The PTSD Diary

Two People in Love, Dealing with PTSD/TBI

NAMI Front Line Support Groups restart in Bakersfield, CA

September 4th, 2013

Screen shot 2013-08-26 at 7.24.42 PM

We are honored to be asked by the current NAMI Kern County president, William Lester, to co-facilitate NAMI Front Line support groups starting tomorrow, Sept. 5, 2013 at 6pm at the Bakersfield Vet Center. We credit the original Front Line support groups with being a major component in our recovery process and were trained by NAMI to facilitate groups a couple years ago. After taking a brief hiatus and with a change in location, NAMI Front Line support groups are back! We hope that if you’re in the area, you can join us!


Our support group flyer

Our Current Battle: Weight Gain and PTSD

January 19th, 2013

Ugh… the battle of losing weight. We will be the first to admit that we’ve never really been “skinny”. Actually, maybe J.R. was once when he got back from the Invasion in 2003, but only because he didn’t have time to eat and the food supply trucks didn’t make it to the frontlines for awhile. But over the last few years, we definitely noticed a significant weight gain that correlated with PTSD and recovery. When we look at pictures before the breakdown (see more about that HERE) and compare them with pictures now, we see the difference. But the reality is, weight hasn’t really been our focus for the last few years. Instead, we focused on understanding PTSD, recognizing triggers, and healing emotionally from J.R.’s initial trauma and any fallout that occurred in the process. In fact, stress and cortisol can actually increase weight gain, which may have caused us to gain weight a little faster than normal (see information regarding stress and weight gain HERE). But now, as we are doing better emotionally and intellectually, we are focusing on the elephant in the room (like that fat joke? hahaha): our weight.

The organic produce box we receive weekly featuring local fruits and veggies.

As we mentioned in our New Years Resolutions, we are focused in 2013 on getting our weight under control and increasing our exercise. So to do that, we are both doing Weight Watchers online. So drumroll please…in the two weeks we’ve been doing the program, J.R. has lost 7lbs and Nicole has lost 5lbs. It’s not much, but it’s a start. We’ve made changes to helps us on our weight loss journey including cooking more meals at home and even getting an organic produce box from Abundant Harvest Organics each week. J.R. has also begun working out at the gym at his university and we are trying to be more active on the weekends. We’ve given up drinking sodas and have increased our water intake. We were told once by J.R.’s VA physical therapist that organic food and water can also help improve traumatic brain injury symptoms over time, so hopefully that will be an added benefit to our changes.

So share with us… for those of you dealing with PTSD – has weight gain been an issue for you as well? Hopefully we will have some great before/after pictures to share with you all in the near future :)

~ Nicole & J.R.

Inspiration Sunday:
PTSD can take a hike – or we can.

January 6th, 2013

A view of the Kern River from our hike today.

Yesterday, PTSD raised its ugly head – but doing what we do, we were able to talk, get past it, and come together again (see our blog How We Have Learned To Fight: Our Rules here). So today we decided that PTSD can take a hike – or really, we can take a hike. We wanted some fresh air, the sounds of a river running and wind in the trees. So we packed up our two dogs, Toby and Alex, and headed to the mountains not far from us and decided to take a little hike. It wasn’t long (only a mile or so), but it was great to start off our first weekend of the New Year. One of our goals for the New Year is to become more active (see our New Years Resolutions here) and hiking is something we would like to add to our weekend routines. Lucky for us, there are beaches to the west (2 hours away), mountains to the east (1/2 hour away or more depending on where we want to go). Maybe we’ll even post about our future hiking adventures, we need all the inspiration we can get!

Below are some of the pictures for hike:

We spotted a rainbow on our way up to the mountains.

Our dogs enjoying the trail.

JR with the Kern River below.

Nicole walking down the trail.

The rushing river

JR enjoying the view

The water looks calm but it’s actually moving pretty fast beneath the surface.

If you have any suggestions for places we can go and hike (remember, we want easy trails for awhile!), please comment and let us know :)

~ Nicole & J.R.







