Combat PTSD: It’s Okay To Say I’m Not Okay With Jay Allen
PTSD can happen anywhere to anyone. Just like any mental disease, it strongly affects everything that comes in your way especially when symptoms are left untreated. Combat Veteran, motivational speaker, and author of Battlefield 2 Boardroom, Jay Allen, believes being conscious about the condition’s existence in your system allows you to suffer less from combat PTSD. The process of overcoming such traumas and helping others overcome it requires strong dedication. Listen to Jennifer Whitacre and Jay as they chat about Jay’s life journey from joining the army, getting into a parachute accident, going into rehab, doing charity work, and so much more.
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Combat PTSD: It’s Okay To Say I’m Not Okay With Jay Allen
Our guest is Jay Allen. Jay is a Combat Veteran whose life got turned upside down in 2001, resulting in a medical discharge from the Armed Forces. Rather than letting this be a reason to give up, Jay used it as a sign to get up. Since then, Jay has gone on to win Global Awards and inspire all who meet him. He’s here to have a conversation with us about PTSD. Jay is a veteran in the UK Military Forces. I want to emphasize that because I’m here in the United States. I want to let all of our readers know that you’re coming from the UK, not from the US and at the same time, PTSD knows no country boundaries. It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, where you are on the planet. There is potential if something tragic happens in your life that PTSD could manifest. Jay, it’s an honor to have you with us. Welcome to the show. Thank you for being here.
Jennifer, thank you for having me.
I noticed that you had some incidents that happened that caused you to get a medical discharge from your military service. Are you willing to open up and tell us a little bit about what those incidents were?
It’s perhaps best if I quickly share a little bit of context with regards to how I ended up in the military and how I ended up in the position that I was in, which resulted in injuries.
A backstory is wonderful.
I was very fortunate that I was born into quite an affluent family. I have two professional working parents. My mom worked in the public sector within the government. My father runs his own business. I’m the oldest of four. I was brought up predominantly by my nanny, who acted as a live-in nanny for the house. From the outside, everything looks particularly rosy. Everything looks good. It was a privileged lifestyle to live in. Not everything on the outside is as it seems. It was very clear from a very early age that my parents had already mapped out the rest of my life. They determined which school I was going to, which teachers would teach me which subjects I want to take, which sports activities I would take part in.
I was about seven when I was first told that when I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor, “The family needs a doctor in the family and you’re going to be the doctor.” The whole of my life was pretty much mapped out ahead of me by two parents that meant well, but haven’t given any considerations to my perception of things and what I wanted to achieve. For me, joining the army was a significant choice. I’d already gone to college into university and qualified. I originally qualified as a social worker with the aim to try and help all the kids that have got some psychological problems in the background maybe. I was coming to the end of my university career when the army arrived in town and were looking for new recruits.
They turned up at the university and they said, “We’re looking to the top 10% for which if you wish to give a minimum of five years’ service, we’re looking to be able to offset the cost of some of your education.” I made a very conscious decision to give myself to the army for five years if nothing else. I couldn’t be connected, contacted or influenced by my parents. Although I chose to give my service to my country and still a uniform that determines that they’d driven every part of your life, it was my personal choice to do so, as opposed to having been born into an environment where it was naturally expected.
Even that little backstory, that’s going to hook a lot of our readers because there are many of us out there who grew up in similar circumstances with our parents telling us what we need to do, how we need to grow up. I don’t remember my dad telling me what job I had to have, but there was a category of job that was more acceptable than others.
I know that they did it with the best intent. There was no malice to what they were doing, which I didn’t realize the significant impact it was having by failings to give me a choice.
That need to push onto our children. That living vicariously through our kids, I couldn’t accomplish this for myself, I’m going to tell you what you have to do in life. That creates a lot of suffering within the child. I specialize in developmental and intergenerational trauma. What you’re talking about are the seeds of developmental trauma. Those are the seeds that we carry throughout our life and everybody compensates differently. Your compensation to distance yourself from your family you’ve already said was to join the military where they couldn’t reach you. My compensation was when I got divorced, which was many years ago. I kept my ex-husband’s last name to distance myself from my family. I want to point out these examples to give our readers little seeds to start thinking about how did they compensate.
It’s important to be able to share that because it gives context to everything that I’m yet to share with you with regards to what happened afterwards.
We all compensate a little bit differently, but we have to look at our motivations for why we compensate because that compensation can look wonderful from the outside looking in but from the inside looking out, there’s a lot of pain and suffering behind the decision. Those little things are so important to point out.
I’ll be very cautious with regard to this terminology, but I met my first wife before I joined the army in my last year of university. When I joined the army, it was a joint decision. It was very much collective that we agreed that it was the best thing for me to do. It was very quickly evident that I was going to go and live in a foreign country with a new bunch of people on my own unless we were married. They don’t recognize girlfriends and boyfriends. You’re either single or you’re married. We married after ten months in order for us to be able to go together as a couple. In reflection, both of us knew at the time that was very quick and hasty and perhaps haven’t been fully thought through for all the right reasons.
