PTSD: The Invisible Wound
By Carrie Sanders
April 25, 2012
John Collins sits in his dimly lit living room, violently shaking his right foot after sitting down on his sofa to recount his missions as Mass Communications Specialist First Class in the Navy while serving in Operation Desert Storm and most recently, in Afghanistan. The dark circles that encompass his eyes allude to the terrifying nightmares that he suffers on a frequent basis. The slight tremor in his voice hints at his emotional fragility while speaking of the horrors he saw on the battlefield.
Deb, only wanting to be identified by her first name for confidentiality reasons, could not drive a car or even leave her own home to pick up her children from school because of the seizures she suffered from for years due to growing up as the child of two alcoholic parents and a brutal rape she endured at the age of 18.
Both John and Deb are very different people with completely different life experiences but share one thing in common, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. PTSD is a mental condition caused by a traumatic event or series of traumatic events. Clearly, both John and Deb have seen and experienced traumatic events. But PTSD is not just experiencing the trauma. It is re-living the trauma repeatedly in your mind over a long period of time to the point that it can inhibit your life.
The general symptoms of PTSD may include but are not limited to flashbacks, or re-living the traumatic memory in their head like they are actually in that traumatic moment , nightmares, avoidance- such as not speaking of or trying to think about the trauma, emotional numbness, a feeling of severe helplessness or hopelessness, memory and concentration problems, or difficulty maintaining close relationships.
Severe anxiety-type responses to PTSD may include extreme irritability or anger, an overwhelming sense of guilt-possibly “survivor’s guilt”, overindulgence in alcohol or other self-destructive behaviors, recurrent trouble sleeping, hyper- vigilance such as being startled or frightened easily by loud noises or even hallucinations. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms generally appear within the first three months following in the traumatic event but have been known in some cases to show up many years later.
Symptoms may become more prevalent in times of stress or only when a sufferer is faced with a reminder of the event. For instance, John cannot let himself be around fireworks because the sound reminds him of 30 mm rockets going off around him while in battle.
At first, John did not think he had any symptoms of PTSD. But shortly before his tour was up in Afghanistan, John started to experience blackouts. Then, upon arriving stateside, the night terrors started. He says he wakes up sometimes and can smell gunfire or hear people speaking in a foreign language.
John’s main job was to document the war as a journalist and photographer. In other words, in his 23 missions, while soldiers ran around with their weapons, he ran around with his camera and says, “When a guy I was with got his face blown off his head, my job was to photograph it.”
It has not yet been determined who all can be affected with PTSD. Those most commonly afflicted with PTSD are those who have experienced extreme traumatic events in their life such as veterans, crime victims, or victims of rape, sexual, or physical abuse. A recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders determined that PTSD is associated to a person’s genetic make-up. However, some clinicians disagree and say that a person’s vulnerability to PTSD depends on the amount of trauma a person is exposed to and the severity of the trauma.
There are several treatments for PTSD. Cognitive therapy or talk therapy, hypnosis, drug therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR are the most common treatments. Some clinicians may even use a combination of therapies or all therapies according to their patient’s needs and responses.
Anna Whalley, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Administrator of Shelby County Crime Victims Services in Memphis, suggests that it is not necessarily what the trauma might be that a person endures, but how a person responds to the trauma. Whalley says, “Not everything is going to work on everyone.”
Whalley and the Shelby County Crime Victims Center/Rape Crisis Center see a variety of people affected by traumatic incidents such as those who have been a victim of a crime such as sexual violence, domestic violence, those who may have been a witness to homicide or those friends and family left behind after a homicide. SCCVC also treats those who may have encountered violent crime such as home invasions, armed robbery, and assaults as well as senior crime victims.
The Shelby County Crime Victims Center strives to help victims return to their pre-trauma level of functioning by lowering the levels of their post-traumatic responses with talk therapy, relaxation techniques, and EMDR. SCCVC also provides crisis counseling, legal and social services such as accompanying a victim to court, education and awareness of community resources. Whalley says, “What we do here is to help people develop a “new normal.”
Talk therapy can be used as a primary therapy for PTSD or it may be used in conjunction with hypnosis and EMDR. Talk therapy helps a person discuss their problems one-on-one with a therapist who tries to understand the person’s problems and to help the individual change distressing thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. While talk therapy may work for some PTSD patients on its own, most therapists who use hypnotherapy and EMDR use talk therapy in the beginning as a way of establishing a relationship with their patient before moving forward with more specialized treatment.
