Bibliotherapy: The Eagle on My Arm

Title: The Eagle on My Arm: How the Wilderness and Birds of Prey Saved a Vietnam Veteran’s Life
Author: Dava Guerin, and Terry Bivens 
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir 
Length: 200 Pages 
Publish Date: 2020
Tags/Triggers: Mental Health, Military Service, Suicidal Ideation, Physical Injury, Sexual Assault, Depression, Animal Death, Death 

For months I have anticipated the release of “The Eagle on My Arm”. I was excited to write a post about this book and bibliotherapy benefits of it. What makes this book so difficult for me to write about is how close to home it hits for me. Actually, it is home for me.

“The Eagle on My Arm” is the memoir of my mentor, Patrick Bradley. Patrick is a Vietnam Veteran with severe PTSD. When he first returned from war however PTSD was not well understood and he was just labeled as aggressive and troubled. Fortunately one of the practitioners at Walter Reed was an advocate for those soldiers who were “damaged goods” and pushed for Patrick to be given an opportunity to reintegrate into the civilian world.

Going directly into the public again was not possible, so instead he spent years in the wilderness studying bald eagles. This time in the wild helped him become grounded and develop coping skills. The impact nature had on his journey to healing wouldn’t be fully appreciated however until years later when his son, Skylar, returned from war with his own demons. Patrick did the only thing he knew of to help his son and got him working with birds. It didn’t take long for Patrick to realize just how powerful reconnecting with nature can be.

This book follows his story and includes part of mine. We hope that through sharing our stories and battles it will help reduce the stigma related to mental health and encourage others to seek treatment as well. It also serves as a preface to our next chapter, where we will be opening an ecotherapy center making services increasingly accessible to those with depression, anxiety, trauma-related disorders and other mental illnesses and disabilities because we believe no one should have to face their demons alone.

Privileged, Me?

As part of my commitment to learn more about how I can contribute to changing systemic discrimination and facilitating uncomfortable conversations I am currently reading So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. I am only four chapters in so far, but she has promised that I will make missteps along this journey, and that is okay. One of the frequent mistakes that is made in having conversations about systemic discrimination is forgetting to check your own privilege. Its hard to think of myself as privileged as I grew up in a text book broken home in a working class community with mental illness, but privilege comes in many different forms. Oluo discusses the many ways in which privileges present and encourages reflecting on ones own privileges. She also noted that some privileges may also come with disadvantages in certain ways but they still provide a certain benefit.

So here I go, publicly exploring and checking my own privileges and hoping you will, at least privately, do the same. If I am overlooking a privilege, which is possible, let me know!

I am white.
I am cisgendered.
I lean toward heterosexual norms.
I was able to complete high school.
I was able to afford to attend college and complete my degree.
I am a US born American.
I speak fluent English.
I am child-free.
I have supporting, loving, grandparents, mom, and brother.
I was able to attend preschool.
I am able bodied.
I am neurotypical.
I am back in school working toward my masters degree.
I have stable housing.

I challenge you to comment with at least one way that you have privilege and I hope you will subscribe to my site and join me on this journey to a healthier community and improving mental wellness for all.

I am continuing to collect questions in order to facilitate an ongoing decision about race (Lets Talk About Race) but in the mean time will explore how I can better have these conversations. Next week I will share how we can use our privileges to help challenge systemic discrimination!

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Achieving Goals is in the BAG!

Newton’s first law of motion tells us that an object in motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an outside force. This law also applies to human motivation! When vast numbers of people were setting their New Year’s resolutions I was already rolling and then an outside force brought me to a sudden stop. This force was Covid-19. I was fiercely trotting along, checking off the small objectives that were leading me toward my dreams and just like that everything hit a bump. Switching from the routine that I had finally gotten down to working remotely, learning remotely, and living remotely brought me to a halt. My depression and anxiety took over. I was successfully going through the motions but did not feel like I was moving forward. One of the motions I was maintaining was reading each night to settle my mind from the quarantine chaos of the day.  

I was reading, Now What?: A Practical Guide to Figuring Out Your Financial Future by Brian Ursu, CFP, when I was reminded of why I felt so lost.

Carefully nestled between chapters about buying and house and having children is advice on how to “Have a Plan”. While the underlying message is about how to develop a plan to save money, it can be applied to any aspect of life. Ursu introduces a concept that he learned about in Jerry Linenger‘s Book Off the Planet

Linenger talks about setting a big, audacious goal (BAG). A BAG is not your typical goal, or your 5-year plan. Your BAG rather is an incredibly long-term goal, something that in ten years you will still be working toward. I had lost sight of my BAG! I was taking things minute by minute and forgot where I was heading and why. Did I have a BAG? Absolutely! I just didn’t have it written down. 

It feels really corny at first writing down a personal goal for some reason, I am not sure why, it is a well-worn business practice. Every successful business has a plan and you should too. An article published on the Psychology Today website cites a 2015 study by Gail Matthews that says people who write down their goals reach them 33% more often than those who don’t. Forbes also backs them up saying that through the process of generating a visual representation you form a stronger memory and therefore increase your chances of success. So, I have started just that, building a visual representation of my BAG.   

This is the first of a series of blogs I will be writing about goal setting and more importantly, goal achieving. I encourage you to subscribe to my blog, not to watch my progress, but to make your own.  

