Inner battles: Struggling Soldiers become Resilient. ~ Matthew Sissel

Via elephant journal
on Mar 22, 2013
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USUHS-Samueli Institute

Discovering a source of strength can make a person resilient during challenging times.

“I’m a man of action,” he said, “Tell me what to do.”

But the doctors’ orders given to Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Eder, a broadcast instructor at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, don’t seem to help.

“Right now all they are telling me is, ‘Take these pills, put this in your mouth and don’t eat these foods,’ and I’m still not seeing the results I’d like.”

There is nothing noticeably wrong with the tall, clean-cut 40-year-old. He appears physically fit, intelligent and enthusiastic. But what you don’t see, Eder said, is that his memory problems are just shy of debilitating and nightmares, brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder haunt him.

Stress is his constant companion.

He awaits the results of a test that will determine the identity of a growth on his brain. He contends with family problems that would beat down the average person; earlier this year he found it necessary to disown his mother and sister. Yoga and meditation help him cope with these challenges.

Discovering a source of strength can make a person resilient during challenging times.

Army Sgt. Alan M. Kheang, a human resources sergeant at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, found strength at the gym. In 2007, Kheang was a 23-year-old recruit. He finished his initial military training and within a month would be shipped off to Iraq. Before he deployed, he broke up with his girlfriend of six years.

Then, his best friend died. He was devastated.

When he arrived in Iraq, he decided to hit the gym to overcome his pain and sadness. Kheang said he was just a scrawny 135-pound kid then. He trained for a push-up competition, sometimes doing more than 1,000 push-ups a night with weights on his back. He won the competition, having performed 181 push-ups in three minutes.

Four days haven’t gone by since then without Kheang showing up to the gym. These days no one would call him scrawny. He has added over 40 pounds of muscle to his physique since he first started training.

Eder first started yoga training in 1999. Since then, he has gone beyond just performing the various yoga postures by studying yogic philosophy and dietary principles. He also teaches yoga classes. He carries mala beads, which are like a rosary, in his cargo pocket. He uses them during meditation, a practice he’s had for about three years.

Research has shown meditation can actually heal brain cells, he said. Eder is a busy man, and interprets his busyness as an avoidance strategy common to those suffering from PTSD. He schedules everything on his phone, and sets more than five reminders for each appointment, just in case he forgets.

His intelligence and motivation can disguise the fact that he suffers from debilitating mental issues, which he finds irritating. There are times when he has a conversation with his wife, for example, and forgets everything moments later. Each time he realizes he forgot, a little part of him dies and it’s sad, he said.

It bothers him that no one can see all those little deaths, because it prevents them from understanding what he is going through.

Throughout these challenges, he said his yoga and meditation practices have helped to keep his life together. Having experienced the benefits of yoga firsthand, he offers classes to service members with PTSD.

Kheang also likes to share his passion with others. He encourages those around him to exercise, but takes friends to the gym who are going through emotionally challenging times.

“I like to motivate people,” Kheang said, “If [working out] can work for me, it can work for anyone.”

Kheang has been able to move on emotionally from the experiences which led him to begin working out. He said working out has become a lifestyle that keeps him grounded, focused and happy.

Eder faces extreme challenges in the present. He confronts them head on. If nothing else, he knows he can find solace practicing yoga or during meditation.

Both Kheang and Eder have had their lives changed by finding strength in the midst of challenges. They understand its power and share their passion with others who might also benefit from it. While there may not be a pill to solve many of life’s problems, Kheang and Eder know that gyms and yoga mats can make people resilient.


matthew sissel

Matthew Sissel spent two years as a combat medic in Iraq and now work as a journalist with the Iowa Army National Guard.



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