Although the fact that both of us, for our own separate reasons, we’re looking to be able to move away from parents and influence. The thoughts of living in a different country under a regime that we’ve chosen to live under determined that it was a far greater opportunity so that it was a risk to either of us and our futures. We made this decision that I was going to join the army. I went to go and live in Germany. As a private soldier, I joined as the lowest rank possible. The plan was to volunteer for everything. It doesn’t matter whether you are going to take part of it or not. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. Simply volunteer for everything, get as much experience as you possibly can.
Get noticed and get promoted quickly. The idea was once I’ve been promoted at least twice and I was a full Corporal, then stop volunteering for all the things that you either don’t like or aren’t very good at. Continues to volunteer for all the things that you like and are good at. Continues to get promoted but maybe not quite as quickly as that dual build and then we can suck it down and start a family. It was all planned. It was all considered.
What we haven’t given consideration for is my first operational toll was the first toll for in ‘91. I’m seven months away from wife, family, life and normality. You come back and within about 3 to 4 weeks of being home, Lisa announced that she was pregnant and that we were going to have a child. All of a sudden, this idea of volunteer suddenly went into the, “I’m going to become a dad.” The first wave of shock and fear went through me with regards to reflecting as someone who had no longer got the best and closest relationships with his own parents with regards to what sort of a parent will make you become. All of these internal dialogues that we go through with regards to, “I remember when the parents did this and I’m going to do that with my kids every day. I remember when my parents showed me this and I’m going to show my kids.”
A lot of the things that went through my mind were with regards to a lot of the things that my parents did, they did for their own reasons and without my consideration or without me being considered as opposed to them considering me. Therefore, what does that mean for me as a parent? What do I need to be, do, have and behave in order that my son or daughter doesn’t go up in the same way that I felt by my own parents? All of that’s going on in the background. In the meantime, I know full well with an extra mouth to feed and my wife no longer working full-time, but part-time that there was a more significant need for me to be able to be promoted even quicker and earn more money to be able to provide for a family.
Therefore, in my head that meant volunteering for everything and simply tries to get seen by the right people at the right time at the right place. Long story short, determined that my wife was almost a single-parent family because I was never at home. I was always off doing something because I’d volunteer. It only took about three to three and a half years after my son was born for those cracks to become too big to resolve. Lisa took my son back to the UK and said, “I can’t live in a foreign country on my own without the support of the husband because you’re never here. I need some normality. I’m going home.” She left before my son turned four.
That was another pivotal point, perhaps another nail in the coffin of what was yet to come. The perception with regards to what we’d agreed to do and the big goal and the big aspirations for the future that I was desperately working to try and achieve will provide the results that we previously thought that would resulted. I was going from being a successful soldier to be an unsuccessful husband and father. That hadn’t been part of the plan. I struggled to compute with any of that. When Lisa moved from Germany back to the UK and back towards parents and normality, I literally threw myself back into my job.
I said, “This has been the cause of it, but this is also going to be the only savior to me. This is the only thing I know and recognize that I’m doing well at the moment. I’ve got to get my head down and getting done and continues to do well to believe that I’m not a complete failure.” I’ve done Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone. I’ve been all over the place and operational commitments. When the second goal came back and the chance to go and finish the job that we never finished in the first place, I volunteered to go as opposed to wait to be conscripted because as far as I was concerned, that was my job. I was a combat medic and that meant I needed to be in combat to be a medic.
A lot of my colleagues and friends were going. The people that I relied on and trusted so much because they were my family when I wasn’t with my wife and son. When I knew that they were being called up, I simply said, “I’m coming with you. Make one more space on the plane. I’m on it.” That was the backdrop to what happened when I got out there. We have only been out about nine or ten weeks. I was a medic to support the parachute regiment. We were doing an operational job. It was over nine weeks, not quite ten weeks into it all.
There were two airplanes responsible for dropping nearly 100 parachutists into a certain area outside Baghdad to be able to prepare for parts of the ridding of Saddam Hussein and the freeing of the Iraqi people. I’d done several jobs before. I was quite confident and competent in what was happening. I already knew that I could never step the first of the four planes. I was always good at following people and enjoying the little bit of free fall, the excitement, the adrenaline and the rush, the avocation where I was ever the first on the four planes. I always got cold feet. I always struggled spin to make that first step. I made sure that I was well inside the pack. I was number seventeen in pack orders to be able to jump. As far as everybody else was concerned that day, that was another operational jump. It was another day at work and everything was going well.
The one thing that we’re always taught as part of parachute training is before you step off the backplate, clear your head and mind. The next 3, 4 and 5 seconds are critical that you are crystal clear on the drills that you’ve done 100,000 times in practice. I didn’t do that. I stepped off the footplate following everybody else knowing full well that about 48 to 50 hours after that jump, I was already booked to be on a flight out of the Gulf to come back to the UK to be a pallbearer for all of my best friend who subsequently been killed a week beforehand in an improvised explosive device. His parents had made a specific request that I was going to be a pallbearer at his funeral. I was the godfather to his son.
I knew that I’d got 48 hours left of operational commitment left before I was due to fly home and be at Calvin’s funeral. As I stepped off the footplate following everybody else, rather than clearing my head and thinking the drills, I was actually writing his eulogy. I was in my head going through the script of what I would need to say to his parents, his son and his wife a few days later at his funeral. An accident occurred, every now and again a parachute doesn’t fully open. Probably 1 in 10,000 or so, a little bit of canvas gets get snagged on the way as it opens. It creates what we call a little tear that is not. It’s a simple little flap on the parachute that hasn’t fully open, but if you don’t do anything about it starts to falls you into a spiral. The more you spiral, the quicker it becomes.
