If I wrote my love story (and I plan to), you’d probably read it and think it is too unbelievable—to “Disney picture perfect”—to be real life.
It’s a story of true love. It has everything a good love story needs: boy and girl fall in love, high school sweethearts, boy and girl breakup in heartbreaking realization that the time just isn’t right, boy joins the army, girl goes off to college, boy and girl get married to different people in the same month and divorced from those people in the same month, boy and girl reconnect after 10 years apart…
We even had the movie-perfect scene running toward one another, seeing each other for the first time in 10 years…it would have been filmed in slow motion on the big screen.
Michael is my soul mate. Michael is also a combat veteran. While serving in Afghanistan, he was injured multiple times and sustained Traumatic Brain Injuries and lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from traumatic memories of his combat experience.
Living with TBI and PTSD from combat can cause an array of issues including panic attacks, inability to sleep, vivid nightmares, flashbacks, memory issues, and dissociative regressions in addition to the physical effects of TBI.
These difficulties can interfere with the veteran’s life and also cause stress for his or her family members.
We knew we needed to use non-pharmaceuticals to help ease the issues that TBI and PTSD caused. Prescribed medications, in the case of many veteran experiences with TBI and PTSD, simply mask the symptoms of TBI and PTSD for a while. Pharmaceuticals prescribed for sleep and for depression tend to allow veterans to disassociate or encourage avoidance techniques instead of dealing with difficult memories. Many of these pharmaceuticals can even cause awful side-effects, like nose bleeds, vomiting, and feeling generally “off” or “abnormal.” And we won’t even go near the discussion of the opioid abuse crisis among veterans…
We knew we needed to implement holistic substances into our routines, get rid of harmful chemicals in our home, and start treating both the physical and emotional sides of TBI and PTSD.
One of the biggest issues—one I think almost every veteran with TBI and PTSD struggles with—is sleep. Nightmares can cause interruptions to sleep, but even when nightmares aren’t present, many veterans have issues falling asleep or staying asleep and getting restful sleep.
Unfortunately, what we know to be true about the brain is that our brain detoxes all the unbalanced chemicals (including chemicals we pick up throughout our environment) when we sleep.
So for veterans who aren’t able to sleep, they aren’t getting that time to get rid of harmful chemicals in their brains, which can lead to chemical imbalances and depression.
We don’t have any kind of magic formula for sleep for veterans with TBI and PTSD, but here are some of the things we’ve tried that we’ve had some success with:
One of the most vital parts of establishing any good sleep habit is to set a strict bedtime routine. Unfortunately, as a person with TBI and PTSD or as a combat veteran’s partner, you can’t really stay up until 1AM binge watching a Netflix show when you’re trying to get into a good sleep schedule…I’m speaking from experience here…
It’s so important to set a strict, sustainable bedtime routine. Strict: meaning you decide what time you will go to bed each night and what you will do before you get into bed each night and you are a total dictator about making that happen EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. And Sustainable: meaning you set up a realistic routine with your schedule. If you know you can’t eat dinner until 8PM every night because of your work schedule, don’t plan on trying to go to sleep at 8:30 every night! That isn’t a sustainable habit.
Everyone will have a different routine, but here is ours:
We eat dinner around 6PM. We sit at the table to eat. We don’t sit in front of the TV. We used to eat in front of the television, but we noticed a few things that we didn’t like about what that did in our experience. First, we didn’t communicate. Often we are coming home and making dinner after a whole day apart, and making dinner and getting sucked into the TV for hours on end cut off our communication lines. Second, we wouldn’t pay attention to what we were eating or enjoy our food. This led to issues of overeating for me, and it turned eating into a mindless task. Veterans with TBI and PTSD learn a lot about the importance of mindfulness. Many of the panic attacks and nightmares that stem from memories of traumatic experiences happen in a state of mind that is not “present” with what is happening in the physical reality. Our minds are so powerful, and panic attacks most often occur in a mindset that is reliving the past. Any time in which we can be intentionally mindful in everyday activities can help us to be more mindful throughout the day and lessen the opportunities for panic attacks to occur.
Then, we watch one Netflix episode that is around 45 minutes long or a movie. Movies are our outlet and we love to talk in movie and show quotes, so it’s an important part of our routine and it’s how we relax. We choose only lighthearted, comedy, or fantasy shows or movies, and we tend to watch movies and shows we’ve seen many times because we know what is going to happen. Knowing how something is going to play out is really helpful for our “unwinding” process after a long day. After the show is over, we turn off every screen and sit on our couch together and read (from real paper books—not screens). I won’t go into the research about the harmful “blue screen” lights to our brains, but you can (and should) look that up on your own.
Then, around 9 PM, we do a short Yoga routine together. There are a bunch of amazing FREE yoga videos for all levels on DoYogaWithMe.com. Yoga helps relax our bodies and align everything so that we can be better able to detox during sleep. Doing something physical like yoga is also helpful for increasing our flexibility, which helps improve posture, and helps us to sleep better.
