Best Of, Blogishness, ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

Military Discipline and PTSD

military discipline ptsd

What sets a combat veteran apart from others who suffer from PTSD is in the background of the trauma. While you don’t have to be in a war zone to have PTSD, the trauma related to a war zone is a far different one from other causes of PTSD. This isn’t to diminish the real life suffering and psychological effects of non-combat PTSD suffers; however, there is a far greater prevalence of PTSD as a result of combat than any other singular form of trauma.

Military lifestyle

One of the first major differences is in the entire lifestyle of those in the military. Regardless of what service you are attached to, be it Navy, Army, Air Force, or Marine from the moment you wake up to the when you hit the pillow at the end of the day (or days later) you have certain requirements that non-military people do not. Your life in the military is regulated every moment of every day; from when you can eat, to how your dress, to your physical fitness, to who you talk to and how you address other military personal. This is something that very few non-military people can relate to. Even in a combat zone, certain regulations must be upheld either as a security measure or as a result of a policy put in place by someone in command. For example, it is required that all lower enlisted soldiers stop and salute a higher ranking officer upon coming in contact with them. In a combat zone, this is not only frowned upon but can be seen as a hostile action towards the officer in questions otherwise known as “sniper checking.” The reason for this is that in a combat environment, you never know when a hostile enemy can be watching you. As a result this non-combat curtesy can let the enemy know who is a better target should they need to or want to attack. This is just an example of the many rules, regulations, and standard operating procedure that is the daily life of someone in the military.

Where lifestyle meets life altering event

While this strict regulation may seem harsh or unnecessary to those outside the military; this is the everyday culture that has been in place for many generations. However, when things go south these regulations kick in. The term conditioning comes into play a lot when it comes to the military and their training. The ultimate goal of any combat or even non-combat training is to make the process as easy and repeatable as possible. This way when a soldier enters into a high stress situation such as combat their instincts take over and the conditioning allows them to do whatever needs to be done with little or no thought towards what has to be done. This secondary high functioning brain as it may be called is like a back-up system. For many people, they will go their whole lives not having to deal with a situation that requires this need but for anyone that has to deal with life and death situations such as nurses, firefighters, or in this case a combat soldier, this secondary brain is the key to survival. However, as a result of this the primary brain has to deal with everything that happens when the secondary brain kicks in. Think of it in terms of a computer with two operating systems. In the event that the first operating system crashes, the secondary kicks in to get the primary back up and going. However, once the primary is back up you still have to deal with the issue that caused the crash in the first place.

Return to civilian life

This is where things start to fall apart for most combat soldiers. With the combination of factors addressed above on top of general societal factors; that can be all together foreign for someone who’s spent the majority of their adult life in the military, it is no wonder that many of these individuals have extensive problems once they are out. Even non-PTSD vets have a hard time adjusting to general civilian life. Add to it the stress, anxiety, guilt, etc. that accompanies having survived a combat related trauma makes it an almost impossible task for anyone to deal with alone. Additionally, because of the conditioning mentioned above, their brain can and sometimes does shift into secondary mode when there primary brain cannot handle a situation. This is often where “flashbacks” or violent reactions come into play for some people.


Suffering from PTSD is never a walk in the park for anyone. For a combat veteran it is a whole different ball game. Between the general PTSD trauma, the conditioning, and change in lifestyle from military to civilian many veterans suffer as a result. Thankfully there are a number of programs out there to address these individuals, however, until our societal views and beliefs related to psychological problems changes we can only do so much.

Picture: Flickr/DVIDSHUB

Best Of, MFA Notes, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

AJ Verdelle – Revising Your Writing

revising your creative work with aj verdelleType A Revision – with A.J. Verdelle – How to Revise Your Writing

Write → Review → Tighten → Clarify → Reorder → Seek nuance → Move the story forward →

How do you know when your story is finished?

Finished: When you’ve said all you have to say.

Finished: When there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Remember: “You don’t get the book you wanted, you get the book you get.” – James Baldwin

Sometimes a revision is simply an addition. If your addition doesn’t add tension, drama, or explain something, then maybe you don’t need it. Whatever you keep, make sure it serves the narrative.

Eliminiate excess! “The good shit wants to play with the good shit!” – Thomas Sayers Ellis. (Get rid of anything that isn’t “Good Shit.”)

Clarity is non-negotiable – Don’t make readers have to guess, don’t confuse them.

Get rid of redundancy: “The sun rose this morning.” Great. But the sun rises every morning, everyone knows that. The sun doesn’t rise at night. Revision would be “The sun rose.” (This is, of course, unless you’re writing some dystopian story where the sun doesn’t usually rise, etc.)