Once you get to about 30, 35 degrees, the parachute implodes and you fall into it and plummet. There is a necessity to try and clear it and fix the problem. You’re always taught what to do, how to do and when to do. You only do that as a drill if you’re already thinking about some of the things that will happen and I wasn’t. When this tear happened and I looked up and I saw it, rather than going straight into automatic resolve mode, I simply said, “This is the day that I’m joining Calvin, it’s going to be a double funeral.” I just sat and waited for the spiral. There was no intent to kill myself.
For me, there was this intervention that says, “Everything else other than your work life is guns to raft at the moment. Maybe this is a sign.” I paused and froze. The simple fact is when you jump operation or you jump as low as possible because while you’re up in the air, you’re a sitting duck. You’ve not got many seconds to try and resolve this before the inevitable anyway. As I was plummeting past everybody else and they’re busy yelling at me, “Pull your reserve.” I’ll suddenly go, “There’s a reserve.” I clicked back into the here and now.
By the time you’ve read your main shoot and you’ve pulled a reserve, when you’ve jumped at such a low altitude and you’ve already paused for too many seconds, it didn’t give sufficient time for the reserve to open before that wasn’t enough air left. I landed at about 34, 35 miles an hour. I bounced about 22, 23 feet in the air and then landed again. It was probably only the fact that we landed in sounds that I’m here. I broke my back. I broke my head. I completely shut at my femur. My left leg was pretty much jelly. I was in a mess.
There’s a lot going on in that story. I noticed even at the very beginning, when you were talking about your son, you were talking about being worried about what type of parent you were going to be. Pointing out some of the developmental issues being raised in a household when your parents are more concerned about what they want for you than about your feelings and what you want for yourself. There is that worry, especially if you’re aware of it and you have an amazing level of awareness inside of yourself to notice these things. A lot of people aren’t even on their awareness. They don’t even think about stuff like this on a regular basis.
It’s to worry about, “What type of parent am I going to be? There are things that were wonderful for me. I want to do that with my kid. Other things that I don’t want to do and I don’t want to screw up.” That’s normal thinking and at the same time, that level of worry and self-doubt can go off the rails for somebody who is struggling with developmental trauma. Developmental trauma is different than Combat PTSD because developmental trauma is that little day in and day out. It’s what creates your sense of normal, what you’re used to, what you have the capacity to deal with in your life. That’s different for everybody. I see some of these developmental issues bubbling to the surface and then the thought process.
This is a beautiful example of institutionalized policies. If we follow them to the letter, it can be detrimental to what’s happening in our real life. You had 48 hours left that you were committed to do and any logical, reasonable person, I’m not saying that the military institution is a logical reasonable person because it isn’t. Having these rules and these guidelines, knowing the stages of grief and knowing the shock of losing somebody that was a close friend the way in which they were lost you’re in grief. Any logical person would know that your head is not fully going to be in the game.
In my humble opinion, as a trauma specialist, it’s a little bit irresponsible to have you jumping out of a plane and going through your normal duties in that state of mind. There’s this physiological response and you even acknowledged that your body went into freeze. Freeze is a subconscious response. It’s not something that you have conscious control over. Whenever freeze sets in the body, it’s a part of our sympathetic nervous system. There’s a lot of stuff going on here and thank you for being so detailed in talking about this. Tell us a little bit more. You left off that you were broken in a lot of places like Humpty Dumpty hit the ground.
What I hadn’t computed at the time was the strength of human adrenaline and the fight for survival, natural instinct that we have within us. Even though I was in excruciating amounts of pain, I knew that I’d jumped into what we call a hot zone. I knew that there was the risk of incoming fire very quickly after I landed, we started receiving coming fire. I knew full well that if I didn’t do some things to try and protect myself, I was likely that the injuries I’ve suffered grown with the start of the story. Every soldier carries morphine. It’s always in your top right-hand pocket. I was able to remove my morphine and give myself two morphine shots enough to be able to try and overcome the pain and plans to understand a little bit about my surroundings and the impact.
Trying to come up with a game plan for at least the next three or four minutes until everybody else was around and enables us to help. Quickly at the moment that I’ve landed and I haven’t cleared my shoots and made good, people could see that there was a problem and quickly the rest of the team were landing around me providing the protection needed and tries to cater for the fact that there was a severe injury on the ground. Calling in for ground crew and med support. One of the last memories I have because I was a senior medic at that time, as the ground crew medic team arrived and I saw the little Red Cross and I knew that I was at least safe or safer.
I recognized the two medics jumping out of the ambulance, running towards me is people that I previously trained. Maybe a year or so earlier had been in my classroom that I taught to become the qualification that they hope to be in theater. As they’re running towards me knowing that there’s an injury and then going, “No way, it’s Jay,” recognizing who I was rather than another casualty. There’s this weird sense of adrenaline, morphine, relief and pain that are all fighting for supremacy in your mind. The last thing I can remember that before either the morphine kicked in or I simply passed out with the pain or whatever it was that led me into a state of consciousness.
