Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guest Post: Helping to Heal Invisible Wounds

By Taylor Dardan


Photo by Cat
During a tour of duty, an American soldier can face some of the most intense challenges known to human kind. There is a reason that American soldiers are cut from the best crop. These heroes garner the utmost respect from their peers upon a successful completion of service. But for some soldiers, the challenge does not end upon their homecoming. Instead, these warriors must contend with yet another opponent. They may appear to be in great physical condition; however, on the inside they are waging war with an array of invisible wounds. Conditions like mesothelioma, post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury can present an unexpected challenge for these soldiers and their families.


Post traumatic stress disorder is a psychological affliction that is acquired after surviving a life threatening situation, or encountering an extremely intense fear. The explanation as to why certain men and women experience this condition is not completely clear yet, however, it is generally accepted that the likelihood of this disorder is entirely random. The courage of even the bravest soldiers does not play into the equation. When an individual suffers from PTSD, they will continually experience frightening memories of their experience. Sufferers are haunted by flashbacks which often lead to an emotional numbness. If left untreated, the disorder can spiral downward into an extremely destructive state of depression. Many times, victims of PTSD turn to self medication to escape the overwhelming feelings of self loathing. The most effective treatment for PTSD is emotional therapy and rehabilitation. By communicating their feelings with loved ones, veterans can overcome their intense fears. There will be always be good days and bad days though, so it is important to recognize that the process will take copious amounts of time, love, and patience.
Another lurking condition that battle worn veterans commonly face is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lungs, that has been known to strike veteran soldiers years after their tours. The disease is diagnosed in unprecedented numbers among retired soldiers. The cause for this disease is exposure to asbestos. The disease can take up to twenty years to surface, making the condition extremely difficult to diagnose. If the cancer is allowed to spread to other essential organs, the mesothelioma life expectancy is generally shorter than fourteen months.  Luckily, the U.S. Military immediately stopped using asbestos after it was discovered to be dangerous in the 1970’s. But still, the number of veterans diagnosed is expected to increase during the next 5-10 years.


A traumatic brain injury can completely change the lives of a veteran and their family, leaving utter devastation in its wake. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) result from sudden disturbances to the brain. TBI’s can result when the head suddenly or violently hits something, or when an object pierces the skull and comes into contact with brain tissue. Disabilities resulting from a TBI depend on the location and the severity of the injury. Some common disabilities include problems with thinking, memory, reasoning, sensory processing (smell, taste, touch, hearing, etc), communication, and behavior or mental health (depression, anxiety, aggression, etc). More severe head injuries can lead to an unresponsive, vegetative state.


Caring for soldiers who suffer from these invisible wounds can be tricky. For soldiers, admitting defeat or showing signs of weakness go against everything they stand for. Opening up about their problems can sometimes present the biggest challenge of all. That is why thorough communication can provide some of the best possible treatment. A soldier must learn that it is okay to show weakness. In order to recover, they must open up, share their thoughts and feelings, and release any pent up anger, fear, or aggression. Family therapy can solidify group relationships and encourage healthy communication between family members. The expression of love helps to minimize negative mental processes.


Complementary treatments, support groups, and family therapy have been shown to promote healthy mental and emotional coping strategies among sufferers of mesothelioma and post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.  Though often proven beneficial, it is important that patients discuss all medically related decisions, especially complementary therapy options, with their physician before proceeding.  Though invisible wounds can present a difficult physical and mental battle, emotional obstacles can be overcome through programs and practices that offer support, stability, and hope.

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