Hypnosis is also a form of treatment for sufferers of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. The antiquated belief of a magician standing over someone with a pocket watch telling them how sleepy they are and making them cluck like a chicken without remembering could not be any further from the truth. Hypnosis is a legitimate form of therapy. It allows the patient to go into a deep state of relaxation that opens up the subconscious.
Eric Cassius, Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Hypnotherapist of Cassius and Associates, provides counseling and hypnotherapy to his patients. Cassius views PTSD as a severe anxiety disorder. He believes that trauma, whatever it may be, triggers anxiety. Then, the person gets anxious about the anxiety. In other words, Cassius believes that it is not the trauma that someone is anxious over- that it is the feeling of anxiety that the trauma caused that is the problem. That is where hypnosis comes in.
Hypnosis allows Cassius to get the patient quiet and relaxed through deep breathing. Then, he takes them back to the original traumatic event in their mind. This may be very upsetting for the patient. He believes that the patient made a decision at the time of the trauma how to feel about it or themselves, and what he does with the hypnosis is take them back to that decision and have them step outside themselves and tell the person that made the decision about the trauma to make a new, healthier decision about the event, to feel better about it or more confident in themselves. They literally re-decide the trauma. This is called re-decision therapy in hypnosis. The whole time, the patient goes through the trauma and re-decides the outcome in a safe, calm and relaxed environment and state.
Cassius has seen very beneficial results therapeutically speaking with his patients using hypnotherapy. “I have seen a lot of people that with 5 sessions of hypnosis, they are calmer and are on less meds or no meds at all,” says Cassius. Cassius does say that PTSD does not ever go away completely, “Anxiety is a part of life,” but that the memories of the event can be toned down dramatically.
Drug therapy is used quite often for PTSD. Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anxiolytics, beta and alpha blockers, and atypical antipsychotic drugs are all typically used to treat PTSD. While drug therapy may work in some instances, a study from the American Medical Association involving veterans and the treatment of PTSD concluded that the two drugs most widely used for treating veterans with acute PTSD did not reduce the severity of the PTSD for the patient, produce improvement or, “increase quality of life in patients with chronic SRI- resistant military-related PTSD symptoms.”
Retired Mass Communications Specialist First Class, John Collins refuses to take any drug but Prazosin, a drug used to treat high blood pressure, to treat his PTSD related nightmares. In recent years, Prazosin has been seen as an effective, non-habit forming way of treating PTSD related nightmares. Collins refuses to take any drug considered habit-forming because he has seen too many friends from his days in the military develop addictions to narcotics and suffer a myriad of consequences with their addiction.
Collins sought additional therapy through the VA Hospital in Memphis a few months ago but was told it would be a minimum wait of 9 months to see a therapist. Collins is quick to defend the VA on this point and says that there are so many vets with PTSD now that it is almost impossible to keep up. Collins says of vets with PTSD, that, " You can’t see combat, and come out without feeling the effects.”
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR has been incredibly successful in treating PTSD patients. EMDR was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro Ph.D. in 1987. Shapiro discovered by chance that moving her eyes from side to side while recalling a traumatic memory appeared to reduce the disturbance of negative thoughts and memories. Thus, EMDR was born.
EMDR clinician, Cynthia A. Warren, Master of Science and Licensed Professional Counselor, practices counseling and EMDR at Cassius and Associates. Warren develops a clinical relationship with her EMDR patients initially with talk therapy. After discovering whatever the traumatic event may have been suffered, she has the patient fill out a form in a session which asks what the primary event or issue is, what the overall picture of the event is, what negative beliefs they have about the event or themselves concerning the event, a positive thought they would like to think about themselves or the event now, a scale from 1 to 7 of how the positive belief feels to them now, what emotions they feel concerning the event or themselves now, and finally, on a scale from 1 to 10, 0 being no disturbance and 10 being the greatest disturbance, how they would rate their disturbance level now. The following session is when the EMDR therapy will begin.
Warren attaches a machine with ear phones that produce sounds back and forth from ear to ear that creates the side-to-side stimulus for each side of the brain. Then, Warren gets her patients to a state of deep relaxation through breathing techniques and finding a safe place in their minds. Next, she goes through the worksheet that she and her patient filled out previously. After each question, the patient stops and processes, then goes to the next question. After going through the questionnaire, Warren does more relaxation techniques with the patient to restore calm due to the emotional nature of re-living the trauma.
Warren finds that while children and a select few may only require one session of EMDR therapy, on average, she says it takes 3 to 4 sessions to significantly decrease the levels of disturbance surrounding the event or negative feeling about themselves due to the trauma.