The last memory I have of the battlefield was looking up at these two medics and thinking, “Were you top of the class or did you scrape through?” It’s this surreal moment that I have because I passed out. They determined that because of my injuries, I was probably best to be kept unconscious. They put me into an induced coma to maintain me in that state. The next time I woke up, 71 hours later, I was always already out to the theater. I’ve been operated on. I was in a hospital back in Germany. I had nine hours of surgery and about fifteen hours of flight. By the time I got home, I was in an Intensive Care Unit in the military hospital in Germany.
It was quite surreal because you don’t know that you’ve been asleep to that long, but when you wake up and the whole environment’s changed and you’ve been shaved while you’ve been unconscious. All of the things that you take for granted and aren’t are already done. That was the first thing and learning what had happened to me and asking some questions about the condition I was in. The next 24, 48 hours were quite surreal with regards to as a medic understanding a lot more about the medical implications of what happens to you as opposed to another soldier that’s been told, “You’ve broken your leg and we fixed it.”
Knowing that I’ve got pins and plates and that’s probably going to determine that I’m going to needs to learn to walk again because if I’ve damaged the lower part of my back, my sciatica. Knowing a lot of what was going to happen probably helped me a lot to prepare myself for being told what was going to happen as opposed to it being a complete shock. My only aspiration at the time was I don’t care what on earth that they say, I’m going to prove that I’m physically capable of maintaining my job. I can’t afford to be medically discharged from the Army. I’ve got to be able to maintain a certain level of physicality that says, “Even if he’s not an operationally fit soldier, he’s allowed to stay in and remain in the training wing and teach others and be of service.”
That was my primary aim as we went into the recovery phase and into the physiotherapy to learn how to walk and all the other stuff that you have to do after such injuries. My sole purpose was, what is the minimum standard required for me to maintain my job? For the first five weeks, things weren’t particularly well. It was painful. It was difficult. I didn’t necessarily always respond well to the treatment regime that they had available to me. The physiotherapy team were absolute gods and goddesses with regards to the level of discipline and empathy that they show in being able to help somebody in that situations to be able to understand what’s possible and what’s not, to push beliefs and pain barriers. It was phenomenal. The subsequent thing that happened and probably the biggest impact certainly for this show was what happened within week 5 and week 6.
What I’ve noticed is I was on a little sidewalk with five of the soldiers, four soldiers and an airman from the Air Force. I was the only one that hadn’t lost a limb. I was on a ward where the other attendees, there was a gentleman had lost an arm to the side of me. This gentleman had lost three limbs. The person over there got a big plate on the back of his head and lost his shoulder. I was the only one that got pins and plates, but no prosthetics. My mind starts to tell me, “You don’t fit in and they do.” I developed sleep apnea because I started to believe and have this self-perception that if I fell asleep, they’re going to put me back on the anesthetic and they’re going to cut a limb off like my leg because it was damaged so I fit in with everybody else. I’ve been put in the wrong ward. I’m on the prosthetic’s ward and they haven’t taken these off me yet.
That’s part of the traumatized thought process too because there’s the difference between fitting in. Fitting in comes from developmental trauma because of the need to fit in is an external locus of control. I don’t belong with my environment versus belonging. Belonging comes from within. Belonging is a sense of belonging to yourself, knowing who you are, knowing what exists at your core and being okay with whatever’s in your environment because you know who you are from the inside out and you can manage whatever life throws at you versus the external need to fit in.
It’s quite ironic because as a soldier, you’re often going into such a chaotic environment to try and create some form of peace or stability. You might argue that that shouldn’t be such an issue, and yet the very fact that one, you have a service number that stays with you for your life. I’ve been out in service for longer than I was in it and I still recall it like it was a middle name. You wear a uniform the same as everybody else. You go as a team, then collectively you can go into whatever environment, however chaotic it is, but you’ve created some form of normality in which you’re going into it and therefore created some form of stability for your responsibility or your role within it. Here I was and I’ve gone from being in a battlefield to being unconscious, to be maintained unconscious while being moved from one country to another and one environment to another. We’re no longer together, my wife, the mother of my son had already made some medical decisions about my treatment. By the time I woke, I’ve been treated. I’ve gone back to being a five or six-year-old child all of the decisions being made for me.
It’s funny how life repeats those cycles for us.
If we haven’t learned to overcome, adapt or address it the first time around, then it will come back and bite you the second time rather than the third if necessary.
Did she make decisions that aligned with what you would’ve made for yourself?
I’ve got nothing but operation and gratitude for the decision that she made because I know some of them were against our beliefs, but it was what I would have wanted. I’m eternally grateful for that. At the time of being in trouble and being in distracts, you don’t think logically. It should be recognized that all of these have been made without your consent or without your knowledge and prior agreed.
It does make a difference too, to be able to recognize that the decisions were made. She went against her beliefs to make decisions that she felt you would have made for yourself. That’s a difference too because even though you have the cycle repeating itself in your life, this was a little bit of a shift because it wasn’t all about her and what she wanted and what she wanted you to do. She was thinking about you. That does help. It’s in that weird in-between area where it’s like from the traumatized brain, it’s like, “Here we go again. I’m not making my own decisions in life.” It’s a different scenario because your needs were taken into consideration before the decision was made. I’m curious to find out if the cycle repeated itself and shifted again later in your life at some point.
