Not All Wounds are Visible

November 11, 2022

Written language has documented the impact of war. After the Civil War, men returning home were labeled “different” with “Soldier’s Heart”, due to the changes in heart rate. In World War 1, the term shifted to “Shell Shock,” due to the perceived nerve damage from combat. By 1943, “Battle Fatigue” was the initial diagnosis of psychiatric cases. Over 700,000 Vietnam veterans returned home needing psychological help, which resulted in the acknowledgement of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder, which occurs after experiencing an event that involves a threat of injury, real injury, or witnessing death/destruction. Those who have experienced trauma, have their natural fight vs. flight response damaged, often feeling stressed even in “safe” situations. A person may relive the event, avoid certain situations, experience negative changes in behaviors, and become hyper aroused. Not all traumatic experiences result in PTSD; diagnosis occurs when all four symptoms last at least a month. PTSD is a response to chemical changes in the brain and is debilitating, especially without treatment.

The military suicide rate is 4x higher than deaths occurring during operations. It is 2x higher than civilian suicides. Unfortunately, traditional talk therapy is not meeting the needs of America’s veterans. 1.7 million service members and veterans have at least one mental health issue, with most not seeking professional help. The reasons vary from fear of the unknown to unanswered questions. What services are available? Are services realistic for the military community? How will treatment/documentation impact careers? What will people think?

The National Center for PTSD has made great strides in understanding trauma. The brain and body are both impacted; BOTH need to be engaged during treatment. A “whole body” approach to mental health treatment is being adapted within the Veterans Administration. In 2017, the VA mandated the inclusion of acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, and other complementary and integrated health practices. This has set forth a paradigm shift that places vigorous support of alternative practices. Instead of copious prescriptions, the intention is focused on long term healing, which positively impacts America’s veterans and their families.

Examples of modalities incorporating mind, body, and energetic balance are:

  • Acupuncture which improves flow of energy.
  • Mental Health with Horses removes the stigma associated with traditional talk therapy and offers the opportunity for clients to “get out of their head” and engage their entire body!
  • Reiki is a gentle hands-on energy healing that reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, which improves mood, sleep, and relaxation. When the body is relaxed, it can heal itself from injury, stress, and trauma.
  • Tai Chi, or “meditation in motion” strengthens the mind-body practice of slow intentional movement and deep breathing.

It is our obligation to “Stomp the Stigma around Mental Health” by creating opportunities for the military to rise above the shackles of trauma. The invisible wounds are not only felt by the inflicted but permeates to family and caregivers. We need to show support for understanding, healing and allow for a more grounded, stable approach to treatment. The military are a resilient, strong willed, focused group invested in “action”. Alternatives allow for a more active, “out of the box” mission within nonjudgmental parameters to healing the invisible wounds.

Nature’s Cues For Balance … The Changing Seasons

Nature’s Cues For Balance … The Changing Seasons

The leaves have fallen. A quiet respite. Bitter cold with a strong wind. Nature holds a true compass of change. Orchestrated rhythm that allows for preparation, rest then growth. Nature’s balance is in the four seasons.

Take a cue from nature. Autumn can be a pause before the bustle of the holidays. Winter is a time for hibernating. Days are shorter, nights are longer, which allows our body to rest and recharge. Set your internal clock to think about and weigh expectations. Be introspective. Reflect. Relax.

Expectations become the precursor to anxious feelings. Goals become mired with unrealistic ambitions. An unraveling process begins. Budding to do lists. Marathon shopping. Blurred imagines of cherished memories in the making. The question of “how” to balance it all. Even a bewildered sense of dread. Is it over yet?

Balance seems like a fleeting thought etched into the framework of a frenetic life. Work, Life, Play, Family, Love, Solitude. The increased demands decay that sense of balance.

Tap into that internal list rather than the presence of glittery images. Redefine your core values. Realign after your holiday plans. Embrace the prospective of achieving the deeper meaning of the life and family. Gratitude. Blessings. Wonder. Sharing from the heart. Simple expressions of love, of giving and of kindness. Meaningful gestures that perpetuate a true joy.

Inadvertently we relinquish balance. Words like “should” “but” work adversely to keep harmony. Hold them at bay.

