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Invisible Wounds: Brian Flom on How PTS is Not Who He Is
PTS is what I have and not who I am.
This week, the Bush Center will host its 6th annual W100K, a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride for seriously wounded or injured post-9/11 veterans and military personnel. This event spotlights the effectiveness of sport in helping our service men and women recover from their visible and invisible wounds.
Today, we hear from a W100k alumni, Command Sergeant Brian Flom, on his experience with the invisible wounds of war.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your service? What made you want to join the military? Branch, rank, number of tours, and where you are stationed?
In January of 1991, I was in my senior year of high school and really had no idea what I wanted to do upon graduation. I wanted to be a police officer with LAPD, but was too young and lacked any experience. At the time, I did not feel like college was for me either. When Desert Storm kicked off, I felt a sense of obligation to join the Army and serve my country for a few years. I initially planned to serve 5 years. That initial 5 year enlistment has continued for over 25 years and provided me the opportunity to serve all over the world. Currently, I am a Command Sergeant Major for the 92nd Military Police Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. We will soon be moving to Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington where I will assume responsibility as the Command Sergeant Major for the 42nd Military Police Brigade.
- Did you know much about invisible wounds before you entered the military? If so, what did you know them? What kind of stigmas are associated with invisible wounds within the military culture?
Prior to entering the military, I really had no idea about invisible wounds. I would probably say it wasn’t until around 2003 that I began to learn about post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptoms and treatment. I imagine the same was probably true throughout the military since we generally were not exposed to PTS/TBI producing conditions.
- In learning about visible and invisible wounds, PTS and TBI, we know they affect everyone differently. We have also learned that the road to recovery looks a bit different for everyone affected by these wounds. If you have been affected by these injuries, can you share with us about what your recovery has been like? What was helpful to you?
I am not sure you ever fully recover from the symptoms of PTS or TBI. Society commonly refers to PTS as PTSD (Disorder). To me, the disorder exists if we let it. PTS is what I have and not who I am. Recovery is different for everyone. A lot of trial and error in figuring what works. Initially, I experienced quite a few setbacks and found the path to recovery to be a frustrating one. Different medications, therapists, and treatments were common. One day, I had what I considered a very unfavorable experience with my medication and that was it…….Time to move on to Plan B and here entered sports.
- What role have sports & physical activities played in your recovery? Helped you recover physically? Helped you recover mentally?
Physical activity is my medication. I often refer to the outdoors as my pharmacy. It provides me such a great balance in life. Not only does it provide the physical benefits to my health, it provides me an opportunity to interact with others. Since my injury, I have pushed myself to physical limitations that I never imagined possible. I have completed events such as half and full marathons, endurance hikes and bicycle rides, and several triathlons to include a half ironman. I am certainly not the fittest or the fastest out there but it is not about that. It is about challenging my body physically and mentally to accomplish my goal. If there were a down side, I would say the physical challenges are like an addiction. I am constantly trying to figure out which feat is next.
- What would you say to other veterans or active duty military service members who are struggling with invisible wounds, especially those who have not made the decision to seek help?
Simple…..please get the help you need. One should never discount what they have experienced in comparison to others. We all process life experiences differently and it is okay to get help with the processing of those experiences. We still have a way to go in reducing the stigma of seeking help, but as a society I believe we have made great progress. Personally, I have never experienced any type of stigma when it comes to seeking help. I have made sure those I work with know that I have sought help and encourage them to do the same. I would rather them get the help they need on their own and continue to be productive members of the organization then put themselves in a compromising situation that forces intervention and takes them out of the fight.