Taking a Look at Ancient Trauma

January 5th, 2013

Painting depicting the Greek hero Ajax, who had symptoms of PTSD. (Sorrowful Ajax, Asmus Jacob Carstens, ca. 1791)

Last September, I began a history course that was the culmination of my last four years of college. My “Senior Seminar” was definitely a challenge, and required a lengthy research project. I thought long and hard about what I would write about. Maybe it makes me a nerd, but I did not want to just do any paper just to get a grade, I wanted it to mean something to me. Then it hit me: I needed to combine my interests, both personal and academic. I have often kept myself motivated by remembering that I am not the first person to deal with PTSD after coming home from war. Since I had to write a paper, I decided to see how PTSD has affected others in ancient cultures. I looked into the ancient Mediterranean to see if the Greeks and Romans ever had trouble with PTSD. This was a great way for me to turn the page on the last four years, as my studies have taken me through human history, but my personal life has been rocked by the after effects of war. When I told Nicole what I was planning, she lit up. She was very interested in what I might find out, so once I saw her enthusiasm I knew that I was doing the right thing. When my professor returned my proposal, she also seemed interested, which actually worried me a little bit. I accepted the challenge, and the journey of writing the paper was one that I will always remember. It was a project that excited me, surprised me, exhausted me, and revealed the timeless nature of trauma.

When I first started doing the research, I thought I might have made a mistake. There are not a lot of sources that talk about PTSD in ancient Greece and Rome because it was not a recognized condition. But after some advice from my professor I looked at some great books from Vietnam veterans Lawrence Tritle (From Melos to My Lai: War and Survival) and Jonathan Shay (Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the undoing of Character). These two soldiers and authors laid some great groundwork, and also reassured me that it was not an impossible task. Nicole helped me find some sources from the mental health world. After going through those sources, things started to come together.

Odysseus, of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, exhibited signs of PTSD (Head of Odysseus from a Greek 2nd century BC marble)

I read through some classics like Homer’s Illiad, and his Odyssey, and found out that both Achilles and Odysseus had shown symptoms of PTSD that were clearly described but not recognized. I also read the play Ajax by Sophocles, where the title character Ajax comes home from the Trojan War, has a sort of flashback, slaughters a herd of livestock, then runs away from his wife and tragically commits suicide. These were some of the examples that I found in ancient fiction, but there were also some realistic examples. I looked through a portion of “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius and where he wrote about the Roman general Gaius Marius having nightmares, waking up screaming in the middle of the night, and going mad after returning home from war.

I found myself relating to many of these stories as I read them. From Odysseus refusing to talk about his combat experience and crying when people sang songs about his heroism, to Ajax going on an irrational rampage, to Marius not being able to adjust after he returned home after war, I found myself stopping from time to time and realizing that PTSD has been around for thousand of years. Thankfully, we recognize and treat it now, but that has not always been the case.

It was incredible for me to discover that those of us who experience PTSD share a common bond with legendary generals like Gaius Marius, and Homeric heroes like Achilles or Odysseus. The psychological effects of trauma, combat related or otherwise, is transcends both time and place, and creates a bond between those who have experienced it.  This paper was an emotional experience for me, but it was also a very enlightening experience. I could not have picked a better way to wrap up the last four years of my college career. I am very proud of the paper that I turned in, and I am happy to report that I got good grade on it. If you would like to read the paper, we have included a link. It may sound boring to most people, but I honestly enjoyed the journey of writing this paper. No matter how much I think I know about PTSD, I can still be surprised and there is so much more for me to learn.