Balance is a fine line held within. A bold statement of who you are. Balance is the pause, the thought process which centers your thinking. It redefines your planning. Balance helps remove the need for over the top expressions. It pulls you back to family centered and a more simply life. Thoughtful gestures extended into meaningful days. Sometimes the simplest act of kindness has the greatest effect.

Often balance is compromised by leaving thoughts and expectations dangling. Lack of clear definition is unsettling. Achieving balance comes from listening to the whisper that says slow down. A reminder to stay in the moment. Let go of responding to the hurried pace of scattered thoughts. Abandon the mile long to do list. Live within the day and cherish the moment. Balance is a nurtured attitude of keeping things in prospective.

The cycle continues wrapped in balance yet anticipation. Autumn falls into Winter … Winter pauses into Spring … Spring blossoms into Summer. Stark difference within a balanced life.

Blooming Meditation

Blooming Meditation

Have you ever wondered how some people seem to effortlessly blossom while others wilt? The effortlessness is not unconscious, rather intentional. Those who blossom embrace and utilize the endless possibilities that empower them. They recognize, validate and honor the importance of “true self.” The possibilities are tucked within the buds of their being – physical, mental, emotional, and spirituality. These blossoms create a circle of wellness – mindfulness, meditation, introspection and reflection.

Mindfulness and meditation open a path to how your world effect your aura. Introspection involves analyzing your emotions/thoughts; it is the cogitate arena. Mindfulness is being aware of where you are and discovering life without judgment. It is the observer arena. When a person shifts from introspection to mindfulness, they pause and are present in the moment. Quiet introspection is a valuable step in obtaining empowerment coupled with meditation. Mediation quiets the voices and allows for a focus on the here and now. What is actually happening VS. What story is my brain creating? Mindfulness and meditation are holding space for stillness (not thinking), curiosity (not judgment), and openness (not resistance).

Mediation is a practice that allows for awareness to achieve clarity and calmness. Discover your sacred space – perhaps a space in your house, light a candle, play soothing music or outdoors in a favorite spot. Open the door to the quiet place. It is here you begin to blossom. Your inner peace flowers and projects serenity. It is here you detach from chaos and focus on being present. Rid yourself of negative thoughts, reflect on the whole of your being. You let go. You step outside of the maze of mental abstractions, conflicting issues, churning worries and anxious anticipation. The person who blossoms is mindful of the beauty of now. They live in the present. Simply opening yourself and embracing the moment cultivates a  state of authenticity.

Reflection solidifies the process, nourishing inner layers and allowing for (re)connection. Journaling can become part of the reflective process. It enhances your wellness circle by transferring thoughts to paper.

This heedful process can take 20 minutes, yet sets the stage for granger. How would it look to start your day with a clear mind? Replenish your body with a large glass of water and enter your sacred space. Close your eyes, inhale through your nose for a count of 3, exhale through your mouth for a count of 7 and repeat. Allow your mind, body and spirit to connect with whatever message you need to hear. Ask for guidance, envision success, but remember there is no judgment. Simply be grateful.

Mindfulness, reflection and meditation are not designed to “fix.” Rather it creates an awareness of one’s situational and emotional clarity. The person who blossoms has risen above pretense, mundane thoughts, petty differences and uncontrollable worries. There is a depth, a focus and a joy to life!

This article was featured in Lake Norman Woman Magazine

By: Katie Stankiwicz, Owner of Willow Equine

The Strongest Souls

The Strongest Souls

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran

Every individual has some type of scar or broken place. Veterans hold deeper and more complicated scars. Each veteran manifests the effects of their personal battle differently. Scars can happen on American soil; others on foreign. Some veterans return with the visible scars of battle. Others return with scars held deep within. A plethora of emotions identify veterans. This statement carries into how veterans deal with questions concerning their service. The gratitude they receive feels uncomfortable to most. Personality traits are uniquely different. This is reflected in how veterans choose to recount their experiences.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

By: Ernest Hemingway

War breaks those who serve in one way or another. Veteran’s stories carry their broken places. Some may share. Some may choose a silent path to find their strength. Some carry unidentified traumas yet to be understood.