What’s my BAG? I will open an eco-therapy center that offers a variety of mental wellness services that integrate traditional practices as well as nature assisted and creative therapies. It will provide out patient, partial hospitalization, and residential programs as well as consultations and programs for the general public. Does this aspiration make you think I’ve gone off the deep end with hope? Good that’s how big a BAG should be! See my BAG Vision Board and share yours with me!

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Bibliotherapy- The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose

Title: The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose 

Author: Chris Wilson 

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir 

Length: 414 Pages 

Publish Date: 2019 

Tags/Triggers: abuse, addiction, alcohol, bullying, cancer, child abuse, death, domestic violence, drugs, emotional abuse, incarceration, murder, physical abuse, rape, self-harm, terminal illness, violence 

Growing up in Chris Wilson witnessed things no child should ever see. His mother was brutalized and descended into addiction. The neighborhood around him became a war zone and he saw people he loved gunned down. After a while he felt like he choices were fight or die. Then one night he did just that and ended up with a life sentence for murder.  

He was very fortunate to be placed at the prison in Patuxent where the youth inmates were housed separate from the adults. Patuxent also had unique opportunities for offenders to participate in educational programs and counseling. Access to this program allowed Chris is being to heal and formulate his master plan. This master plan answered his burning question, “What’s your endgame?” Even behind bars with a life sentence all people wonder why they are here, on this planet. 

Chris’s plan began as a bucket list filled with experiences such as “grow a big-ass beard” and attending a bull fight. As he continued to heal and learn his plan evolved and became much more purposeful. Even before he could see light at the end of the tunnel he found light in his life through purpose. He worked incredibly hard without the promise of external pay off just “positive delusions”. His hard work eventually did lead to the opportunity of reward and turned his delusions to reality.  

With the support of caring people around him he managed to get his sentence reduced. He was one of the few to reap rehabilatative benefits from his time in prison. When he earned his release he continued to work hard and give back. He has devoted his life outside to helping keep others out. He has developed systems and supports to improve the culture of the neighborhoods that traditionally acting as pathways to prison.  

The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose was an amazing read that was hard to set down. It is a stark reminder of the deep deficits that plague our country. There are huge inequalities that must be addressed and Chris Wilson is working to do just that. His actions should not end with him but should rather act to inspire and influence others to make positive changes.   

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Bibliotherapy- Rebuilding Sergeant Peck: How I Put Body and Soul Back Together After Afghanistan

Title: Rebuilding Sergeant Peck; How I Put Body and Soul Back Together After Afghanistan 

Author: John Peck, Dava Guerin, and Terry Bivens 

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir 

Length: 216 Pages 

Publish Date: 2019 

Tags/Triggers: Mental Health, Military Service, Suicidal Ideation, Physical Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury 

Born in 1985 to a single mom, John Peck was destined for military service. Throughout his childhood he remained resilient despite repeated physical and emotional abuse, family financial struggles and homelessness. However, he continued to persevere and achieve his dreams. In 2005, Peck joined the Marines. Little did he know just how much it would change his life, in ways he could never have imagined.  

Not long after enlisting, Lance Corporal Peck was sent on his first deployment to Iraq. There he spent his time patrolling the area in order to network with the locals and complete searches to gather intelligence on terrorist cells. During one of these patrols his vehicle rolled over a pressure plate triggering an improvised explosive device (IED).This incident resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that promptly ended his deployment and nearly ended his military career. 

The TBI that Lance Corporal Peck received caused much more than just momentary confusion. He spent years undergoing evaluations and rehabilitation to learn how to live with the resulting memory and motor damage. With lots of hard work and support, he was able to prove that he was still capable of being a fully functioning Marine with minimal accommodations. In 2009, he reenlisted with the hope of once again being deployed and a year later was sent to Afghanistan.  

On May 24th John stepped squarely on the missed device and instantly lost both legs and his right arm. While his left arm was still attached, it was severely injured which would eventually result in it too being surgically removed. 

John spent months being stabilized. Every conscious moment, he begged the medical staff to let him die. Between the pain and reality of his new disability he could not imagine there was any purpose in his life. It wasn’t until he witnessed others overcoming similar injuries and living fulfilling lives that he began to see a future for himself as well.  

He began to build his network of support, and the more people he connected with the more meaning he saw in his life. When he realized that leaving his darkness behind was helping others do the same, he became even more motivated to regain his independence. As he began to be an active participant in his treatment, he earned a new rank: Sergeant. In this leadership role, he reflected on all the trauma he had overcome thus far and was determined to dig within himself and awaken that same perseverance and resilience he’d had as a child. John began to advocate for himself and take his new challenges head on, leading to his to becoming the first successful recipient of a double arm transplant. 

Rebuilding Sergeant Peck; How I put Body and Soul Back Together After Afghanistan reminds us that despite the complexities that come with managing disabilities everyone is capable of living a fulfilling and purposeful life. It is a great read for anyone facing challenges in their lives be they physical, such as the loss of a limb, or mental, such as depression and anxiety. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for an inspirational page turner. “Rebuilding Sergeant Peck; How I put Body and Soul Back Together After Afghanistan” challenged me to look for opportunities for growth within problems I experience and to recognize that life is more than the events that make it up. It is okay to feel despair in the face of suffering, yet remember that it is only a part of your story. Life doesn’t always happen the way we expect, and living with that uncertainty is something we all have face.  

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