Warren says EMDR therapy is not anything dramatic, “It’s subtle.” Warren recalls a patient telling her after completing EMDR that, “I can think about it. I know about it. It feels like the memory is further away.”
Basically EMDR is a combination of re-living the traumatic memory with a physical stimulant that re-organizes where the memory is stored in your brain, thus making the memory less traumatic while instilling a new and positive belief about the event.
While EMDR and hypnosis may seem strange, Warren says in her experience with PTSD patients that, “They are willing to try anything to get some relief.”
That was certainly the belief of rape victim, Deb, who also grew up the child of alcoholics. She had even been misdiagnosed with epilepsy at age 20. Deb’s anxiety over her rape and tumultuous upbringing led her body to, “Manifest it (PTSD) as seizures, a stroke, migraines, and an inability to communicate verbally”.
Deb was unable for almost 20 years to drive on a consistent basis, was unable to pick her children up from school and was on constant medication - 4 medications at once during the height of her struggles. She was completely home-bound for 3 years and considered filing for disability.
Finally, Deb tried EMDR therapy and talk therapy at the urging of a friend. The therapies were so successful that today she is med-free, drives every day and feels like she can, “Function again.”
One thing that all of those who have suffered with PTSD or clinicians who treat it seem to agree on is that the sooner someone who thinks they may have PTSD gets help, the better.
PTSD can have devastating effects. Those who go untreated may experience severe depression, physical manifestations, or even attempt suicide.
Major Sander Snowden is a Company Commander who led 190 reserve unit Marines in his tour in Afghanistan. Snowden says that while deployed, the Marines have each other. They function as their own support system. Upon arriving stateside, Snowden says that with reservists, they deploy for a year and then they come home and are immediately sent back to civilian life where everyone, including friends and family are very supportive. There is about a 4-month period high, where people are praising them for their efforts in fighting for their country and they have a little money in their pocket.
But, things do not always stay that way. Snowden says, “After that 4 months, a Marine will experience depression because the find that they spent all their money, have no job, and no one is there to pat him on the back anymore.”
Snowden has lost several of the men he commanded to suicide since coming back to the U.S. in April of 2011. Snowden says he tells his men that it is very important to check up on each other and his unit has weekly “welfare calls,” where the Marines each call the same three friends every week to check in. But even that Snowden says doesn’t stop the suicides. “If they want to do it- they are going to do it.”
There is a hotline that is completely anonymous and free for military personnel to contact at militaryonesource.com.
Snowden encourages anyone suffering with PTSD, not just military, to seek help, “Don’t ever try to handle it by yourself. It is bigger than you. You are not alone. Other people have been there.” Collins agrees. He says to fellow veterans and anyone suffering with PTSD to, “Go get help. It only gets worse. “
MGLCC Part of Free Condom program
By Carrie Sanders | MicroMemphis reporter
Free condoms for everyone! At least that is the goal set forth by a new initiative that launched on Feb. 14 called Free Condoms Memphis.
A press conference announcing the new program was held at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center located at 892 South Cooper St. in Cooper Young.
Free Condoms Memphis has been a dream come true for Elokin CaPece, director of education at Memphis Planned Parenthood. CaPece has been involved with HIV testing since 2007 and educates HIV testers.
CaPece says that this new program is something that she and a lot of other longstanding HIV health providers have wanted to see happen for a long time. “We really wanted to do something at the scope that it needs to be done, not just going to health fairs and handing out condoms, not just going out and teaching HIV awareness one-on-one to a small group of people, but, something that is a citywide effort. That is what Memphis really deserves at this point.”
Dorcus Young, Administrator of the Memphis Ryan White Program says the timing for the launch couldn’t have been more profound, “I think it’s poetic that we are doing it here on Valentine’s Day as we think about loving ourselves and loving others as we think about protecting them from STDs and HIV.”
The condoms are being distributed at no cost with no questions asked at 30 different locations around the Memphis area.
The condoms are donated to the program through distributors and social outreach programs.
The diversity of locations ranges from places like Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, a laundromat, a barber shop and churches.
The diversity of availability in where people may obtain condoms through Free Condoms Memphis is also something that is of particular importance to Young. “It’s not just the usual suspects of non-profits that are doing this type of work. You have business leaders, you have church leaders, you have different people that have invested energy and they are committed to seeing people healthier here,” Young said.
