspective on PTSD itself.  Dr. Genty, the professor, told us not to view PTSD as an illness, but as a brain injury.   The reasoning being, once the trauma has effected you, it does damage your brain- it changes how you perceive reality, threats and future traumas.

I can totally get behind that statement.  I have often used the linear explanation to try to get trauma survivors to understand why they have flashbacks and other symptoms that come out of nowhere.  The linear explanation is that our brains like to learn in linear patterns. So if you learn to tie your shoe, as your brain is learning this task, it fires synapses in a particular pattern.  Whenever you tie your shoe in the future (even when you don’t have to think twice about it) those synapses will fire.  Trauma can’t be contained in a straight line, as it doesn’t “make sense” to our brains.   Therefore, it embeds itself all over our brain, and it can be activated by different things.

This is why I like the brain injury model.  It makes a lot of sense.   It also gives a new perspective to treatment, making an even further distinction between PTSD and Moral Injury, but that is a post in and of itself.


My Call to Arms

I hope I have made it abundantly clear that I’ve never served and that I have admiration for those that do. The more I work with Service Members and Veterans though, the more I can relate to certain experiences or emotions that they express.  I have heard from many SMs and Vets that 9/11 was a pivotal moment in their military careers- it made some join, it made some re-enlist, and it made others (that thought  they were finished with their military career) join again.

I feel that there is a certain pivotal moment going on for therapists. Unfortunately, it is taking more lives than those that were lost in 9/11. With 22 Veterans a day committing suicide and the inability of the VA to handle Veterans’ needs effectively, it makes me wonder if I am in the right place, career-wise.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE what I do.  I love having a private practice, I love being my own boss, I love the clients I have and working with them.  I love my contract job, where I get to work directly with Service Members, Vets and their families “off the record”.  Yet I wonder, could I be doing more at the VA?

I would like to think I don’t have unrealistic expectations or an overly optimistic viewpoint of what I could accomplish by working there.  I have no superhero complex, trust me when I say that I am tired and a bit cynical in my current line of work and I’m pretty sure the VA would make that worse. I remember working for the Department of the Army.  I remember the red tape, the stupid bureaucracy, and how many of our policies seemed to hurt the Soldiers more than it helped them.  I know that those same limitations would be at the VA at the very least.

That being said, I wonder how many former Soldiers, Sailors and Marines (I know, I know, there is no such thing as a former Marine) thought the same thing when they thought about re-enlisting after they thought their military career had ended. They probably loved the freedoms the civilian world offered them.  Yet they made that choice, that sacrifice.

It’s enough to keep me up at night.  Right now, I deal with it knowing I’m doing the best I can with the clients I have and the opportunities that are afforded to me.  I also write.  I write to let people know about the horrors that these Service Members and Veterans face and how they aren’t getting the help they need.  For now, that will have to be enough.

A post about my mom

I know that the main focus of my book (and thus, this blog) is my dad, but my mom is pretty remarkable too.

She joined the Army in 1974 when it was still the Women’s Army Corps. (WAC)

Yes, they wore skirts during basic training. (I didn’t know this until  I started research for my book).  They were also tough, bad ass women.  I mean, today, women in the Army are pretty common, especially now that they are allowed in  combat positions.  In ’74, not so much.

She went enlisted as a information specialist (now known as PAO, or Public Affairs Office), mostly writing for the newspaper, stationed at Ft. Bragg for two years before deciding to go to Officer Candidate School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama (no longer in existence) then Officer Basic at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana (also, no longer in existence).  She was taught the skills to be an Adjutant General  Officer  (personnel administration and management).  She was then sent to Ft. Jackson, SC (still in existence, where little sis went to Basic Training) where in true Army style, she did NOT perform AG work, she was a training officer/executive officer for female basic training.

She transferred to Ft. Bragg after marrying Dad in 1977, and was assigned to 1st Corps Support Command (Coscom, now called “East Bragg” or Theater Sustainment Command).

She went into the Reserves in 1980, after having me, and continued to serve in the Army Reserves until 2004 (30 years), retiring as a LTC (Lieutenant Colonel).

Mom served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as a Mortuary Affairs Officer (if you’re wondering where I get my morbid sense of humor from, there’s your answer!)

