More Than Stress: Jake Walsh 2 Years Later
Author: Courtney Hampson
I was in the country from late June 2006 to September 2007. I was in Mosul, Anbar, Baghdad, Sadr City, Baqubah and other smaller towns. I have no idea how I survived. I remember writing off hope completely, more than once. I still cannot comprehend my current existence.”
“I don’t know why, for sure. I feel that I miss these days more than I want to admit aloud. I feel that everything was much simpler, less stressful. Live or die. Black or white. Not so much gray area back then. Romantic like the cowboy lifestyle appears to be. You’re alive or you’re not. That being the only worry on the horizon is not stressful… it’s peaceful.”
And, that is why our veterans are struggling today. Twenty two of them commit suicide every day. That’s four more a day than a year ago when I first told the story of Jake Walsh, and the Honor Our Heroes Foundation that he started here in Beaufort County. That’s 8,030 veterans a year. “If these were teachers, we would do something about it,” Walsh said.
Sadly, he’s right. And that is wrong.
One year ago I sat across a table from Walsh, and he told me why he joined the Army, talked about his deployment, and his work as a medic amid the horrors of war. Shadows filled his eyes as he recounted his journey, lost in the memories. Walsh was candid about his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and his frustration surrounding the lack of attention paid to veterans. The numbers are staggering. An October 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA), indicates that 30 percent of the 834,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been treated in a VA hospital for PTSD. In addition to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there are over 23 million veterans living in the U.S., of which 14 million have served during wars dating back to World War II. Vietnam veterans are the largest veteran and suicide population.
Fact: It is more deadly to be a veteran today than it is to be in combat.
Walsh needed help to deal with his PTSD, and that realization came via an interesting encounter. Medication was the only treatment solution that Walsh (and thousands of others—Beaufort County has 13,000 veterans alone.) was receiving from the VA Hospital. Medication that left him detached, disconnected and mind-numbed. It wasn’t until one of his students at CrossFit Hilton Head asked innocently, “Are you just always high?” And with that, Jake stopped taking his meds. “I was completely unaware of how I was perceived on meds.” Weaning off the medicine though, created a new set of anxieties—a bird flying by could set him off. There had to be a better way.
The symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, inability to focus—all behaviors that create irregular brain waves. BrainCore Therapy offers a drugless approach to treating these irregularities, called brainwave dysregulation, a condition that results from tension on the nervous system caused by, among other things, trauma.
Research has demonstrated that for any given circumstance, there is an accepted normal pattern of brainwave activity. A healthy, balanced, and properly regulated nervous system will produce the appropriate brain waves, at the appropriate levels, and at the appropriate times for any given situation. However, when the nervous system becomes tense and unbalanced as a result of stress or trauma, the brain waves become dysregulated, resulting in a series of neurological symptoms and difficulties. BrainCore technology and science is based on a procedure that effectively regulates the nervous system, providing proven relief of conditions associated with brainwave dysregulation.
Through a serious of coincidences, and conversations between Honor Our Heroes board member Joe Mezera, NAMI of Beaufort County, and one of the therapists at Hilton Head based BrainCore Therapy, suddenly there was hope.
When Walsh’s story was brought to the attention of BrainCore technician Dianne Kosto, she knew she had to help. Kosto is a self-proclaimed “Mom on a Mission” to help her son who struggled with impulse control issues. “BrainCore found me as word got to the founder about my son’s story,” Kosto said. When she completed her training to become a BrainCore technician, in an effort to help her son, she also learned of a study for Vietnam vets suffering with PTSD. She thought it could work.
BrainCore Neurofeedback is a modality designed to retrain brainwave patterns. The goal is to transform unhealthy, dysregulated imbalances into normal, healthy, organized patters. By doing this, the brain becomes more stable and is able to operate optimally and efficiently.
This method begins with an assessment, the Quantitative Electroencephalogram (QEEG). Walsh had a snug cap, embedded with 12 sensors designed to measure and record brainwaves, placed on his head. No electric current is going into the brain; the cap is simply recording data or “mapping the brain.”