Pastor Paul Eknes-Tucker of Holy Trinity Church at 685 S.Highland says he got involved because he is not naïve and wants people to make informed, healthier choices. “People are going to have sex, no matter what a pastor says and the idea is that we give people good information so they can make good choices about the kind of sex they have so they can be free from unwanted pregnancies and free from diseases. I always tell people, Jesus said, ‘I have come to give you truth so the truth may set you free.’ Information is freedom. Holy Trinity is very proud to be one of the places that people can come and get this information.”
Businesses have gotten involved with the program as a way to be a place where people don’t feel pressure about the issues and obtaining condoms.
Mario Taylor, who owns First Impressions Remix Barber and Beauty Shop located at 1470 Elvis Presley Blvd., says he can remember walking into the pharmacy when he was 19 and having a sweat break out on his forehead because he was nervous about what the clerk was thinking. To Taylor, having the condoms at his business takes the stress out of the situation, “People come in every week to 3 weeks, so you can get a haircut and pick up some condoms.”
Tamika Daniel, Program Manager at South Memphis Alliance, Inc. agrees with Taylor’s concept of distributing condoms in a relaxed environment and says they will give away condoms at the laudromat at their community resource center because, “Who doesn’t wash their clothes? The people we are trying to touch will get the impact.”
People are also allowed to take as many condoms as they think they might need through this initiative.
Daniel says that they have a “nice supply of condoms. We’re going to have a bowl. What you grab, is what you take.”
Martavius Hampton, the Volunteer Coordinator and HIV Program Manager at Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, says the program is vital because it concerns everyone, “It’s not just sexual minority men-of-color affected, African-American women are very affected, heterosexual couples are affected, so it does affect us all so we do have to be sure we don’t leave anyone out.”
Free Condoms Memphis now has advertisements on buses throughout the city to let people know about the program and all locations are equipped with supplies.
You can learn more about the initiative and a location near you at FreeCondomsMemphis.org.
Grizzlies Majority owner robert pera holds press conference
The new Memphis Grizzlies majority owner, Robert Pera addressed media and fans in his first public press conference since buying the NBA franchise from former owner Michael Heisley .
Pera, a 34 year old tech billionare who created Ubiquiti Networks, made brief comments about himself, his company and his commitment to improve the city of Memphis, "We're fully committed to the community and leveraging the Memphis Grizzlies brand name to make a positive impact on the community," Pera said.
Pera then outlined his goals for the team and then introduced the new Grizzlies CEO, longtime friend and business associate, Jason Levien.
Leiven, a former sports agent, regaled the media and fans with stories about his personal friendship with Pera and introduced the formal list of minority owners, including Harold Ford, Jr., basketball greats Penny Hardaway and Elliot Perry, NFL player Payton Manning and wife Ashley and native Memphian Justin Timberlake.
Levien then expressed his feelings about the new ownership and his position in saying, "We want to be the best. We want to consistently be the best and we're going to strive for that every day.”
Levien wrapped with what he thought both he and Pera could bring to the team and to the NBA, citing Pera’s youth and enthusiasm for the sport of basketball and his own experience as a sports agent making him a, “player friendly,” CEO.
A sign outside the Forum says – “Where new starts are made.” That is a concept fans certainly seem to be getting on board with when it comes to Robert Pera’s new ownership of the team.
Grizzlies fan David Steinberg is very excited about Pera's new ownership and says, “From what I can tell, he’s going to take it to the next level.”
It IS a new beginning for Grizzlies owners, players and fans.
Reporting from the Downtown Memphis, Carrie Sanders, Insight News.
Underground art celebrates 20 years in business inking memphis
By Carrie Sanders | MicroMemphis reporter
posted February 14, 2013
In a day when people have to tighten their purse strings, it is a major fete to celebrate 20 years in business. Celebrate they did at the Underground Art 20th Anniversary Party at the Hi-Tone at 1913 Poplar Avenue on Feb. 2.
The party featured local bands such as The Gloryholes, DJ Heat, Capgun, New Science System, Sin City Scoundrels, Sidewayz, SVU and a comedy performance by Mo Alexander. Activities included an art auction from local artists and from employees, as well as a book swap.
Those daring enough to participate in making art of their own could do so on easels set up for Art in Action.
People who wanted the ink without the needle could get a henna tattoo applied. Henna tattoos typically last one to three weeks before they fade from the skin.
Dave Evans, one of the Underground artists, said that they just wanted to throw the party to say, “Thank you, to their customers that wanted something different in a tattoo.”
Evans says that Underground’s tattoos are art based and are,” Building blocks of a life…drama on skin.”
