Staying active and seeking counsel aids those with PTSD

Photo courtesy of Metro Creative Connection

It’s like a mini movie that plays in your head, explained Christopher Fernando; “It may only last 10 seconds but it’s 10 seconds that holds a lot of emotion and effects your whole day.”

After his second deployment in Afghanistan, Fernando came back to the states suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“With me personally PTSD is like a flame,” Fernando said. “I like to call it almost like hulk attitude. Where it’s just an internal flame that burns inside of you and it can be triggered by something so very minor.”

Something as minor as driving down the highway and seeing a dirt road, like many the Central Valley has. But that road can trigger Fernando’s memory about things that happened overseas, like when he was driving down a dirt road and as a gunner saw things blow up creating destruction and injury.

Fernando is not alone; military personnel that have been on missions, which have exposed them to life-threatening experiences like being fired at, seeing a buddy get shot or seeing death, can later on experience PTSD.

According to the National Center for PTSD about 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD; about 12 out of every 100 Gulf War veterans have PTSD; and it is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Although it is most common to hear about veterans dealing with PTSD, the disorder can affect non-military individuals too if they have lived through a traumatic event like sexual or physical abuse, a terrorist attack, sexual or physical assault, serious accidents or natural disasters.

“Going through trauma is not rare,” states the National Center for PTSD website. “About six of every 10 (60%) men and five of every 10 (50%) women experience at least one trauma in their lives.”

One young girl’s PTSD developed because when she was an infant one of her parents decided they didn’t want her anymore, doused her with alcohol and lit her on fire, which caused her to lose one leg and severely impaired the other.

Guy Adams, the owner of the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch had the opportunity to work with this young girl. The ranch in Clovis treats kids, teens and veterans who are mentally fragile like those with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, cerebral palsy, autism and down syndrome.

“When she came to me with PTSD she was antisocial,” Adams said. “We worked with her to get her to not be so rough with people. She was the type of child that would befriend you and cut you loose before you could hurt her.”

By using free movement and interaction like taking a mild ride, working with the horse or feeding with many different types of horses, it teaches people suffering from PTSD how to control their emotions, Adams said.

“Once the person learns to control his or her emotions their family, friends and even coworkers can see the change,” said Adams.

PTSD can manifest itself in four main ways, according to the National Center for PTSD.

One symptom is by feeling negative changes in beliefs and feelings. The way people look at themselves and others can change, for example being untrusting. People may also experience a lack of interest in the activities they once enjoyed.

Those with PTSD may also try to avoid situations that remind them of the event or even talking about the event.

Hyper arousal is also another symptom like feeling jittery, always being alert or on the lookout for danger, which may also cause insomnia.

Another symptom can also be reliving the events, like the mini movie Fernando experienced. Many times we may see a veteran walking down the street with a blank stare on his face, said Fernando; the emptiness in his eyes is not because he doesn’t know what is going on or he doesn’t have any emotion.

“It is because he has so much emotion engulfed inside of his own mind there is a million and one things he is thinking about at that moment,” Fernando said. “All the while he is trying to act normal and being a good dad, a good husband and doing all the things his family want him to do that day.”

These symptoms experienced by those with PTSD can cause feelings of hopelessness, shame, despair, depression, anxiety, drinking or drug problems, physical symptoms or chronic pain and even issues with employment and relationship problems.

Experiencing it himself Fernando wanted to find a community of other veterans that he could share his experiences within a gym type of setting.

“I wanted someone that would get where I am coming from and talk I me the way I wanted to be talked to in an unfiltered fashion just like the military is,” Fernando said. “We are very knowledgeable, very kind and a very loyal group of individuals so I expected that when I came back.”

Not finding what he was looking for and seeing there was a void in alternate forms of therapy for veterans who were coming back from deployment, Fernando took it in his own hands and used his knowledge of Crossfit to create the gym he was looking for. In 2013 he founded XUX Fresno to help aid veterans in the Central Valley, specifically from Madera to Clovis.

“XUX helps veterans for different types of counseling from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or any other combat related injury where they can come in and be held accountable for themselves by working instead of giving excuses for just staying at home and living a sedentary life after their injury,” Fernando said.

XUX is just another form of counseling that keeps them active every single day, which can significantly decrease the positivity of them taking pills or drinking endlessly, said Fernando.

“In that sense we are essentially saving lives every single day because the day that they don’t show up we will be on them,” Fernando said. “We do accountability checks for our veterans. If they don’t show up for one day or two days we text them or call them to see what’s going on.”

Even though the facility is a gym, Fernando says that by no means do people have to feel like they have to workout to be there. Just come by and hang out, that is what Fernando tells the veterans, come by and seek council.

“It is just about being around other veterans that you can relate your stories with and it’s relieving,” he said. “Because some of them will have the same issues and the same worries and they’ve figured out a way to get out of it that might help that veteran.”

Every time a veteran sets foot into his facility Fernando makes sure he asks them about their day, family and work. He says that although counselors may ask them the same thing, what they can’t do is relate to their experiences, feelings and emotions.

“We are being so transparent that it makes them more comfortable to be there and open up to us and relieve that stress on that side,” Fernando said “By no means are we doctors or psychologists but we know out of experiences what works because to us psychologists and doctors don’t know what works for us because they can’t really put their thumb down on how to fix PTSD.”

Then if after talking to fellow veterans, if they still feel like blowing off some steam they get to burn that out in the gym before they go home and possibly take that out on their family or their coworkers.

“There is no way to fix PTSD but there is a way to treat it with community,” said Fernando. “It’s so much more than just Crossfit or Olympic lifting and it seems to be working very well.”

In just the few years Fernando has lead the gym he has seen the changes in the lives of the people he trains. One Marine veteran who came to him in 2014 was dealing with severe PTSD.

“He had a lot of anger issues, had a very big drinking problem and was smoking cigarettes because he was nervous all the time,” Fernando said. “We brought him in and helped him to stop drinking liquor, got him into competing and now he is top regional competitor in Crossfit.”

This marine veteran is now competing all over the nation and is studying to become a nurse.

“He always tells us every time he sees us how grateful he is and he is where he is today because we helped him out,” Fernando said. “Even though a veteran may come into our facility and move on, it is just a joy for us that we get to safe one veteran’s life at a time.”

Fernando has conviction that a facility like this one can dramatically change the lives of veterans because he too went through a time where he had thoughts of suicide.

“Because of the depression I dealt with and the things that I felt like I could have done to save fellow soldiers lives’ overseas and I couldn’t, it weighs heavy on your chest,” Fernando said. “It is almost to the same fashion that you take care so much of your soldiers that it’s almost the same as holding a child’s hand across the street and all of a sudden they get hit by a car and you don’t.”

“But when you have others around you, like you, that are dealing with the same situations and have found ways to lessen that, life becomes more enjoyable.”