Revise only when the work is finished, when there’s closure. Don’t revise when you’re still working on it; don’t revise an unfinished piece of work. You need to be finished before you revise because you need to know where you want to end up before you figure out how to get there.

  • Rise above your work.
  • Circle the verbs (if they’re not necessary, then kill them!)
  • We want action and drama in our stories!
  • Action and reaction go together.

Think about killing your verbs: “Dan came into the room, clumsily.” VS “Dan came into the room late, like always.” Ask yourself if the verb is actually serving the story. Focus on accuracy. “The building appears…” A building doesn’t just “appear.”

When revising ask yourself: Why did I write this work?

(What did I intend to write? VS What did I actually write?)

*Look at places where you can get rid of the word “it” (more often than you think).*

*You need to be able to say what you’re writing about in 18 words or less.*

*Look at any word longer than 8 letters and make sure it’s doing it’s job.*

 *These notes were from one of my favorite professor at Lesley University: A.J. Verdelle.*

Click here to see more MFA Notes

Recommended book for this section: The Good Negress: A Novel, by A.J. Verdelle.

Picture: Flickr/Katie Sadler

 About these MFA Notes: Revising your creative writing

Recently, I graduated from Lesley University with an MFA in creative writing, and I decided that I wanted to share what I learned in a series of blog posts.

I decided to share for two reasons:

1) My notes, although not too detailed, could possibly  help other writers.

2) Rewriting my notes forces me to re-read and re-think everything I learned, so it’s a win-win.

But before we dive in, please keep two things in mind:

1) These notes are neither complete nor perfect. The classes at Lesley were not typical lecture/note classes; the classes were filled with writing and thinking exercises and often this left no time for notes (in a good way). However, even with that, these sparse notes, I do believe, could still offer value.

2) I may, from time to time, include actual writing prompts from the classes, please bare with me, they’re first drafts and were done in the moment.

I hope you enjoy this series of notes and if you have any questions about the notes, Lesley University, or MFA’s, please feel free to contact me.

Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

4 Ways to Spice Up Vegan Date Night

vegan date nightAre you vegan/vegetarian?

Could your date night use some spicing up?

Then keep reading…

“How come we never go out anymore?” My girlfriend, Emily, asked, for the third week in a row. It was a rhetorical question, something not to be answered immediately, if at all. But she was right, we never went out anymore.

When we had started dating years ago, the question of “What do we you want to do tonight?” seemed like one that needn’t be asked; because we were always on some type of adventure: hiking, sailing, cooking classes, ghost tours, etc. But as the weeks, months and years of our relationship carried on, our dates began to dwindle. Before we knew it, routine engulfed us and weeks and months would pass without even the casual dinner and a movie. Eventually, we had decided to try the all too typical approach of weekly “date night,” but even that, after years, came to a standstill. Television became our life and each night was a rerun: we made dinner, watched repeats of Seinfeld, and then slept. We were on the precipice of the worst thing that could happen in any relationship: boredom.

Time and time again we tried to implement the infamous “date night,” but it never seemed to stick, things had always felt too forced, too contrived. And both of us being vegan certainly didn’t help. In fact, as we finally talked it through one night, we realized that it was only after we had become vegans that we had started to have trouble with our weekly “date night.”

After we had both become vegan suddenly even dinner and a movie seemed like a chore:

“Did you check out that restaurant, are they vegan friendly?” “Yes. I checked online, everything looked fine.” “Well, call ahead anyways to double check.” “Ok. I called. They’ve got a special vegan menu: we can get either pasta or salad.” “That’s it? Oh God. Let’s just stay home…”

“There’s this new great Vegan restaurant opening…but its ninety minutes away. Do you still want to go?”

“Do you want to go see a movie?” “I hate that movie theatre all I can smell is butter when we’re there.”

For a long time we tried to consolidate the idea of being vegans and being able to have a fun, easy date night. We fought, we laughed, we cried and then finally, after days and weeks and months of bad date nights, we came up with an unbeatable plan for unforgettable vegan date nights.

What we’ve learned:

1) Save up. Instead of forcing ourselves to go out once a week for “date night,” we realized that it can be better to plan just one really special date night per month, something that we could really look forward to. No one looks forward to dinner and a movie every week—especially if you’re vegan and your restaurants are severely limited.   And since dinner and a movie once a week can certainly add up. Instead, save up that money and use it all on one special date night. Do something out of the ordinary. Something a little more expensive—since you saved all your date night money for one night instead of four. Go to a spa together. Go to the theatre. Or mine and Emily’s favorite: Drive to that really great vegan restaurant that’s two hours away and stay at a nice bed and breakfast for the night. It’s better to have one unforgettable date night per month than four forgettable ones.