I just wanted to take Mother’s Day to tell everyone that I’m just as proud of my mom as  I am of my dad.  While she might not be a Combat Vet, she overcame all sorts of challenges in the early years of her career, and went on to be pretty amazing.  “Your Mother wears combat boots” has never been an insult to me.  I’d always reply “yeah, and she can kick your wussy mom’s a$$!”

(This pic is of Mom, as a 1LT in 1978 or 1979)


An Uphill Battle

As”Walk Season”* ends for me on Saturday, I find myself with something I haven’t experienced in a few months- free time!

Despite the waiting list at my office, the planets must have aligned, because I actually have six hours without patients today.  (Spring Break has a lot to do with this).

I found myself itching to write, and that’s what I’ll be doing today.  First from the library (where this post is being composed), then a local frozen yogurt shop that is hosting a charity event for our Walk today.  Then I’ll go to work for a few hours, then back to the yogurt shop.

My writing partner in crime is still out of town (miss you!), but I’m not without things to work on.  I want to do a blog post for my OTHER blog ** about bingeing,  then I want to work on my novel.

Even though I haven’t cracked open the laptop to write until today, my novel is always on my mind.  I work out scenes and dialogues in my head as I drive, do mundane tasks, and try to sleep.

I have a question for my fellow fiction writers ***  – Do you always know the details before you write the story?  I have a beginning and an end, meaning, I know what’s going to happen to my main character.  I’m still trying to work out the middle, the details, and what happens with other characters.   Feel free to leave me feedback, tips, advice, plot summaries, money, etc. in the comments 🙂



* Fayetteville’s Walk to Defeat ALS is THIS Saturday, 2 April 2016. I’m super passionate about this cause and I am the Walk Committee chair.  This means I’ve been crazy busy the past 6 weeks.

** I forget I have another blog.  That’s a bad thing.  I started it out for my practice, as a marketing tool.  I didn’t do a great job, but my practice is booming so, I guess it all worked out. I would put the link here if I even knew the link.  See how bad this is?

*** See what I did there? “Fellow Writers” — I considered myself a writer 🙂


Always have a signing pen…

(Fun fact: I originally typed “Always carry a signin’ pen…” for the title.  Does my Southern show?)

As this author status continues I’m learning little helpful hints.

The first is, seriously, have (carry, keep in your possession) a decent pen for signing.  My patients and others continue to surprise me, producing copies of my book when I least expect it.  I fumble in my purse for a “good” pen and produce gum, lint, a piece of candy that I forgot I had put in there and a few crappy, freebie hotel pens.  No more! I have my preferred pens (not too smudgy, not too light) zippered into my purse pocket for just such occasions.  And a shout out to the patient that surprised me with TWO copies of the book she purchased off Amazon. Thank you. At least we were in my office, with pens a plenty!  Dad’s support group member that also surprised me by buying two books from Dad (I didn’t even know Dad had books of mine to sell) and presented them to me at lunch the other day for signing. And thanks for letting me fumble for a few minutes for the right pen.

Have an elevator speech prepared about your book.  What’s an elevator speech? It’s a term that a now rich person came up with for “really short, succinct, synopsis of your book/product/practice that tells the person asking a lot about it in three sentences or less.” See, the term “elevator speech” is like an elevator speech of it’s own definition.  I had a marketing guru help me come up with an elevator speech  for my practice a few years ago.  I think I need help with one for FPWP.  I was recently at an event where several other authors all hit me with “tell me about your book?” and I did the “um, well, it’s in 2 parts…”

Thanks for sticking by me followers.  I look forward to doing my second presentation on PTSD of 2016.  The first was on the 4th of March at a non profit organization in Fayetteville and was open to the public.  It went really well. My next presentation is on Thursday (I need to find something professional that’s green to wear) to a group of nursing students.  I have been practicing my brain biology so I can pronounce “amygdala” without sounding like an idiot 😉

Random ramblings, musings and maybe a coherent thought

I am aghast that I have been “absent” from social media for several weeks.  As a self diagnosed “Facebook junkie” (I only chip with Twitter) for me NOT to be updating my blog, my author page, and other assorted accounts means there’s something big going on.

Or that I’m sick.   That was part of it.  An Upper Respiratory Infection that got so bad I went to the doc to make sure it wasn’t strep or the flu knocked me out for almost two weeks.  I reduced my work hours, sidelined my work projects and even cancelled three patients one day (I was just too sick to keep working).  That being said, I think I came to the conclusion that I’m really a writer.  I missed it.  There were days I would come home, look at the time and think “I could really knock out a blog post or a 1,000 words on the novel” but sleep always prevailed.

