The transition back to civilian life, especially for those who have been diagnosed with PTSD, is one of the most difficult aspects of being in the military and little time is spent preparing you for it. I was fortunate that I had my home in San Diego, where there is a supportive community for military families. The Miramar Air Show features a flyby from the Blue Angels, and there is a lot of military heritage in the town.
Some of my friends were not so lucky.
I had a friend return home to Iowa and found life too slow paced. He’s racking his brain looking for things to do to keep himself busy. It’s with him in mind that I offer some tips to help veterans adjust to life no matter where they find themselves after deployment.
Taking Up Music
Lots of people pick up the guitar just to have something to do with their hands. You don’t have to be the next Eric Clapton to feel the power of music. Guitars are inexpensive (you can find quality ones for under $200) and you can use them to make a couple of bucks on the side if you get decent with it. When I returned to civilian life, I decided to learn the guitar. Fortunately, my hometown of San Diego has plenty of guitar teachers to choose from, and I learned the basics in no time. You need an instructor to help your technique, and identify areas for improvement.
If you’re good, you can find yourself playing gigs or just playing your favorite song. If you stick with it you might be able to turn your hobby into a career.
Go to School
A number of scholarship opportunities exist for veterans, and you have the discipline to complete university courses. It will require a lot of time outside of the classroom to prepare for exams and study notes from lectures, but the degree will be worth it. Computer engineering is in high demand, especially as it pertains to the health industry, so if you have an aptitude for coding you can make a lot of money these days.
You also have to be open minded, as universities are about the free exchange of ideas. You are going to hear a lot of viewpoints you may disagree with, and exchanges among students can get heated.
Get a Dog
Pets are sympathetic to the emotions of those around them. They can help a vet deal with the symptoms of PTSD and they can be trained to fetch practical items around the house as necessary. Dogs are also very loyal, and the need to walk your dog will keep you going outside. That’s good for your readjustment period and helps form a bond.
Take Up Art
Art therapy has been shown to reduce stress in Vietnam veterans (CE: see page 28) and those diagnosed with other forms of PTSD. Even if you don’t have PTSD, art remains a valid form of gaining self-awareness and expressing emotion. Art does not necessarily mean painting either. Vets can take up the pen and write poetry or prose, or shoot photos outside on a hike. Art can take many different forms–including the aforementioned guitar–it’s all about the expression that clicks with you.
Fishing involves the outdoors, getting away from the hubbub of your everyday life and exploring somewhere different. You need minimal tackle to get involved, and you can usually rent boats at your local lake until you can afford or want to buy one. It also helps to go in on one with a buddy so you have someone to go with. Fishing gets you up early, but that’s usually not a problem for anyone in a military family.
There are lots of practical reasons to get good at sewing. For one, you can learn how to dress a wound by taking a survival course. You can make simple repairs to your clothes in the event of tears in emergency situations, and you can even make your own clothes if you wanted to. You can also use sewing to make art for family in the form of weaves.
We definitely don’t want to encourage heavy drinking as a coping mechanism, but the craft brew movement is a great way to combine science and hobbyism into something everyone can enjoy. A craft brew kit goes for around $40-$50 and the process takes a few weeks to complete. At the end, you’ll have a tasty beer that you made for yourself.