2) Stay in. We all know that cooking can be a chore, especially the cleanup afterwards; but we often forget how much fun it can be; there’s a reason why every cheesy romantic movie has a scene in a kitchen with one person playfully putting frosting or flour on someone else’s nose. It’s because cooking is fun and can be a very sexual, sensual thing. Put some soft jazz on and by the time the kitchen fills with the scents of seasoning and fresh foods all your stresses will have washed away. Surprise each other with different meals. Try the new recipe that you read in The Vegan Villager. Make a sampling of foods for each other and wear blindfolds—the blindfolds could be used for after dinner fun, too. For dessert have some strawberries covered in dark chocolate. Additional option: Make the food and take it to a drive in movie theatre.

3) Start something. The fact of the matter is, most vegans aren’t activists—although that’s how it’s often portrayed—but most vegans DO want to be more active in the community. Join that vegan society or go to that vegan Meetup group together. Grab a cup of coffee and leaflet your local college campus. It might not seem like a fun date night, but a crisp fall evening, with a warm cup of tea, on a beautiful college campus, talking to people about issues near and dear to your heart, it can be a life changing night. Kill two birds with one stone: have a fun, unusual vegan date night, and change your community.

4) Shelters. Go to an animal shelter. Although the idea might seem like a depressing date night it can also be really fun and memorable. An old brother of mine has volunteered for years at a shelter and when single he would take his dates to the shelter with him. Animal shelters often have large grassy areas near them and my brother and his date would take several dogs for a walk, play with them in the grass, and then have a picnic with the dogs. We can’t save all animals, and you might not be able to save all the animals in the shelter, but an afternoon spent playing catch with a half dozen friendly dogs, and then a picnic in the grass—bringing treats for your furry friends, too—it’s a vegan date night that will leave a lasting impact. And, of course, you could always take one, or two, or three of the puppies’ home with you afterwards…

Bonus tip: If you want to surprise your loved one with a fun vegan date night, tell them that you’ve got an amazing surprise date night planned for them in one month. Then ask them to guess what it is. In reality, you won’t have anything planned…yet. But as they tell you all their idea of what would make an “amazing surprise date night,” you’ve already got a head start on what you should do.

 Picture: Flickr/Alex Proimos   


Best Of, Blogishness, Blogishness, Book Notes, MFA Notes, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

Annotative Essay on the book: ‘Let The Great World Spin,’ By Colum McCann

let the great world spin book

let the great world spin book essay

 McCann grabs you… at first. Starting with a tale of a man on a tightrope, he leads the reader through an interweaving story of human nature and internal and external connectedness. This beginning, and complex weaving of storylines, has shown me certain opportunities, and weaknesses in my own writing, and many ways in which I can improve. However, like all my readings, I’ve learned that every author has weaknesses, which can teach as much as his strengths.

“I see the characters. I feel them. I care for them. I want to know what happens to them.”

One thing that came up for me about the story’s, beginning, middle, and end, was that nothing about the story or plot actually captured me. A man is tightrope walking, so what? A priest is trying to find himself, so what? A mother misses her son, so what? Each theme is somewhat interesting, and each plotline somewhat intriguing, but enough so that it would keep me reading? No. Not for me. What did keep me reading, though, was the writing itself—and what was written between the lines. Although the pages weren’t dripping with philosophy and thinking points about life, there were enough moments scattered throughout which made me stop and think about life and death, and the meaning of everything. And that’s all a writer can ask for; to make his reader stop and think. In the military we say “Mission first, but soldiers always.” In writing this is best parlayed as, “Entertainment first, but thinking always.” McCann’s philosophical readings gave the book a deep ethereal feel, but his real strength is in his descriptions.

A man walking a tightrope across two buildings doesn’t interest me, at all, really. Even if the man’s life is at stake and there’s a chance he could die. Who cares? But… if I had a friend who was tightrope walking across two buildings and his life was at stake, then I would care. And that is McCann’s true strength. Through his physical and emotional descriptions he connects you to his characters. Someone, an event, that typically would not, and should not, interest me, suddenly compels me forward, to read more and more. This happens because of connectedness. I see the characters. I feel them. I care for them. I want to know what happens to them. This is why I continued reading. I didn’t care about some stupid story about someone walking across a tightrope or some stupid woman who lost her son; but it wasn’t just a man walking across a tightrope or some mother missing her son; it was my friend walking across a tightrope, my mother missing her son.

Combined with somewhat intriguing plotlines and inviting, inventive writing of emotional and physical descriptions, and the occasional thinking points, collectively, Let the Great World Spin, comes together to form a truly enjoyable book. Now, on to the lessons learned.

“The power isn’t in the story itself; because the story isn’t unique or original; the power of the story lies in the way it’s told and the way it’s written.”