Evans attributes the longevity of the business in part to being in a community like Cooper-Young where, “Everybody knows everybody.”
At the shop’s inception, the neighborhood was at the beginnings of its urban renewal. Vanessa Waites, a tattoo artist at Underground, says that when the shop first moved into Cooper-Young, that it, “helped to stabilize,” the area and encouraged people to move in to the neighborhood, becoming a cornerstone of Cooper-Young.
Angela Russell, the owner of Underground Art, agrees that the neighborhood has changed and grown over the last 20 years,
“It’s gentrified in a way it wasn’t 20 years ago. There’s valet parking for God’s sake.”
“In 1993, the tattooing Renaissance was just starting and it has just grown ever since. We’ve grown up with the business. We’ve grown up together.” Angela Russell, owner Underground Art
Russell also says that just like the neighborhood, her shop has grown.
“In 1993, the tattooing Renaissance was just starting and it has just grown ever since. We’ve grown up with the business. We’ve grown up together.”
Growth did indeed occur and as of last year Cooper-Young was named to the American Planning Association’s top 10 best neighborhoods in America and Underground Art has been voted into the top three tattoo shops in Memphis in the Memphis Flyer’s Best of Memphis over the past several years.
With growth comes gratitude. All proceeds from the anniversary party benefitted Literacy Mid-South. Russell says that she and the artists at Underground feel that since they have received so much support from the neighborhood and city that,
“Twenty years speaks for itself. We want to give back as much as we can. We want to pay it forward.”
See slideshow from the party
Former University of memphis student's grass roots production company blossoms
By Carrie Sanders | MicroMemphis reporter
Jack Simon is excited. He is so excited that he resembles a child counting down the moments until Christmas morning. At present, Simon is excited to talk about his brainchild, Bristerfest, a local music festival thrown by his production company, Brister Street Productions.
Simon is a former student at the University of Memphis and the Executive Creative Director for Brister Street Productions.
Simon and some friends started Brister Street when concerts he was throwing from a shed in his backyard got too big to be held in such a small place. Due to the demand for space, Simon knew he had to start charging money to recoup some of the costs but also wanted to give back to his community.
“We said if we are going to do a serious thing and charge money, let’s at least have a fundraiser. Our mission essentially was to foster and celebrate the local music culture, so we decided to benefit WEVL,” says Simon.
Brister Street Productions pitched the idea in early April of 2011 for a local music festival to the people at the Overton Park Shell and was granted permission to hold the event 25 days later.
Any Parrish, whose band played the first Bristerfest and is now the President of Brister Street Productions says the first festival was a whirlwind. “It went from shed jamming to me sitting at R. P Tracks and Jack coming in and saying, ‘Guess what man, I’m going to have a festival at the Shell.’”
Brister Street also got help from the Memphis Music Foundation their first year. MMF helped the fledgling company with templates to obtain sponsors for the event.
Even though the tiny company had little time to make Bristerfest happen, the show had a decent turnout of about one hundred sixty people with, “only word of mouth and Facebook,” says Simon.
In 2012, Brister Street got professional and started their planning much earlier. They changed their charity to Grow Memphis to make their festival environmentally-friendly. Almost 650 people attended the two day event.
Simon’s backyard project has blossomed into a marquee event for local musicians and a way for Brister Street Productions to make a positive impact on the community of Memphis.
“This event is part of a grass roots movement to unite and improve our community and its environment as expressed through festival music and art,” says Parrish.
Just this past week, Simon was honored with the 2013 University of Memphis Alma Bucovaz Urban Service Award for "demonstrating excellence in an academic program addressing urban problems and seeking to ameliorate urban needs.
Brister Street Productions books many other events such as food drives and benefit concerts. The people involved are passionate about bringing positivity to Memphis. “This thing is for real and it’s going to be here for the benefit of our community,” says Parrish.
Brister Street Productions has grown by leaps and bounds over the last three years and shows no signs of stopping.
This year, Simon anticipates over a thousand people to show for Bristerfest on April 27-28th at the Overton Park Shell.
The festival will feature over thirty performances, a mist tent, food trucks, vendors, face painting, a moon bounce, hookah lounge and silent disco where festival-goers can wear headphones, listen to the music of their choice and dance to their own groove.
Tickets are on sale now for Bristerfest at BRISTERFEST.com.
Jack Simon writes everything on notecards to keep his appointments and responsibilities straight. Jack Simon has his hands full at all times with Brister Street Productions.