I was very worried about him when he came home and seemed so different. I wanted him to get to know Noah and Eli, but he just didn't seem interested in spending time with us. I felt almost like we were strangers. And I didn't know how to fix that.
A few years ago, he adopted Bailey, a black lab. Once he took her in, I felt like I at least had a conversation starter--I could ask him how Bailey was doing, and if he needed someone to watch Bailey while he was away, my mom or I could do it. I was looking for any reason I could think of to make things "normal" between us, so we could have a closer relationship.
I eventually wrote him a letter, telling him I was worried and that I wished that we could see him more. I told him all my thoughts. After that, I could tell he really started to make an effort to come around more, which was nice.
Last spring, things really started to change for the better. Nathan asked me if I'd like to go for a run with him, because he wanted to train for a 5K. I jumped at the chance to spend some time with him, and I was so excited that he asked me. After that, about once a week, we would go for a run together. It was awesome to be able to chat without any awkwardness. He seemed happier than I'd seen him since before he left for Iraq!
He slowly started dropping weight, and getting faster at running. I ran his first 5K with him, where he left me in the dust before the finish line ;) We've since done a few more races together, too.
He continued to train, and ran his first marathon in October. I was so excited to be able to support his running throughout training and during the race. Running is something I know--so I felt good at supporting him (before he started running, I wasn't sure what to talk to him about; I don't know anything about the Army or war, which had been a huge part of his life).
The change I've seen in Nathan since he started running a little over a year ago is very dramatic. He is healthier and happier than I've ever seen him! I asked him to share a little, in his words, about how running helped his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)...
"I decided to join the Army when the war in Iraq started. Joining the Army was something I always considered, but the war was the final push I needed. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared to go to war, but at the same time, I was excited to be a part of it.
There were a few times when I had second thoughts about joining the military, but I always tried to make the best out of each situation. There are times when you’re doing something that’s tougher than anything you’ve done in your life, but you get a great sense of accomplishment afterward. The worst part about being in Iraq was the 110+ degree temperatures—but of course, it was a “dry heat” ;) Over all, though, I actually really enjoyed being deployed. You get to see and do things that most people will never experience.
I was a little nervous to be discharged and come home, but I was more excited than anything. Life in the military is pretty simple and structured, and I didn’t know what to expect when I got home. The adjustment to being a civilian was somewhat challenging—the military, especially being deployed, will desensitize you to normal, everyday problems. I don’t know if it’s just part of being male, but I still find it tough to express my feelings. I tend to just keep things bottled up inside.
I had symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) when I got home, and I don’t feel very comfortable sharing much about that, but once I got into running (seven years after discharge), I discovered that running alleviated most of the PTSD symptoms. I still have trouble with insomnia (it’s hard to shut my mind off and go to sleep), and I have trouble expressing my feelings, even with my girlfriend; but I find it easy to connect with other veterans. There is a sort of “brotherhood” between veterans that is difficult to find in civilian life.
Running, and training for races, is similar to experiences in the military. I enjoy continually challenging myself—whether it’s longer distance races or faster, short races. With each of those, you have to have a great deal of mental toughness. Even though it sucks at times (like sprinting that last hundred meters of a 5K!), you know that it will eventually end and you will get that feeling of accomplishment.
I'd started running when I saw how much it changed Katie’s life; and I quickly realized that there is a camaraderie among runners, which really drew me into the sport. It doesn’t matter how “fast” or “slow” you are; everyone seems to offer encouragement. When I started running, I figured that I should start eating better. And in turn, I realized that running and eating better made me feel better in general. Running also helped me reconnect with my family, particularly my brother and sisters, because they had all gotten into running; and now we share a common interest.
My advice for veterans returning home would be to get involved in some sort of veterans group. It’s much easier to relate to other vets, and most have been through similar experiences. I would highly recommend Team RWB* (Red, White, & Blue)—I wish I would have known about them when I was discharged.
I’ve been consistently running for about a year and a half now, and it really has changed my life in a positive way. It helped to alleviate symptoms of PTSD, brought me closer with my family and gives me a sense of purpose. I also enjoy the health benefits: my blood pressure is back to normal; I lost 50 pounds, bringing me back to a healthy weight; and I just feel more energized throughout the day!"
*Team RWB is a fantastic organization that helps veterans connect with their community by physical and social activity. As Nathan mentioned, he felt a "brotherhood" with other veterans; Team RWB's mission is to integrate veterans and civilians by doing physical and social activities together. You don't have to be a veteran to join--it's for anyone! I actually recently joined, myself :)
Needless to say, I am so happy that Nathan found a healthy outlet in running. When he told me about a race coming up on Memorial Day, the Wins for Warriors 9K in Detroit, it completely clicked with me, and I knew I wanted to do it. The Wins for Warriors provides mental health support for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. These statistics are quite shocking:
- According to a study by RAND, approximately one-third of those who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan will experience Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury and/or Depression. This is attributed to more-frequent deployments, of greater lengths, with shorter rest periods in between. Their research shows that an individual with any of those conditions is more likely to have other psychiatric problems and to attempt suicide.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs released figures showing that every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That's a suicide every 65 minutes.
- While it is important to understand what the numbers show, it is also necessary to focus on the strengths of all veterans. There has been a shift nationwide to focus away from negative messaging centered around wounds and scars, instead highlighting skills and resiliency.
- Wins for Warriors partners with organizations to provide mental health support for veterans and their families, while also using its platform to be part of the national movement to change the conversation and shift focus to the fact that all veterans can be game changers!
I LOVE what this cause is doing, so Nathan and I signed up together to raise donations and run the race. We are required to raise $100, but I would love to raise so much more than that (I set a lofty personal goal of $2000)! This is the first race I've done with a fundraiser, and I really want to give it my all. I think it's so important for veterans and their families to have support after the vets get home from deployment.
I'm linking to our fundraising page, and I hope that if you can, you'll considering donating to this cause. It would mean so much to Nathan and me! Thank you so much in advance.