I suppose I could have fought the sleep, but I think I needed it.  Since, FPWP  has been out for a few months, I’m getting used to my “new normal”.  1) Both at my office and my non-profit work I have waiting lists of clients that want to get in.  That is a new one to me.  2) I’m being invited to give a lot of talks/lectures on PTSD to a wide variety of audiences.  Some of these audiences have many more letters after their names than I do, and I feel a bit intimidated. (I do the talks anyway, got to break out of the old comfort zone). 3) Feb-April is my “busy season” when it comes to personal life and side projects.  Mom, Dad and Sis all have birthdays (2nd Christmas).  I LOVE to gift give (it’s my love language) so lots of time and energy has to be dedicated to that– even when I am two days late with a gift 😦  Sorry, tiny LT.  It will hopefully be worth it.

Also, March-April is Walk to Defeat ALS season.  7 Walks across NC and I am the chair of the committee for my hometown walk.  Lots of emails, appeals and plain old begging to get this enormous task pulled off.  Every year I tell my husband “don’t let me be on that committee again next year” as I try to pull myself out of bed after sleepless nights, and every year I volunteer.  I love it.   In a somewhat masochistic way.

That being said, when something (or things) have to get shelved and pushed to the side, my writing was one of the first to have to go.  I need to plan better, and as soon as the busy season is over, I plan to get back on my 5-9 hours of scheduled writing time per week.

I’m learning that novel writing is a completely different beast than the memoir/non fiction side.  So many opportunities to change the story line.  Then I read the current, best selling fiction and it all seems to have an awesome, epic twist in it, that I did NOT see coming.  I had lunch with a few friends a few weeks ago (one a writer) and we agreed that “I do NOT need a twist” is going to have to be my mantra for this experience.

So that’s that, followers.  No twists, unless its a twist of lemon or lime in my water (or maybe something stronger).





The Revenant (the novel and the movie) and PTSD

First things first, I won’t spoil either the novel version or the movie version of The Revenant.  Second, The Revenant is not exactly my type of book or movie, but this was for one of my book clubs.  We read the book, then saw the movie, then had dinner to discuss the differences.  We had done this with Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) and my other book club had done this with The Giver  (Lowis Lowry- YA).

I HAVE to say that they are almost two different stories though, so if you saw the movie, give the book a chance, and if you read the book, be prepared to be amazed at how much they can Hollywoodize a survival story of revenge.

The novel is a fictionalized account of what Michael Punke (the author) believes happened to real life fur trapper, Hugh Glass in the 1820’s.  He is attacked by a bear (hey, that was in ALL of the trailers, I didn’t spoil that) while he and his fellow trappers are navigating some part of the US that apparently has snow year round.

In the novel, Hugh  struggles with survival before and after the bear attack, and refuses to die, simply on sheer will to right a wrong (yes that’s cryptic, but no spoilers, remember?).

In the movie, Hugh struggles with survival before and after the bear attack and is driven to seek his revenge (while refusing to die) because of two GREAT misdoings against him (no spoilers, remember?).  I will say this.  The first grave misdoing will make you question humanity. Who on earth could do that to a living person? It was definitely traumatic.  I have had patients that have experienced similar traumas in life and they are changed for life after experiencing it.

So while in a feverish state this week, I actually took some time off.  In my nyquil induced sleepyness the other night I had this thought:

So many of my Soldiers that have experienced combat have survivor’s guilt.  Why didn’t Hugh? (in the movie)

Could sheer anger and revenge be that powerful of a force to ward off the symptoms of PTSD? In the movie especially, Hugh deals with a few nighmares, a few flashbacks; but there are many, many times he could have just given up and died, but he kept fighting.  To right a wrong.  To make sure that an evil person did not get praise.

Now, I am not suggesting that Service Members go all vigilante on the enemy and that  will “cure” their PTSD.  That’s not my point.  I was just intrigued by this.  Could those of us suffering from PTSD fight against our trauma?  In a political reformation kind of way.  Lobby for better healthcare and mental healthcare for Veterans? Demand stricter prison sentences for rapists?

It’s a thought.  It certainly puts the anger and rage often associated with PTSD to good use.