McCann started his book with a man tightrope walking across two buildings. It wasn’t the best, most intriguing idea, but the writing was so descriptive that I was drawn forward to see more and find out what happens. Then, when I got to the next section, and scant a word was mentioned about the tightrope walker, I was mystified. At first, there appeared to be no connection, and I thought that perhaps the book was merely a collection of short non-conjoining stories. It wasn’t until deep in section three that the tightrope walker was mentioned again, and that I would begin to see how the story would take shape. And seeing how the author was going to connect the pieces, I became even more intrigued; not by the story itself, but by how everything was going to unfold.

In most books I read, and in my own writing, things are written in a linear format of a, b, c and d. There’s the occasional flashback and future whispers, but mostly things are written from point A to point B. But McCann has written his own indirect alphabet. Slowly things began to reveal themselves. And although, once I was done reading the book, I appreciated the uniqueness of it and loved how it was written, had the writing not been so descriptive and inventive and inviting, even a tiny bit less, I would not have finished the book; nor would I have gotten to the point where I would have realize that the stories were connected. What this went to show me is that there is no certain way in which stories need to be told or information to be given. There are other ways and other points of view. Had McCann written his book in the typical linear format then surely it wouldn’t be as highly praised or widely read.

The power isn’t in the story itself; because the story isn’t unique or original; the power of the story lies in the way it’s told and the way it’s written. As mentioned early, the book wasn’t mainly driven by its plotlines, and what really kept it going was the writing. Descriptions went on and on, sometimes too long, but still they somehow managed to capture my eye. Typically, I would find such writing as blowhard and overly verbose; however, McCann’s writing had a different nature to it, once in which I wish I could capture. His words and ideas flowed; because he combines the internal descriptions with the external ones. This can best been seen in an example from the beginning of book two.

“He surfs the thin metal platform as the train jags south out of Grand Central. At times he gets dizzy just anticipating the next corner. That speed. That wild noise in his ears. The truth is, it frightens him. The steel thrumming through him. It’s like he has the whole train in his sneakers. Control and oblivion. Sometimes it feels like he’s the one driving. Too far left and the train might smash into the corner and there’ll be a million mangled bodies along the rail. Too far right and the cars will skid sideways and it’ll be a good-bye, nice knowing you, see you in the headlines…”

One simple paragraph, yet it so powerfully captures the moment. This is the power of the writing and the book. McCann’s ability to combine the description of a speeding train with the internal feelings of one of its passengers; this allows us to see the train and the person, but more importantly to feel them both. In my writing I feel as though I would typically do one or the other; describe the physical aspects of the train, describe the physical aspects of the person, describe the feeling of the train, describe the feeling of the person, etc. But like the whole story itself, McCann combines them, he interweaves the physical aspects of the train and the person, the feelings of the train, and the feelings of the person, just as he weaves each individual story with the stories of the whole. He does this per paragraph. This is what I’d like to do in my own writing.

Like my stories, my own descriptions tend to be linear. The house is red. The man is fat. The house feels haunted. The man feels ashamed. Et cetera. How do I combine the descriptions and feelings of both? This is not a rhetorical question, either; please answer in your response with how I can better do this. Examples would be helpful, too.

For more annotative essays and other book related stuff click here.

Picture: Flickr/Matthew Allard

Politics / News, Politics / News, ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

Is PTSD Genetic? Can PTSD be passed onto my children?

ptsd uncle sam recruitment poster ptsdIs PTSD Genetic?

Can PTSD be passed onto my children?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric ailment that affects many people around the world. This stress disorder can affect anyone and it is typically caused by uncontrollable or unpredictable traumatic events. In most cases, PTSD symptoms appear after several days or hours of certain event. However, there are times that it takes up to few months or weeks for the symptoms to manifest themselves. Common PTSD’s causes may be because of sudden death of loved ones, assault, car or plane crashes, rape, war, natural disasters, kidnap, childhood neglect, physical abuse and other traumatic events.

“Avoiding being reminded of the event, including becoming detached from friends and becoming emotionally withdrawn, is another sign of PTSD.”

But can we tell just by taking a simple blood test if we are predisposed genetically to PTSD? This question has been the biggest issue internationally. International researchers have found a genetic marker that is linked to PSTD in the blood samples of the conflict zone based Marines. This team of researchers is studying to figure out who is more resilient to PTSD, and who is more at risk for PTSD.

Women are more likely to develop this stress disorder than men. Signs tend to cluster into three main areas. One is when a person relives the event through vivid images and nightmares together with an extreme reaction like heart palpitations, uncontrollable shaking and chills. Avoiding being reminded of the event, including becoming detached from friends and becoming emotionally withdrawn, is another sign of PTSD. The last main signs of this disorder are when a person is hyper aroused, irritable, startled easily, and/or has difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping.