I started to have these sleep apnea moments where I couldn’t allow myself to sleep. The longer I was awake, the more irrational I became. The more irrational I became, the more that they felt the need to try and sedate me because I was being irrational. The more they tried to sedate me the more I believe the designs to be able to knock me out and take my leg. It was an ever-decreasing circle, which eventually determined that I had a breakdown. I was sectioned under the mental health act to and detained for my safety and moved from that ward into another ward so they could keep an eye on me.
Ironically while I was incredibly distressed at the time that it happened, I was almost relieved by the fact that at least I was in a ward where people didn’t tell us the prosthetics. I’ve moved from one horrible situation to another horrible situation. At least one I could rationalize a little bit more in my mind, even though that probably on the scale of things I was moving in a backward direction as opposed to moving forward and progressing. Interestingly enough, I use this term very glibly and I sincerely hope that I don’t offend anyone by doing so. Late 2000 and the beginning of 2001 when I was first diagnosed with Combat PTSD. I referred to it as I was diagnosed it before it became fashionable. It wasn’t on of one’s gender in 2001 as it is now.
While it was recognized, acknowledged and diagnosed, it also meant that a lot of the psychiatric nursing team that I was being looked after by, I was a new case. I was a new field opportunity. I was a case study. Probably for the first 6 or 7 weeks in reflection. I acknowledge that there’s a need for learning and training, but I was a bit of a watch of a pincushion or a gerbil being tested, both a multitude of different theories about how to treat it. “I’m an F-grade nurse and I’m doing this part of my dissertation and I need to be able to learn all about X.” Here’s a great case study is locked up.
Therefore, I’ve got access to it whenever I need to and I can ask him a whole series of questions or test this and find out about him and learn this on the other side. Thanks very much, I’ve got my grade I’ll move on. Next one comes in, I’m doing this bit and for six weeks, I certainly felt a little bit like a pincushion or being prodded in the zoo was an animal with regards to, “Let’s find out what works and what doesn’t.” Invariably, if you go through a whole series of different treatment protocols and regimes one after another, very quickly, none of the work, even if any of them could have worked, if you’ve seen it through for long enough.
It can be confusing to the system to mix too many all at once as well.
Certainly, about three months into my stay in the hospital, I was at the level where I was suicidal that taken my razor blade and my shoelaces away. I wasn’t allowed to be in a room without being observed either by somebody else or a camera. You’re broken. When you wake up, you cry because you’re awake and you don’t want to eat because there’s nothing to eat for. You become nothing. In actual fact, it’s from there that I took my greatest learnings. Once you’ve accepted that you’re nothing, once you’ve got to a level where you’ve stopped crying because there’s no point in doing it anymore, you perhaps run out of tears for the day. Once you’ve got to a state of nothingness, then you can actually say, “If I’m dead and if I’m not going to die, then what do I want to do in living?”
You get a choice. I was fortunate to have an exceptional psychotherapist who worked with me for the next five months and helped me rebuild who I am. Without being evangelical about things, I can honestly say in those five months that I was pretty much reborn. I’ve become the person I’ve always wanted to be and never knew how to become. It was only going through such a state of nothingness that I’ve subsequently learned how to be able to make choices about who I want to be and how I want to be, who I want to be with and how I want to be with them. I’ve been able to rebuild everything not of the basis of my parents or my upbringing, but through conscious choices as an adult.
I love how you described that because if you can get yourself to a place of nothing, then you have no attachment to anything anymore. There’s no longer attachment to what your parents told you when you were a kid. No longer had an attachment to what anybody told you. No longer has any attachment to what the world expected you to become. If we can let go of those attachments, because the hardest place to change, where we’re coming from, any person. If you truly want to change something in your life or you want to transform your life and you’re attached to being somebody, you’re attached to being this particular version of yourself. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to be a huge struggle to transform your life into what you envision, especially if you’re hovering around that rock bottom place.
I love that you pointed this out being able to get into that space of nothing. If you have nothing, if you’re no attachment in your mind is able to let go of everything that you thought you were, then you have a blank slate and a blank canvas to recreate yourself. One of my favorite teachers that I read to a lot is a man by the name of Joe Dispenza. He talks about this all the time. His meditations are geared to get people into no space, no time, nobody. You can recreate for yourself without having to hit the ground that 35 miles per hour to do it. It was a long haul and some people needed this. It’s how it happened your life but for some people, how this transformation happens is hitting the tree at 70 miles per hour or hitting the ground at 35 miles per hour.
I could genuinely say if I had to go through everything that I’ve been through and become the person I am, then regardless of how painful, difficult and the many errors and failures that I’ve made along the way, being the person I am was well worth it.
That’s a sign of true healing. When somebody says it was all worth it or I see the purpose in my suffering, or when people get to the point and say, “It sucked but to get here, that’s what was required and I would do it again if I had to.” That is a true sign of somebody who’s healed from their trauma and they’re not avoiding, spiritually hijacking or bypassing the work that it takes to heal. The belief that people will struggle with PTSD symptoms for the rest of their life, that is a myth coming from people who don’t know, who haven’t experienced PTSD and who haven’t come through it.