I am interested in your thoughts both about The Revenant and using the rage in PTSD, please feel free to comment.  Post Spoiler warnings though 🙂




Southern Cupcakes, Coffee and Signings

How do you explain what a hummingbird cupcake (answer at end of this post) is when you’ve grown up in the south eating them?  This person (and awesome fellow writer) is from South Africa and might have thought I was serving tiny birds as a snack!

Today was my book release/signing event in my hometown.  It was fabulous.  I am exhausted, but worry that if I don’t blog about it now, I might forget something. (I still might).  I should have had a guest log so that I could be reminded of who came- it wasn’t that I wasn’t paying attention.  It was the fact that for two hours people came, went, ate cupcakes, drank coffee and wanted me to sign their books! I truly had flashbacks to my wedding–I wanted to talk to everyone, eat, write a personal message in every book and learn a little bit about each person that came- whether it was my oldest friend from Kindergarten (thank you, Anne) or somebody I was just meeting today.

The prep for this started a while ago.  I knew I wanted to host a book release party, because who knows what the future holds? I WANT to publish another book, but I can only write and cross my fingers.  I also knew the venue I wanted, because I pass it every day on my way to work and thought “ooh, I want to have an event there, someday!” Since I’m already married and a few years past Sweet Sixteen, I knew this would have to be the event. (Shout out to Erica for saying we should have a Fabulous Forty party there- with cupcakes and cocktails!)

Cupcakes were ordered- Carrot, Hummingbird and Chocolate.  Coffee was ordered. Facebook Event was posted, people were invited.  I was so busy this week, that I really didn’t have time to worry about this event until last night.  My sweet, patient husband helped me pack the car and today after a breakfast of Cracker Barrel Hashbrown Casserole with the little Sis and the Hubs, we were at the event.

Set up went quickly- thanks to everyone that helped!!! Cupcakes were devoured- Lacy Cakes in Fayetteville is AWESOME. A story about Lacy. She apparently doesn’t have a website, but I can give you her contact info. I can also rave about the cakes, and give you intricate details of the flavors, textures and deliciousness, overall.

Coffee was strong and good!  (Thank you, Stephanie for helping drink it!)



So, Carl (thank you for all of the tweets!) a hummingbird cake does NOT in fact, contain any birds.

From Chef Jamie Oliver’s website:  The Hummingbird cake is a very unusual one. For a start, it’s made with oil rather than butter, and contains more fruit than flour. The mix doesn’t need beating, goes dynamite with a cream cheese icing and often involves spices and nuts. Contrary to the name, there are no birds in this particular recipe.  The giveaway to the Hummingbird cake’s birthplace, however, is in the key ingredients – bananas and pineapple. Hopefully you’re already thinking of the Caribbean, and it’s thought to have been invented in Jamaica, probably in the late ‘60s.

Originally, it was called the “Doctor bird cake”, a nickname for a Jamaican variety of hummingbird called the Red-billed Streamertail. The name came from the way the bird’s long beak probes flowers, like a doctor inspecting a patient. So what does that have to do with a pineapple and banana cake? Some say the cake was named after the bird because it was sweet enough to attract hummingbirds (who eat only nectar), while others say the yellow streaks of banana was reminiscent of the bird’s plumage.
So there you have it.  I will wax poetically about cake and my signing.  Thank you again to all that made this possible, and a big thank you to Mom, Dad and Sis, as well as my wonderful Husband.



The Vietnam Experience

This past weekend, I had the chance to visit Patriot’s Point in Charleston, SC (actually, Mt. Pleasant, SC).  I guess you would say the “main attraction” of Patriot’s Point is the USS Yorktown, a large aircraft carrier that survived several battles during WWII.  It has a fascinating history, and it can take all day to explore it.   Due to my claustrophobia, the rain and the bone chilling wind, I spent most of the day on the hangar deck, shielded from wind and rain, with wide open spaces and lots of aircraft to crawl into, take pictures of, and learn about.

The rest of my brave family- Mom, Dad, Husband and Little Sister (all military, all military buffs) explored the entire carrier- in and out of tiny holes, steep stair cases and dorms that slept 4-6 sailors per bunk!  In addition to the Yorktown, the USS Laffey is there, as well as a Submarine (the USS Clamagore).   I avoided the sub, as just looking at it made me nervous. The newest addition to Patriot’s Point, is “The Vietnam Experience”, which opened in 2014. (They are currently working on a second phase, that is scheduled to be open later this year.)