The idea that your genes play a role in whether you develop this stress disorder has been a famous focus of frequent research. Scientists have actually discovered, in mice, the genes that regulate fear. The lack of a brain chemical that is regulating the fear (which is called peptide that releases gastrin), led to fear response that is greater among rodents. In another study, mice that do not have a protein that is necessary to form the so called “fear memories”, have less tendency of freezing up and willing to explore unfamiliar spaces (think of the cartoon Tom and Jerry, and how Jerry (the mouse) wasn’t afraid of Tom the cat. This could have, realistically, been because Jerry lacked a certain protein in his brain that would’ve told him to be afraid of Tom). This is important to note because many people believe that PTSD is an unnatural response, but PTSD can often be a natural response to a somewhat unnatural situation. The brain is almost wired to respond in such a way.

“It’s been said that a single person with PTSD infects/affects/effects up to seven individuals with symptoms.”

There are also studies on twins which show that heredity is accounting for about 30 percent of the differences responding to trauma. Identical twins are much more likely to develop this stress disorder than the fraternal twins. Another research has looked into the role of inherited mental disorders, brain differences or tendencies of addiction.

An unusual research avenue is the contribution of our immune systems to the development of the symptoms of PTSD or if it has also a big role in this development. Prior studies showed that people who have been diagnosed with PTSD as compared to individuals without PTSD suggest that their differences in their genes in relation to inflammation, plays a role.

Therefore, there is a tendency that PTSD can be acquired genetically, however, there is no positive result as researchers are still going on progress of having some clues as to what may predict resilience and risk.

One thing to keep in mind about PTSD, is that even though it may or may not be genetic, a father or mother can still pass on PTSD to their children, and loved ones, through proximity. It’s been said that a single person with PTSD infects/affects/effects up to seven individuals with symptoms. Think of it as the flu. A father gets sick with the flu: he’s lethargic, has a fever, diarrhea, and he’s nauseous. Several days pass and the father’s son gets sick. The son has all the same symptoms as his father, he’s lethargic, nauseous, has diarrhea, etc. Then, the next thing you know, the sister gets sick, the mother, and the whole house is laid up in bed. Now, take that same scenario and imagine a man with PTSD. He’s irritable, short-tempered, has trouble sleeping, is anxious, and is emotionally withdrawn. How long do you think it’ll be before his short-temper and irritability is passed along to his wife and children?

In a sense, it’s the old nature vs nurture debate. Are we predisposed to PTSD or brought up into it?

Picture: Flickr/Ilona Meagher

Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

5 Rules for Vegan Camping

vegan campingThe five things you need to keep in mind while camping as a vegan.

As the days finally grow cooler, and the trees begin to change, there’s no better time to go camping then in late August or September. And there’s no better place to go camping then right here in New England. From the Berkshires of Massachusetts and the campgrounds of Rhode Island to the mountains of New Hampshire, boundless woods of Maine, and tranquil ponds of Vermont. Finding a place to go camping in New England isn’t the hard part, the hard part is being able to have that authentic camping experience, while still keeping it vegan.

Through all my years of camping and going from carnivore to vegan, my hunting knife has now been replace by a tofu press, my fishing pole by a portable blender, and my reserve of hotdogs—for when I didn’t catch any fish, which I usually didn’t—replaced by Seitan beef. When I went camping this year, though, I knew that I wanted to go back to just the basics. I didn’t want to worry about bringing extra batteries for the blender or that special grill and tinfoil for the tofu; I want just man, nature, and food. And luckily, for just a couple of bills, I was able to reserve a campsite for a long weekend. With two fellow vegans, I headed into the wilderness of New Hampshire.

The following tips—learned from experiences, and fellow vegan campers—will not only help you preserve your veganess while having an authentic camping experience, but will also help preserve the campgrounds so that you can return year after year.

1. Bugs: It’s debatable, but most vegans are against killing bugs; especially for no reason, other than they’re annoying. During one camping trip last fall, a friend had brought with him one of those two hundred foot area bug bombs. The thing was crazy. The mushroom cloud it created reminded me of the bombs I’d seen exploding in Iraq. Not only was this thing killing every mosquito within a two hundred foot radius, but it was killing every bug in the area, and it certainly wasn’t helping the birds, or any other animals who breathed it in—namely, me.

Bug bombs, if you don’t already know, are not the best option. Any type of spray, whether it’s a bug bomb, or typical repellant spray, is not good for the environment or the animals in that environment. If you’re going to use a bug repellant, then the best option is a lotion rather than a spray, as fewer toxins are released into the air for birds and animals to breathe in. However, if you’ve got something against even lotion bug repellants, chemicals and all; you could always use the army method and just break the tops off a pack of matches and swallow those to keep the bugs away—it’s not recommended. The best option, though, besides bug repellant lotions, and swallowing matches, is to start a campfire.