I opposed to that, I’m keen to share this also. The only way I don’t continue to suffer PTSD is because I remain conscious about the journey I’ve been through. If we look at Kolb’s Four Levels of Consciousness and we go from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, there is always the risk that when we get to that unconscious level of competence that we slide into this level of complacency, which becomes unconscious competence. For people with complex trauma PTSD, certainly with the people with combat PTSD, you can carry it for the rest of your life. It can become a crutch to which you hold and utilize as a shield sometimes to protect us from what life has to throw at us because of all the things that we’ve already had thrown out us. In fact, through conscious choice, through remaining in that conscious competence as opposed to allowing myself to move into unconscious competence, it allows me to be able to manage the condition that I had and have in such a way I didn’t know. It doesn’t have any form of impact on my day-to-day life.
I don’t disagree with that at all because it takes work. By work, what I mean is personal responsibility, personal accountability. It’s not blaming the rest of the world for everything that happened to me. That level, once you step into the responsibility and the accountability, then you’re into that level of conscious competence that you’re talking about.
In 2009 was the last time I had quite significant flashbacks from my time in the trauma center from the Gulf, from my time in hospital, from my time on the section. It went on for about 6 or 7 weeks. It got quite bad. I was at risk of if I hadn’t had the support team around me, within my family and friends that I had at the time, I may have ended up back in the hospital for a while to try and protect myself. I went through quite a blip and yet I can reflect on that or recognize that in the 6, 7, 8 months leading up to that point, I become complacent about where I was. I hadn’t carried out what I would consider my daily drills, which is what you would’ve done either with fatigues in the army and all that type of stuff. I negated all of the things that I learned to do to protect myself and thought that I surpassed it. I put it behind me and it came back and bit me to remind me that the reason that you do these things is to prevent you from doing these things.
When I work with clients, that is a big part of the work we do is helping people figure out what is that daily routine that keeps you connected to yourself and committing to some daily routine or regular practice that keeps you connected to yourself. Whatever that looks like because that’s different for everybody. Some people like to go out and run 5, 6, 8, 10 miles a day. I’ve done that. I did a half marathon once and I’m like, “I don’t ever see a need to run this far ever again and it was only a half. It’s not my thing.” There are other ways that I find to get outside or to do my daily practice. Whatever that is to find out, flesh out what you love to do and flesh out what connects you with yourself because my practice is not going to work for everybody else.
You were right because the next thing I was about to say was for true healing to occur, it does take that conscious awareness of where you are and what’s happening in your life and noticing when you start to have those subtle signs and symptoms come up so you can nip it in the bud rather than looking back. We all have hindsight and we all look back to, “Before my big breakdown or before this big incident happened or before I flipped out that one time.” There were all these little subtle symptoms that I brushed under the rug. I ignored or I logically reasoned them away as something else. You know what they are. Pay attention to those things and when they start to rear their ugly heads, you know how to manage them.
Have you read the book, The 10-Second Philosophy, by Derek Mills?
I have not. I’m going to write that down.
It’s phenomenal. Derek is a UK guy, who’s had a cameo role in the film, The Secret. His book, The 10-Second Philosophy, is all about being able to go back to the body’s natural chakras. He’s not a spiritual guy by any sense of the imagination. He used to be a stock trader on the London Stock Exchange. He was a bull out there trying to make a million quid an hour type stuff and he had a breakdown. Through his learning and what he shares in his book is, “Unless you are an A&E surgeon, a lifesaving surgeon in the hospital accident and emergency ward, nothing is going to die. If you don’t simply take seven seconds and take a decent breath in and a decent breath out and let it sit with you for one breath and determine one, what do you think about this? Two, how do you feel about this? Push it further down into the gut and say, how does it feel about you?” These seven seconds of taking a breath and stopping for a minute as opposed to being caught up in the race of expectation of doing something instantaneously or something the way that we’ve always done and we’ve always done what we’ve always done. We’ll always have what we have already. If you want a different outcome, you have to start thinking different thoughts and doing different actions to result in different outcomes. Taking the time to say, “Is this the right way to do it for me or is that the simply the way I’ve always done it?”
Real transformation doesn’t happen on your yoga mat, in the middle of a run when you’re in the zone or whatever your daily practice is. That’s not where transformation takes place. Transformation takes place at the moment whenever you feel the anxiety coming up or you feel this emotion rising up in you. At that moment between the emotion and the response, that’s where transformation takes place. I love this 10-Second Philosophy. It isn’t all that different than a practice that I teach some of my clients and that is not necessarily seven seconds, but take a breath and put space. Let that breath be the space between the trigger and the response. The more space that you can put in between that thing that gets you activated and triggered or offended and riled up. The more space you can put between that moment and the moment that you respond can be the difference between a reaction that you’ll later regret and a response that you’ll be proud of like, “I did that. I adulted, good for me.”
If you’re jumping with a parachute, you’ve only got 1,800 feet, seven seconds, it’s about 97 feet. There aren’t the times to think about it all the time. Where there moments where you feel that reaction, that response, and you’re simply becoming more consciously aware of it as opposed to going into autopilot, which is enough to be able to question, “Why am I going to respond this way? What would happen if I responded in different ways to the way that I would normally have done so?”
The situations where you don’t have seven seconds are few and far between and rare that we ever find ourselves in that situation that it’s not even a viable excuse to say, “I can’t do this.” Even if you’re the surgeon in the emergency room, you’re going to be in that situation more often than the average person and still it’s going to be a vast minority of the time that you’re going to lose somebody in seven seconds if you don’t take the probe. You’ve come through this. Tell us a little bit about the work that you’re doing and how you’re helping people?