After our Yoga routine, we get physically ready for bed: I might take a bath with essential oils like Lavender and Cedarwood oils (or Copaiba, one my favorites!) or sit with my feet in my foot bath while we read. Michael usually eats a small snack (like cheese and milk). He also likes to set out his clothes for the next day, get the coffee maker ready to go (gotta have that coffee!!), and set his alarm. We also talk in general about the next day so we can go to bed with a complete understanding of how the day will likely go when we wake up. That’s helpful for being able to relax to sleep. We both brush our teeth.
Every night, I put Lavender and Stress Away oils in the diffuser that will run all through the night. The combo of Lavender and Stress Away (which contains oils like lime and cedarwood) is so great for helping us relax and help our minds to turn off.
Michael also puts oils on before he goes to bed. He likes the Grounding, Peace & Calming, and Aroma Life blends. He puts a drop or two of each behind his ears and on his brain stem (back of the neck). The aromas of these oils help him to feel grounded and safe and calm—which are all vital feelings for restful sleep.
He also will put a drop of Cedarwood on his brain stem before bed. Cedarwood is a great oil to promote healthy brain function, and since we know the brain detoxes as we sleep, Cedarwood can help move that process along. Cedarwood is another calming oil that can be diffused during sleep. It is one of the oils in the Stress Away blend.
Then, we get into bed every single night no later than 10:15 PM.
Michael likes to use the Calm app for sleep meditation or sleep music. He has wireless bluetooth earbuds that he wears throughout the night. Meditation and sleep music can help you turn your brain “off” for the night, giving it a chance to detox and reset and heal from any physical trauma incurred throughout the day (from any chemicals you came in contact with in the environment or from hitting your head) or past physical trauma.
Michael also takes a couple of supplements that help improve brain function and sleep. He takes MindWise, which is an oil infused supplement, and SleepEssence, which is a supplement that helps your brain produce melatonin, which is necessary for sleep.
He takes Mindwise in the mornings when he takes his other supplements (like Ningxia Red, the liquid multivitamin, and Super B, a supplement that can help improve energy levels and mood). Here’s what Young Living says about Mindwise:
With a vegetarian oil made from cold-pressed sacha inchi seeds harvested from the Peruvian Amazon and other medium-chain triglyceride oils, MindWise has a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, it uses a combination of fruit juices and extracts, turmeric, and pure essential oils to create a heart and brain function supplement with a taste you’ll love! MindWise also includes our proprietary memory function blend made with bioidentical CoQ10, ALCAR, and GPC—ingredients that have been studied for their unique benefits. With generous amounts of vitamin D3, this premium supplement is equipped to support normal brain function and overall cognitive and cardiovascular health.
At night, approximately 30 minutes before he goes to bed, Michael takes SleepEssence. Here’s what Young Living has to say about Sleep Essence:
SleepEssence contains four powerful Young Living Therapeutic Grade™ essential oils that have unique sleep-enhancing properties in a softgel vegetarian capsule for easy ingestion. Combining lavender, vetiver, valerian, and Ruta graveolens essential oils with the hormone melatonin—a well-known sleep aid—SleepEssence is a natural way to enable a full night's rest.
There are dozens of tips and ideas that we’ve heard from countless experts on sleep for people who live with TBI and PTSD, and we’ve taken the tips we can remember to do and implement sustainably into our routines. That’s the important part. Good sleep comes only from a sustainable, repeatable habit and routine, so make sure you establish your own routine using the tips and ideas that work for you. What works for us, might not work for you. The important thing is to try enough things until you find out what works for you.
Our routine and the oils and supplements Michael takes don’t always work for him. Nightmares still come forward. Panic attacks and insomnia are still triggered by outside stimuli. But as long as we continue to come back to our routine and reset after difficult experiences, we are able to handle the “off” days when they arise.
TBI and PTSD are lifelong “diagnoses," but they aren’t things to “suffer” from. They are things to “live with.” There is too often so much shame associated with TBI and PTSD, but I’m not willing to stay quiet about my experience supporting a veteran with TBI and PTSD because that simply promotes the stigma. 22 American veterans commit suicide every day. I refuse to let the man I love become one of those 22.
In this Veteran’s Day season, don’t just thank a veteran. Find a way to encourage him or her. Find a way to support him or her. So many veterans struggle silently…and 22 a day take their own lives. That isn’t a statistic I’m willing to let stand.
Available until November 14th (while supplies last) is the Honor, Valour, Freedom bundle from Young Living. Show your veteran you care by gifting them with this bundle from Young Living.
Purchase online here: https://www.youngliving.com/en_US/products/honor-valor-freedom-bundle
If you’re new to Young Living, input the member number 12292982 in the “sponsor” and “enroller” spots. When you purchase the bundle as a retail customer with my member number, you’ll be placed on my team, and I will contact you directly so we can evaluate how you can better support your veteran and/or promote health and vitality in yourself through the use of therapeutic grade essential oils.