2. Building a fire: It’s not camping without a campfire, plain and simple. There needs to be a place to tell ghost stories, sip beer, and listen to your friend play the same song on his guitar—over, and over, and over, again. When building a campfire, though, there’s more to it than meets the eye. A good campfire should have as minimal impact on the environment as possible, and it should leave no trace after you’re gone. To do this, you need to follow three simple rules:

  • Most campers tend to make their fires too large. A campfire should only be large enough to cook your food on and gather around. A two foot by two foot campfire is more than large enough to cook food for three to four people and the smoke from it covers a large enough area to repel the bugs. When making a campfire, err on the side of too small rather than too large.
  • Only gather sticks and twigs that have already fallen, they should be no thicker than a baseball bat. Do not break branches off and do not saw through fallen logs—fallen logs are a crucial key to the habitat of a forest.
  • After you’ve made sure the fire is out, take the ash and scatter it over a large area.

3. Food: It’s not camping unless you’re cooking something over a fire, and vegans have more camp-worthy foods than most would think. My favorites are Field Roast Mexican Chipotle sausages and corn on the cob. The corn on the cob and sausages also allow for those, all too necessary, male induced camping jokes that are not possible when eating a block of tofu or drinking celery smoothies, “Good sausage, man,” “Mine’s a little bit bigger than yours,” “I like to nibble on just the tip…” Anyways, a thin stick found in the woods can easily be whittled down to a point to hold your sausage and corn over the fire.

And then let’s not forget the s’mores! I was vegan for a full YEAR before I discovered there was such a thing as vegan marshmallows. Before camping this year, I bought a big bag of them, along with several dozen dark chocolate candy bars, and a box of cinnamon graham crackers. Along with our fire-cooked sausages, corn on the cob and s’mores, all three of us felt as though it was as close to an authentic experience as possible. We didn’t miss our blenders, Vitamix’s, tofu presses or stoves, at all.

4. Hiking: Keep to the trails that are clearly marked. I know that it seems lame, and like the ‘square thing’ to do. But parks often have suggested routes and closed off areas for a reason. Whether it’s the rare birds that are nesting in the area, the turtles who’ve just laid their eggs and which you’re likely to step on, or simply that the area is damaged, the rocks could be loose and the slightest nudge by an uninformed hiker could send the whole place into a disarray killing hundreds of animals and creating a landslide. And please, if you’re vegan, do not go hiking or camping when its hunting season, it just feels too much like the set up for some crude joke to have a vegan get shot by a hunter.

5. Trash: Do not leave your trash behind! Even if you think it’s organic, “But it’s compostable, man.” Screw what you do at home; the forest isn’t the same as that crappy compost heap you keep behind the shed at your mom’s house. The forest is a self-sustaining environment and our job as good vegan campers is to leave as little impact on the landscape as possible. Take everything home!

Follow these simple rules and your next vegan camping trip will be all the more fun, and better for the environment!


Picture: Flickr/Stelluccia

Best Of, Politics / News, Politics / News, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

Soldiers and PTSD, Part 1: Going Vegan

Nad-e-Ali, Helmand

“Blood, blood, blood, makes the green grass grow,” was the mantra we used throughout basic training. Our young boots hitting the pavement, grass, and dirt, each heel giving the cue to yell the cadence “blood,” then again, “blood.”

This wasn’t done to turn us into blood-thirsty sadomasochists (as some would have you believe). It was done to prepare us for the realities of what we were facing. We were a platoon of soldiers, recruits, who had joined the military in 2004. Our country was in the midst of two wars, and we were being prepared to fight, to die, and to take lives. For the soldiers who came before us the question was always, “If we’ll go to war,” but for us, the question was no longer “If,” but “when.” We were being prepared to live, to fight, to kill, and to die for our country. There’s no other way to put it:

“Blood, blood, blood, makes the green grass grow.”

“There is no reverse basic training to teach us how to come home.”

The problem, though, facing the modern military isn’t with training us to become soldiers and to kill, the problem is with training us to come home. In basic training, a Drill Sergeant’s only job is to turn his soldiers into “Lean, Mean, Fighting-Machines.” And that’s what he does. He’s good at it. It’s why the United States has the most powerful military in the history of the world. But once soldiers fight. Kill. Come close to death.

Then come home. And that’s when the problems begin.