The more jovial and extroverted may choose to make light or tease. A physical disability and a “war story” may be portrayed with humor. Obviously, there is no humor in war. Humor is the mask of the hurt. Humor is the strength of a broken place.

Unfortunately, the untold horrific stories are part of each veteran. Insightfully, some veterans feel these stories are too cruel to retell. A stoic resilience hunkers such stories into silence. Silence becomes the strength to mend broken places.

Veterans may not even totally know how to share. Traumas and related effects may be too raw to recount. Broken places needing to be strengthened. It is only safe to share with those who have the shared experience.

A veteran you know might display these traits. Questioning war experiences is natural. A means of understanding and curiosity. What they endured can never be truly understood. Nor can the lasting effects be easily recognized. What can be understood is the great sacrifice of our veterans. Honor them with empathy and understanding. Respect for how war years are retold is paramount. Respect for the veteran’s choice is our duty.

The scars veterans and their families endure are not easily described. Physical struggles are apparent. Psychological issues are clouded. Some veterans are able to talk about the dark places. Others privately carry the burden. Pride, attached stigmas and denial hold veterans back. Families may look on unable to help. Worse yet they become victims of the emotional turmoil. It is not just the veteran that suffers. In the past, mental health issues were obscured. Great strides in psychotherapy are healing the broken places.

Equine assisted psychotherapy offers a new day for veterans. A day filled with a new hope for healing scars. The horses calm yet inspire a renewed resilience. Resilience transferred from combat now battles broken places. New ideas. New ways. New Possibilities. Untraditional, nonjudgmental and insightful therapy for veterans and their families. Renewed strength. Renewed courage … Aligning Veterans’ Strengths with Horses’ Freedom for Healing

This article was featured in Lake Norman Woman Magazine November 2018.

By: Katie Stankiwicz, Owner of Willow Equine

Turning “Deal With It” Around

Turning “Deal With It” Around

“Family” is a multifaceted kaleidescope of images and experiences. Ever changing yet holding firmly to the essence of family comes from within. A tapestry of belonging woven from heritage, social changes, and core values. The external forces stitched by being “present” and enjoying life.

There is no secret formula but some families seem to interact seamlessly. The appearance of such is a combination of respect, laughter and cooperation. There is a calm in knowing how to perceive situations. The ability to weigh thoughts producing appropriate reactions also creates peace. It is choosing which battles to pick and when to momentarily walk. It is a deep and resounding faith, and acknowledging gratitude. The core component is believing struggles strengthen not destroy.

Life is a succession of joyful firsts, tearful lasts, and everything in the middle,. A partnership of trust between all members. It is not an infallible knowledge centered on being right. There us a cooperative effort in making things work. Sometimes pressing a point. Sometimes simply giving in. Always learning to accept. There is strength in silence and honor in a quiet smile.

Balance and acceptance are cornerstones plus a philosophy that problems are challenges. Problems carry a heavy burden whereas challenges pave the way for growth. It is a mindset that the glass is always full! There is a positive plan in dealing with difficulties and complex struggles. The more complicated take a realization and understanding. Everyone has their point of view that stems from prior experiences. This understanding and compromise are key to working together. It should not be viewed as selling out or giving in. Rather it is forging a newer, deeper relationship. A family holds a grounded creed:

“We are all important members, who can do anything together.”

From the youngest to the oldest, everyone has their place. There is an undeniable role and parts of the total unit called family.

Sometimes the simplest of pleasures has the most endearing effect. These pleasures becomes a family tradition. Traditions can seem difficult to establish but imperative in this “hurry up technology” world. “Deal with it” becomes a common retort conveying impatience. A softer response nullifies impatience and encourages openness. I think about my childhood bedtime tradition with the fondest of memories – sharing our day’s adventures, saying prayers for our blessings and feeling the cocoon of love. Our lives are busy; chaotic in a “deal with it”way. We make the time to create that peaceful bedtime ritual. This time is for an affirmation and a prayer. It most importantly is an unconditional message of support. Hopefully “dealing with it all”, in a balanced manner, preparing to handle whatever comes our way with acceptance while fostering the growth.

This article was featured in Lake Norman Woman Magazine

By: Katie Stankiwicz, Owner of Willow Equine