#WhatWorks – A Healthy Transition
This month, we asked veterans around the country to share “what’s worked” for you as you tried to navigate health and wellness in your transition to civilian life. Some folks shared their experiences in a series of essays on our Medium page — and we’re sharing the highlights here. From group fitness to alone time in the great outdoors to meditation, veterans are testing out all kinds of strategies to avoid common health pitfalls that we’re all susceptible to when we face down turning points in our lives.
By Jonathan Silk
I didn’t crash an experimental aircraft. I didn’t have my right arm, both legs, and left eye replaced with bionic implants that gave me the power and strength of a bulldozer, the speed of a mid-sized sedan, and the vision the most sophisticated drones available on the civilian market. I also don’t work as a secret agent, though I would certainly entertain the idea!
In other words, I am not Steve Austin, the “Six Million Dollar Man.”
No, I was made stronger, faster, and braver 10 years ago today for far less — only $300,000.
Let me explain.
On April 9, 2004, during a firefight on Bridge 3 in AL Kut, Iraq, I received trauma to the chest from enemy fire. I recovered from the hit and kept fighting. The morning after the fight I found a fairly large bruise on my chest but did not think much of it. I was just happy to be alive.
After I returned home from that deployment, I was getting checked out for problems I was having during physical fitness activities. I just wasn’t the same as I had been. I was getting incredibly tired out by things that used to be easy. I knew something was wrong. The doctor confirmed it. He asked me if I had sustained any trauma to the chest during my deployment. I told him what had happened, and he told me that the mitral valve in my heart had been torn from the impact of the projectile I got hit with.
During the subsequent surgery, my damaged-beyond-repair valve was replaced with a carbon fiber valve that I was told would last 400 years. Three hundred thousand dollars later, I woke up in a different world than when I went under.
I was now the $300,000 Man.
A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity. After I became the $300,000 man, I was right in the middle of one of the most difficult crucibles I had ever had to deal with — though I didn’t quite know it at the time. From my perspective, when individuals are in a crucible, they have three options:
1. They could spin out of control — what I call the “Death Spiral.” Something bad or challenging happens, and the person in the crucible struggles, crashes, and burns.
2. They can learn to operate at a new, lower level of performance. There is no death spiral; however, there is also no recovery. When someone chooses this path, they don’t get back to where they were, and they avoid any risks that could result in them getting hurt even worse.
3. Lastly, they can accept what has happened and leverage the experience for the learning, growth, and developmental opportunity it is. Those who choose this path don’t just recover — they thrive and reach new heights. They come out performing and operating better than they were before the experience.
By Tenley Lozano
… Following her on social media, you might think she lives a privileged life: working as a ship design engineer, lifting weights in the gym, and backpacking with her dog. At her best, she can throw her bodyweight onto the barbell and lift it up into the air. But her best happens less and less frequently these days. Some weeks she can’t lift more than the empty bar over her head without feeling a muscle twitch with pain, signaling an oncoming migraine. She chooses to hike in the backcountry for days alone with her dog because she finds it difficult to trust people, and her dog is supportive and reliable. When she walks the mountains with her mutt she feels completely in control of her life. They are a team, watching out for each other on the trail and in town.
If you look through her medical record, you might understand her better. X-rays show early-stage arthritis in her neck. MRIs tell of bulging discs and narrowing spinal canals. Her Veteran Affairs medical record details post traumatic stress and chronic migraines from years of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination. It lists the medications she takes: naproxen for pain, propranolol and triptan for migraines, escitalopram for depression and anxiety, and a prescription for a Medical Alert Service Dog to assist with post traumatic stress. What the VA records don’t show are the bi-weekly chiropractor visits and weekly acupuncture sessions she needs to reduce the severity and frequency of migraines, decrease her reliance on pharmaceuticals, and manage near-constant pain.
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