In the subsequent “training” sessions through BrainCore Therapy, the patient is hooked up to a computer using wires and sensors to record the brain activity. The software detects when the brainwaves are properly ordered and feeds that information back to the patient. The feedback appears in the form of a game, movie, or sound, which signals the order of the brainwaves. But how? I was surprised to learn that movies are part of the process. Walsh sits in a room and watches movies—not war movies mind you—movies like Cool Runnings and The Rookie. While watching the movies, the light, picture, and sound may change to see how the brain will react. If the volume goes down to zero, and the patient gets frustrated, it isn’t going back up to seven until the brain reacts in the way it is being re-trained to respond.
The theory of neurofeedback is based on a simple concept: when you have information on what your brainwaves are doing, your brain can use that information to change how it works. (I kind of wish I paid closer attention in biology, because this is incredible.) The therapy isn’t as simple. It is a commitment. In fact, Walsh had to commit to 80 sessions. That’s twice a week, for 40 weeks. “There are no drugs. There’s no surgery. No talk therapy. It’s a remap,” Walsh said. “Psychiatrists actually never look at your brain. That would be like an orthopedic doctor telling you that your leg is broken having never looked at your leg. This works.”
So, through this non-invasive technology, Walsh’s brain is being re-trained to work with less stress, less anxiety, less fear, less anger.
Half way through his sessions, Walsh notices the progress.
“Last week I woke up and I felt good. The most normal I’ve felt in a dozen years. It hit me that day, things are changing,” Walsh said. “I’ll notice how nice it is outside. I appreciate Shannon [his love] more.”
Others are noticing too. Mezera tells the story of Walsh meeting him at a bar to watch football. “After an hour, and two beers, Jake stood up and said, ‘I have to go; Shannon’s family is in town,’ and I was in shock. That’s not the norm.”
What was the norm, I asked. “Go ahead, you can tell her,” interrupts Walsh. “He’d have 15 beers and I would have to drive him home,” Mezera said. He went on to talk about an event the duo organized and his shock when Walsh took the lead, organizing everything, leaving him to be the one panicking that day. A role reversal of sorts.
Kosto’s initial impression of Walsh, was “a dark, shaky, fearful guy, with a nervous look about him.” But now, she sees a “more calm and clear man; he sleeps better, is engaged in life more, actively involved with Honor Our Heroes Foundation, less verbally impulsive… much more calm in a crowd. I see confidence, joy, and a bright light emanating from him now.”
Even I noticed. During our breakfast, the syrup gun in the soda fountain popped… Jake looked behind the counter. Laughed. Looked at Shannon and said, “Syrup,” with a smile. A year ago that syrup pop would have elicited a different reaction.
Now the challenge is taking what BrainCore Therapy has learned from Walsh and applying it in broader strokes. Kosto is currently conducting the inaugural BrainCore Therapy specific study here in the Lowcountry for ADHD, and the enthusiasm and support has been encouraging. She believes that the community would even further support and embrace a study to help those who served our country and are coming back broken and suffering.
Central to their mission to provide life assistance to service members, veterans and their families through direct support and referral services, Honor Our Heroes wants to make BrainCore Therapy mainstream. To do that, they need to conduct a study with other local veterans suffering from PTSD. For this, they need money. The treatment for one patient alone costs $8,000-$12,000. So, they need your help to raise the funds, to do a broader study, to gather the research, to push for more funding, and the recognition from Veterans Affairs that this treatment is a viable option (and a covered treatment). A local business and a local foundation working together to support local veterans. How can we not help? Especially when Walsh says, “I’m hopeful this will save my life.”
Three ways you can help the Honor Our Heroes Foundation
Bowl! No really. For the entire month of May, Station 300 in Bluffton is hosting “Bowling for the Brave.” Station 300 will donate $1 for every game bowled in the month of May. And, Zeppelins Bar & Grill (located in Station 300) is also creating special military-themed drinks (think “Anchors Away” and “The Rolling Thunder”) and will donate an additional $1 for every drink sold. The fundraising goal is $15,000 for the month. So, put on the ugly shoes and help! Register your group to bowl during the month of May by calling Emily or Lisa at (843) 815-2695 ext. 3 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Sweat it out. Honor Our Heroes will host a Memorial Day weekend CrossFit Workout of the Day (WOD). Watch honorourheroesfoundation.org/events/ for details.
Play tennis. Fancy yourself a tennis player, and not a CrossFitter? Good news. Honor Our Heroes sponsors the annual Palmetto Dunes tennis tournament June 6-8. Check out palmettodunes.com/hilton-head-tennis-tournaments.php to learn more.