Here is the link to the full paper:

Timeless Trauma



Saddleback College hosts Veteran Art Project classes

September 7th, 2012

We have always had an interest in art (Nicole has her Bachelors and Masters in Art History and JR plays guitar and bass, recently recording some tracks with his band The Idle Class). So when we were recently contacted by Steve Dilley, an adjunct professor of art, who informed us of a ceramic art class for active duty personnel, veterans and spouses, we were excited to share the information. The Veteran Art Project (VAP) class is conducted and hosted by Saddleback College, a community college located in Mission Viejo, CA. The class is free thanks to a generous grant intended to support veterans. In addition to the art class, a certified academic counselor is also offering counseling services on a walk in basis. As Dilley explains, “When we’re talking about ceramics, we touch on chemistry, geology, anthropology, and a lot of other areas of study. This may be a way for these students to find heir calling and career path.” In addition to the class, the VAP and Saddleback College are also hosting a veteran recourse fair on Sept. 19th and  a carne asada lunch for veterans and spouses on September 28th. For veterans and their spouses in Southern California, this is a great opportunity to develop an artistic talent, socialize with other veterans, receive counseling services if wanted, and get involved in the community. We would love to see additional VAP programs expand to more colleges and get even more veterans involved with the therapeutic healing that art provides.

Dilley was inspired to start the program by research into alternative treatments for veterans experiencing PTSD in the hope that the free activity will help increase growth and personal enrichment. Working in ceramics can help veterans improve their fine motor skills, concentration, problems solving and creativity. If you’re nervous about getting involved, Dilley shares, “Everyone can do ceramics. It is fun, relaxing, and enjoyable – a great social activity.”

The tuiton-free class is available with walk in registration and will be held this fall on Fridays, 9am-3pm. For more information, please contact Steve Dilley directly via email at or by phone at (760) 815-8868.

See below for information on the program and their upcoming events:

USO Invisible Wounds

May 8th, 2012

While we were waiting for the Dodger game to start on Sunday, we saw this commercial for the USO (United Service Organization) that mentioned PTSD and TBI and immediately checked out the website, What we found was a series of videos that we could relate to and we thought we should share this resource with you all. Please be advised that the videos may trigger some, so be your best advocate and decide for yourself if you want to view them. Or better yet, share the videos with others so that they can be educated on PTSD and TBI.

The USO website has a series of programs focused on Warrior and Family Care including Physical Health & Recreation, Behavioral Health Support, Family Strengthening Programs, and Education, Employment & Community Reintegration. If you have participated in any of the programs, please share your experience with us by leaving a comment to the blog.

For 70 years, the USO has been providing a tangible way for everyone to say thank you to our troops. I remember my Grandma telling me stories of how volunteered she with the local USO during WWII and danced with soldiers for “dime-a-dance” parties. Adorable in her elder age, she made sure to point out to me that she “got lots of dimes” and was able to donate all of them to the USO causes. More recently, JR remembers coming home and being greeted at the airport by the USO volunteers with smiling faces, hugs, and kind words. It was a great welcome home for him after being in Iraq. Please feel free to leave comments to share your stories with the USO, we’d love to hear them!

The USO website states:

“Thanks to your generosity, the USO fulfills its mission of lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families. Through the USO, you touch their lives through an extensive range of programs at more than 160 locations in 27 states and 14 countries, and at hundreds of entertainment events each year. Thousands of USO volunteers do everything possible to provide a home away from home for our troops and to keep them connected to the families they left behind.

The USO makes sure your help goes to those who need it the most: troops serving in combat, their families, our wounded warriors and their families, and families of the fallen.

As a nonprofit, non-political organization, the USO is now, and always will be, about our troops. Wherever and whenever they go, the USO will be there, until every one comes home.”

To find your local USO or for more information on their Invisible Wounds PSAs and programs, check out their website at

~ Nicole

USC Offers Free Virtual Counseling to Veterans

May 3rd, 2012

University of Southern California’s School of Social Work (where Nicole is getting her MSW) is now offering USC Telehealth services through the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families. And right now, they are offering 12 FREE counseling sessions to military personnel, veterans, and their immediate families! You can sign up to receive free, confidential access to services from home or another private location. All you need is a computer, a webcam, and high-speed internet. Spaces are limited, so register today! For more information, contact the program directly at 866-740-6502 or make an appointment online. If you do participate, please email us your review of the program and if you would recommend it to others. Below we have posted the flyer for more information.