What war and the military does is light a fire in the belly of all who serve. A fire of intensity, for life, for passion, to be part of something greater than themselves. Coming home extinguishes our fire…but embers still burn, and there lies the trouble. In my own unit, since coming home, dozens have gone through drug, alcohol and PTSD clinics, dozens more have gone through divorces, and we’ve lost three to suicide. There is no reverse basic training to teach us how to come home, how to go back to the way we were, how to look at and deal with what we’ve seen and experienced. There’s no way to snuff out the final embers. The only option is to light the fire back up and channel it. It’s why service platoons and charities of veterans giving back to their community have become so popular. Because soldiers come home and they’re depressed, they’re anxious, and for a lot of them, the only thing that helps is giving back to their community. We’ve given until it hurts, and the only answer is to give back some more. It’s the irony of war.

For one soldier, Specialist Timothy Scott, his idea of giving back was to become a vegan (someone who doesn’t eat meat, eggs, dairy, or wear leather products, etc.). SPC Scott—a square-jawed, Flaming-Lips listening, southern boy, who’s an Iraq war veteran and former infantry soldier—was nice enough to sit down for an interview.

What inspired you to become a vegan and how did it relate to your service in Iraq?

“I got into it initially just as a diet. Like, I was having problems after I got back, stressed out, fighting with my girlfriend all the time, and just all kinds of shit was going on. It got pretty bad one night and I knew I needed to do something so I Googled some stuff on anxiety, and stuff about soldiers coming home. I don’t know how it happened, but I knew I needed to do something drastic. I somehow got onto a site about veganism and after a few hours reading things I don’t even know why, it didn’t seem like me, but I decided to give it a try. And I got my girlfriend to agree to do it with me.”

Yeah that’s definitely a drastic jump for someone to make. Did veganism help with anything? How?

“Yeah, it was weird once I got into it. I read the book China Study, and watched some YouTube videos like Earthlings, and, I don’t know, at first it was like this big distraction…”

What do you mean by distraction?

“I dove right into it and it just gave me something to focus on. I wasn’t yelling at my girlfriend anymore — I was suddenly yelling at my TV or the book I was reading. At first I was still… angry and stressed out and anxious, but it was like it just transferred from my girlfriend and family to the meat and farming industry. I guess it wasn’t much better, but it was a start. But that’s the thing. Before, what was stressing me out was reading about the wars in the paper—or the lack of reading about them—and then talking to people back home, and I don’t know…everything was just stressing me out, people’s attitudes just pissed me off. After I got into veganism though I just stopped focusing on the wars and how shitty I thought everyone was. I just focused all my rage on the farming and meat industry. It was like they were the ones who started the wars and who were poisoning us.”

So you were a vegan, and were angry and pissed off, that sounds about right. Then what happened?

“Then, I don’t know, I went to some meetings that I found on, and my girlfriend and I just joined this community. And I saw that people were pissed off and angry about issues but not like me, and then I don’t know. I didn’t notice anything really actually “Happen,” but my girlfriend and I started to become closer again, cooking food together, and bitching about how there’s nothing to buy at the store (but in a more fun light-hearted way) and we started to go to vegan dinners with people from the group…and…I still talked to all my friends but…it was like I was part of a new community. We ate together, talked about the same things, and the wars were still going on and people were still doing dumb shit, but I just stopped thinking about it so much. I feel guilty even saying it, that I stopped thinking about the wars and what was going on, but I needed to. I needed some space, something else to think of. Veganism offered that. Part of me feels like it could have been anything and it just happened to be veganism. But I’m glad it was. I feel healthier now, happier, and I can think about the wars and the military again, but more objectively now that I’ve had some space.”

What about veganism is it that you think helped you deal with your PTSD?

“I mean, it’s just like I said. It gave me something different to focus on. It could have been anything, but that night when I was on the computer it was just veganism that I started reading about. That’s the one thing I’d recommend to other vets. I’m not saying just to become a vegan—do your own research—and I know you’ll feel guilty for not constantly thinking about the wars and your friends, but just give yourself a break. Find something that can take your focus away because space from my thoughts was what I needed so I started thinking about something else. What a person focuses on grows…so just change what you focus on.”

The interview with SPC Scott went on a little bit longer, but the above questions and answers are the gist of the overall tone. And Scott seems to mirror what many self-help “guru’s” will often tell you, “what you focus on grows,” and it’s not to say that veganism is “The Answer,” or even that there is an answer, but what it seems SPC Scott wanted to share was that veganism gave him somewhere different to place his focus. And even though he was still angry and pissed-off, at first, what he did was break his patterns. His mind started to go someplace besides back to the war and all that had happened. Veganism helped change the way he looked at things, the world, his family, his friends, and his experiences.

About this Interview Series: We’ll explore stories from several different veterans—and family members of veterans—and what it is that they’ve done in their lives that has made a drastic impact in helping with their PTSD. Stay tuned for more articles and personal stories/transformations. Mine will be next up in the Series.


Full-disclosure: I’m a vegan, too, but for other reasons than Scott.