It’s two-fold. I fell into speaking quite by accident. The final stages of my recovery when I left the military were picked up kindly by a national charity that looks after veterans with mental health trauma. I lived in one of their halfway houses for about seven months when I first left. Learning to become who I am, learning my civilian identity, my place in the world and in the community, post-service. I’ve got a decent job. I did okay for myself. I was working at a boardroom level and in a corporate environment. Everything was going particularly well. I’d met somebody else. We were sucking down things where things were going and everything was good. All of a sudden, the charity that had funded my recovery was doing a roadshow.
One to try and raise awareness and two, to try and raise some funds for the charity. This was probably 6 or 7 years after I left. I suddenly stopped and felt such a schmuck. I suddenly realized I’ve been getting on with life and things have been going so much better since I’ve left that I’ve never stopped to consider and remember the charity. It enabled me to become who I am. I’ve forgotten to go back and put a few dollars in the count as it were and say, “Thanks very much.” I went to the internet and found their website. The usual thing where it says, “For $30, it pays for an hour of this and $130 it pays for six hours of that. For $290, it pays for 24 hours of this.”
I sat there with a calculator and suddenly had the shock for the time that I’ve been there, recordings to their website, they’d spent the best part of about $86,000, $87,000 on my recovery that I hadn’t even considered. I knew I’d done well and I knew that they’d look tough to me. I’ve got on and I’ve moved on. I hadn’t stopped and reflected on the financial costs that had gone through in enabling me to get there. I didn’t have $90,000 stashed in a drawer somewhere to be able to simply give a donation. I figured I was going to go to this event and I was going to make a small but sizable noticeable donation to the charity. Hopefully, I would get a little bit of local press because I was going to make £10,000 donation that night. It might make me feel a little bit better than the guilt I suddenly felt. I subsequently found that maybe not one of the guys that treated me on that day, but somebody else that I’d worked with in the Army was working for the charity and would be there. I thought, “This would be even better. I’ll have a catchall, I’ll be asked to pay a check.” Everyone will feel good. It might encourage some other people to make a sizable donation also.
I got there. I invited some friends and some family, some colleagues and clients that I’ve been working with. Some of the people I’ve invited there, 27 people that came on my invitation and some of the people that came didn’t even know I’ve been a soldier. They had only known me since my civilian career and I didn’t necessarily talk about my past. When we got there, we found that the event organizer was in complete disarray. He was panicking. There were supposed to be about 200 to 250 people coming that evening and he was pulling his hair out. I said, “Richard, I know you as a man of cool and calm. You do big events for a living. What’s the problem?” He says, “The gentleman that’s coming up from the charity has been involved in a car accident. Thankfully he’s not injured, but he’s in no fit state to be of delivering anything. I’ve got all these people coming in. My wife’s on the internet at the moment, trying to download a few things to tell people, so we don’t have to cancel.”
These words blurted out my mouth without even thinking about them and said, “I was a soldier and the charity funded my recovery. I know Calvin well. If there’s something I can do to help, let me know. What I meant, if you want me to sit with your wife and say a few stories for her to read out, then so be it.” He said, “Jay, that’s wonderful,” which we take and sat on. “I was on table 27 over there.” “You come and sit on table four right here at the front.” “Thanks very much.” We all get moved to the front, into the VIP area and we’re all sat there and having a bit of a meal and the first course of the second course of being served and then he stands up, says, “Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, the gentleman that we did have here has been involved in a bit of an accident and he’s no longer able to be with us, but his boss says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Allen.’”
I was hoping that there was somebody else with my name. I suddenly realized that he’d got a different idea about how I could help than the one that I attended. I stood up and I went to the front and I was a little bit panicking and I told the story. This was a time where the Chilcot Inquiry in the UK was going on with regards to the legalities to go to war in the second Gulf was at this prime. It was all in court at the time and people were being called, Baxter in the Parliament, to discuss the legalities of whether we should have gone in the first place. It was a very poignant subject at the time. I simply said, “We were all doing our job and whether the politics are right or wrong, you can’t allow your opinion of whether we should have been there or not just taking the fact that 27 people didn’t come back. I’m here is a result of being there and doing this.” I told an emotional story and three things happened. First of all, we raised about £96,000, £97,000 that evening, which was about five times more than the event organizer they even anticipated.
Secondly, a guy came up to me and said, “I’m a Speaker Booker, and we’ve been sent to look up this chat from the agency because we’re looking for a veteran to be on our books and tell a military story. If you’re not already exclusive with the agency that sent you, can we book you?” I’m thinking, “Speaker booker, agency? What are you talking about? I’m here with my friends and family.” I’ve paid for tickets. I’ve never heard of the speaker booker before.” I said, “Yes, of course, you can. Give me a card and I’ll get in touch.” The event organizer came to me at the end and he says, “Jay, I don’t know what you do for a living, but whatever it is, you’re wasted if you don’t speak on stage and share your story and generate more money for the charity. We were expecting to try and raise about £20,000 to £23,000 and we’ve raised nearly £90,000. That’s downs to the honesty, the vulnerability in which you’ve shared your story. You should do it again.” I gave the weekends to give it some consideration. I phoned this agent on a Monday and we ended up having a conversation back in 2011. I handed my notice in at work on the 1st of January, 2012. I’ve been speaking around the world telling people a story about mental blocks and mental agility, ever since.