The Hunger Games and PTSD

March 13th, 2012

*UPDATE 4/24/12: Please check out a follow up blog post by VA psychiatrist Ron Deaton that goes into more detail and further exploration of this topic on his blog Paving the Road Back*

The Hunger Games trilogy

Violence, the fear of death, the act of killing, nightmares, alcoholism, confusion, war, the desire to go home …these are often aspects associated with combat PTSD. And they are also part of The Hunger Games book series (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, & The Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins. I recently read the series and was amazed by the PTSD elements that appeared in the text. The books focus on “The Hunger Games”, where two children from each district are sent to the games to literally fight to the death for the entertainment of the ruling class. The main focus of the books is not PTSD, but the issue does arise after the characters experience trauma.

From the final book - Mockingjay

Suzanne Collins has explained that she wrote the books after watching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on TV and then combining it with the American obsession of reality TV. Classified as a young adult book series, the books deal with some heavy topics – did participating in the Hunger Games lead to Haymitch’s alcoholism? Is Peeta’s inability to distiquish between reality and fiction a result of TBI or government testing? How will Katniss deal with the loss of her family and friends, as she also experiences nightmares and flashbacks?

I don’t want to give away too much about the books and upcoming movies. What I hope is that as teenagers and adults read the books and watch the movies (The Hunger Games comes out March 23, 2012 with the rest of the movies coming out in 2013 and 2014), there may be a greater understanding about how traumatic experiences affect people. Yes, the books are fiction, but the subjects are surprisingly real. As we continue to learn more about PTSD, trauma, and the after effects of war, our hope for future generations is that they will continue to educate and advocate for adequate treatments and understanding.

Just as the Hunger Games suggests, our hope for those with PTSD and their loved ones: May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor.

~ Nicole

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Join us or donate for this year’s NAMIWalk!
Go Team Warrior!

August 24th, 2011
Our family team picture for NAMIWalk 2010

Our family team picture for NAMIWalk 2010

Last year, I was the NAMIWalk manager for the Kern County NAMIWalk 2010 and planned out the event. You can see our previous post from last year HERE.  This year, I didn’t have the time with school and work to run the event, but we do have a Walk Team and will be at the event with  Team Warrior.

Below is the donation letter we sent to our friends and family. It shares our story and why the NAMI Front Line program is important to us. ~ Nicole

Dear Friends and Family,

We are writing you this letter because we are participating the Kern County NAMIWalk 2011, the signature walkathon event of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in Bakersfield, CA at The Park at River Walk on October 8, 2011. The NAMI organization is very important to us. If you do not know already, JR has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as a result of his involvement in the invasion on Iraq in 2003 and complicated by his tour in 2005. It has been a struggle for him, and us, to find our way through everything that resulted from this mental illness. As a result of his PTSD symptoms, JR experienced a breakdown before our wedding just a little over two years ago. We did not know what to do or who to turn to. We worked with the VA to get him the military help he needed, but it was a program called Front Line run by our local NAMI chapter that changed our lives. By attending Front Line support groups that help both the veteran and their families (the VA focused only on the veteran at that time), we have been able to focus on recovery and we are now advocates for those suffering from PTSD. As you may have heard, we have appeared on all of our local news stations and our local paper advocating for veterans to get help. Nicole has started the social work masters program with the University of Southern California to focus on military social work and become a clinical therapist. JR is looking at doing the same program in year and is currently working for the California Veterans Assistance Foundation as a case manager for homeless veterans while he finishes his Bachelors at CSUB.

However, more needs to be done. NAMIWalk is the main fundraiser for our local chapter and allows veterans and their families to attend support groups for free. NAMI also offers a 12 week course for family members on how to deal with a loved one with a mental illness (Family2Family) or a Peer to Peer course for those that would like to learn more about their own mental illness and recovery (JR teaches one of the Peer to Peer course series).

If you can afford to, please donate to our Walk Team. Or even better yet, join us on October 8th at the Park at River Walk in Bakersfield and walk with us!
Click the link to go to our team page and click on our names to donate:

Thank you for your support :)


Nicole and JR Browning

The PTSD Diary

Two People in Love, Dealing with PTSD/TBI