–Photo: Defence Images/Flickr

Best Of, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

New Writer for Good Men Project


Hey guys!  I’ve been hired as the new editor for the War & Veterans section of the Good Men Project.

I’ll be running some good articles there (and a few oldies from here as well, seeing if they can get another life) but I’ll be looking for anyone who wants to add some submissions!

Don’t worry, though, I’ll still be blogging here.  Writing, MFA school, veganism, military, PTSD.  Including, how I cured my hypothyroidism, naturally.

If you want to submit shoot me an email at:


Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

Vegan Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis

UntitledThe immune system attacks healthy tissue when an autoimmune disorder is present. Pain, swelling and stiffness result from the assault on the lining of the joints that occurs when Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is present. A link between RA and diet has not been established clearly and there are not official guidelines for it but there is an indication that eating a diet without animal products can make the symptoms less severe, especially when there are sensitivities to specific foods. A vegan diet might aid you to have a longer healthier life.

 Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms and Antibodies

 The body will produce antibodies when you eat something that it sees as a danger in order to fight the attack. The inflammation causing pain from RA results from the processes that are triggered. Certain foods, particularly those of an animal origin cause antibodies to be produced in those with Rheumatoid arthritis.

 Vegan Diets Benefits

 Unlike a vegetarian diet which removes only meat from the diet, the vegan diet removes all animal products and is thought to prevent strokes and heart attacks in those suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis.

 The center of vegan meals is rice, millet, corn, sunflower seeds, and vegetables. The main source of calcium is sesame milk and the vegan diet is made up of ten percent protein, thirty percent fat and sixty percent carbohydrates.

 Those that continually follow a vegan diet manage to lower levels of LDL cholesterol faster than those that do not follow a vegan diet. There are also lower levels of C-reactive proteins in the blood. The C-reactive protein indicates that inflammation is present in the body. Vegans lose more weight and have a lower body mass index on average than those who do not follow a vegan diet.

 Things to Remember with a Vegan Diet

 There are some things to keep in mind when you consider changing to a vegan lifestyle. There can be deficiencies in the nutrients such as calcium and vitamin B12 unless you follow a careful plan for menus. You should consult a professional before you make serious changes to your diet. Four food groups should be emphasized with a vegan diet:


  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains

 It is also recommended that you take a multivitamin daily. It is easier to transition to a vegan lifestyle to help deal with your RA when you do it a little bit at a time. There are some foods that you can add little by little to your diet and obtain key nutrients:

 Broccoli, collard greens, soy products, fortified juices and kale all give you calcium.

  • Pinto beans, soy products, spinach and chickpeas provide iron.
  • Corn, soy products and legumes provide protein.
  • Fortified soymilk and breakfast cereals can provide you with vitamin B12.

 When it comes to Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms, eating a vegan diet can go a long way to reducing the pain associated with inflammation by reducing the response of the immune system to things that it mistakenly considers to be harmful.

Tammy Mahan has worked in the healthcare field for over 20 years. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with


Blogishness, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

Hypothyroidism: A Search For the Cure: An Update

thyroid_glandIf you read my recent post (Hypothyroidism a search for the cure) you’ll know that I was recently diagnosed with Hypothyroidism—for the second time.  I was diagnosed several years earlier and after changing my diet I was cured of hypothyroidism, but I’ve since stopped doing the things which had cured me the first time, and I’ve been diagnosed, again.  I’m committed to healing myself the natural way, again, and to help others with their search for a cure, I wanted to document it here (also, remember, I’m not a doctor, this is just my experience and thoughts, etc.).

As an update, here’s what I’m doing to help me along in my search for a cure:

I’ve stopped eating broccoli, green peppers, and celery–unless they’re cooked.

I’ve stopped eating peanuts.

I’ve begun eating a spoonful of extra virgin coconut oil every day. 

I make sure to workout three times a week–at the very least going for a forty-five minute walk.

I’ve committed to reducing stress in my life and just completed a month long meditation weekly meditation class.

I’ve also had an hour long meeting with Dr. Mark Mincolla .   Dr. Mincolla is all about natural healing and had cured his own hypothyroidism.  We had a nice meeting and he did this thing where he puts tubes up to my throat and then tried to push my arm down while holding the tube there.  It’s suppose to show what foods weaken my system and which don’t.  On his recommendation I should no longer eat wheat, any type of nuts, or potatoes (along with all the foods mentioned above–and he liked the idea of a spoonful of coconut oil every day).  I’m not sure I buy into what he says, just because it seemed so odd, but he was recommended by a friend I respect, so I figured I’d give it a try.

As of today I feel as though I have no symptoms of hypothyroidism but I’ll be tested again in January and that will be the real “official,” test.