It’s 1968.  You’re a Marine.  You’ve just landed in Khe Sahn, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

I will admit, I was super nervous that Dad wanted to partake in this.  They had a warning sign that there are loud sound effects that simulate battle sounds/Vietnam.  I pointed that out to him, and he decided he would continue.  Before you enter the compound, you notice a sign, dedicating the exhibit to the Veterans from South Carolina that died during the war.  A replica dog tag for each Vet hangs under the sign.  Next, you’re greeted by a very enthusiastic Vietnam Vet (Army) who welcomed Dad with “Welcome to your compound, brother, and welcome home!” (Dad was wearing his Vietnam Vet hat).  They spoke for a few minutes and we began touring replicas of a D-FAC (Mess Hall to those Vets), a field surgeon’s office, a briefing room, a guard tower.

Spoiler alert, when you’re getting your briefing in the briefing room, you will encounter a simulated attack.  ***Spoiler*** The LT dies.  The LT always dies.

If you are near Patriot’s Point, this is a must see, especially if you’re trying to get a deeper understanding of the war.  I often feel that I do not have the same connection that my family and my husband do to military artifacts and places.  I hold them with a quiet reverence, but I don’t feel the same connection I imagine they have. I felt connected to this experience.  In the summer time, I bet it *FEELS* like  Vietnam. I will return.

When you don’t know what you’re doing, ask the pros.

Even though “When you don’t know what you’re doing, ask the pros” is the title of this blog, it is really a summation of the process of writing this book.

You’ve heard me say/read my statement that I don’t consider myself an author (slowly trying to change that thought) but I’ll explain how this book came about.

It all started with a statment made in counseling, by one of my Military dependents.  That led to the idea that I might need to write a brief article about living with a combat Veteran that suffers from PTSD- what to expect, some suggestions, some resources.  This snowballed when I started doing research and decided to incorportate my experience of living with a combat Vet with decided PTSD, long before PTSD was even a term.

Bring in the first pro: My friend, mentor, published author Sharon C. Williams.  She has several published children’s books, and always has projects going- from more children’s books, to YA fiction, to non fiction.  She seemed the perfect person to navigate me through this process (and she was!) Sharon’s official site

Then you need an editor.  Or in my case, five.  I used three technical editors- one for the “PTSD side” of the book- Pat Rachmat, retired LCSW and an awesome therapist, mentor and person; and two for the “Military side” of the book- my husband Armando, a 7 year USAF Vet, a Military Channel addict, a military nerd, and overall smart guy.  There was also my cousin Scott Wells, a retired Army Veteran that had seen combat, a current police office, and someone with the amazing ability to be able to translate military lingo.

I had a “pre editor”- Heather Sokoloski who lovingly offered to read my work before submitting it to the “real” editor, so I wouldn’t look like a fifth grader that ate glue. Heather is an amazing teacher and has the patient of 52 saints.  Seriously.

On to the copy editor- Kathleen Zahran, a friend’s “little sister”, that has made a great business out of editing things! She helped me present the best manuscript possible (and bio, and long bio, and website, etc) to my publisher.

My publisher Nancy Medina is ready to be a mother, given her ability to multitask, quiet/calm screaming, anxiety-ridden people (ie, authors) and still turn out a great product/project.  She looked past the shortcomings and saw potential, and for that I’m grateful. Nancy’s Publishing Site

One would think that now that the book is officially “live”, all this is over.  The marketing doesn’t end though.  As I prepared for my first signing/release party my friend, Alice Ascher, let it slip that she has helped with many of Louise Hay’s * book signings at Hay House conferences.  Well, HELLO!  Louise Hay!  Surely, I can listen to Alice’s advice!  She gave me the details of how I will want the event to flow, how to position the room and even the detail to use post its to ensure proper spelling of names for signatures.

That being said, all of you real authors out there, I’m looking for suggestions as to what to enscribe, as well as any preferred pens (type/brand) you favor for signings. Feel free to leave a comment.

Thank you to all of the amazing people that made (and continue to make) this book successful.

*Louise Hays is a well known author and founder of Hay House.  I use her daily affirmations and some of her other work daily in my therapy sessions. Official Louse Hay site