Battlefield 2 Boardroom is all about helping people still understand how to work better as a team. Collectively, we can always achieve more than we will individually. Don’t always assume that a team has to be your colleagues at work. It could be family members. It could be collectives of people on the street. It could be a local community. It could be a local group that comes together. Understanding the roles of the team and how collectively team allows us to achieve as any more than we could individually is to be able to get a different set of results. The Road 2 Utopia is all about people that set life goals and never achieved them. I get quite frustrated by people that tell me that they’ve got a bucket list. These are all the things I want to do in my life.
My only attitude towards that is why on earth would you take anything off a list that says when it’s done, you’re going to kick the bucket. There’s no enthusiasm or impetus to take anything off the list if you’ve called it a Kick the Bucket List. Instead, The Road 2 Utopia is all about having a living list of things that I’m going to do while I’m alive. Allowing us to understand that if we set a list of things and intentions and goals and deadlines or things that we’re going to do, those experiences that we have by engaging in those activities will allow us to add these more elaborate things to 2021’s list in 2020’s list. Set aside things that you are going to do and then from that, every experience teaches us all the things that we might want us to do as a result.
If any readers want to reach out to you, what’s the easiest way or where you’re most accessible for somebody who might want to reach out or contact you?
I use LinkedIn every single day. I’m on it for at least an hour a day, every day communicating either sharing stories or contributing to things. I’m on LinkedIn Live and so I do LinkedIn video as well. LinkedIn is my preferred method, but I am also all over Facebook with both the group and the page. I have a small team, but they do all the things in my business. I do trans to concentrate all of my efforts on social media myself.
I remember you have a website also.
What would you say to others who might have combat PTSD?
First of all, I acknowledge the fact that there is a significant fear of admission of Combat PTSD. All of our training teaches us to be invincible, teaches us to be killers, teaches us to be the warrior that goes out there as an invincible and all of a sudden, we have this. Sometimes, PTSD would be easier if I broke my leg or broke my arm because it’s a physical injury and people can see it and empathize and understand. The fear of being able to admit that there’s something that’s happened internally that we can’t see and therefore rationalize and prevent many people from coming forward and simply saying, “I’m not okay at the moment.”
There’s a huge big campaign on Twitter with regards to the hashtag, #ItIsOkayToSayIAmNotOkay. I’m an ambassador for that hashtag and for that movement. First of all, acknowledge if somebody else is telling you that there’s a problem. If you haven’t even acknowledged to yourself that there’s a problem. If somebody suggesting to you that either you’ve got a mood swing or there’s a difference in attitude, behavior or perception about something, then it’s time to be able to simply go to somebody else and say, “I’d like to talk about something at the moment.”
It’s to create an environment as such that you have the safety to be able to do so. Please first of all, as a rule, don’t suffer in silence because there are so many of us out there that have been through traumas either like yourself, even worse or not as bad as the things that you’ve witnessed and seen but it’s not about comparisons. It’s about simply saying you’re not alone and you must feel comfortable in order to be able to tell somebody, a friend, a stranger, and policemen and doctor, your next-door neighbor. I don’t care who it is, but reach out and tell somebody, “It’s okay to say I’m not okay.”
Jay, do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our readers?
Perhaps it’s Einstein. I love reading Einstein’s work. The man was an absolute genius in almost everything that he did and Einstein simply said, “If you were only given 24 hours to save the world, then I’ve spent 23 hours thinking about how to save the world.” You will always achieve more in life of personally, professionally, socially, emotionally and spiritually if you give it thought first as opposed to simply dive in. Take those seven seconds that we spoke about throughout this show and give it some consideration, “What outcome do I want to achieve and is the action or reaction I’m about to have likely to create that reaction?”
Jay, thank you so much. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to have you on the show. You’ve shared some wonderful information, valuable tips and techniques for our readers. For all of our readers, you can find me online at JenniferWhitacre.com. Please share this episode, especially if you know any veterans because veterans, I truly believe struggle with a lot of these issues. It’s hard for men and veterans because both have a stigma to them to speak up and say that we’re struggling inside of ourselves. You have a man who’s a warrior and you’re supposed to be invincible, that’s not the case. Find that safe space, reach out to somebody. Jay has graciously offered to give 30-minute free call to discuss, how to take steps to manage your PTSD? If you go to his website, you’ll be able to find his email and reach out and say, “I heard you on Yes, And.” Ask him to schedule that 30-minute free call to get some tips and a little strategy on how to manage your PTSD. I will see you all next time.
- Jay Allen
- Joe Dispenza
- The 10-Second Philosophy
- Battlefield 2 Boardroom
- The Road 2 Utopia
- LinkedIn – Jay Allen
- Facebook – Jay Allen
- [email protected]
About Jay Allen
Jay Allen is a Combat Veteran whose life got turned upside down in 2001 in a parachuting accident. Afterwards, Jay was medically discharged from the Armed Forces.
Rather than letting this be a reason to ‘give up’ Jay used it as a sign to ‘Get Up.’ Since then, Jay has gone on to win Global Awards, and inspire all who meet him.