Today’s #SameHere Hero: Sean Stokes (Sean is a good friend & a retired Navy Seal. Given that my own diagnosis was PTSD, I want nothing more than our #globalmentalhealthmovement to champion veteran causes, remove all the ridiculously wrong stigmas they face associated with some of their conditions upon their return from service, & ensure they get the treatment they are so deserving of, so they can heal from any traumas lived through (physical &/or mental). For any vets out there, we salute you, we welcome you, & we hope to do good work for you. Sean & others, thank you for your service.)
“Growing up I was a little introverted. I played sports like many of my friends & even ended up on our HS football & wrestling teams. But I wasn’t a gifted athlete. I was one of those grind it out, be tougher & out-think everyone else type of guys. I guess it’s no wonder then that I can remember wanting to be a Navy Seal as far back as early childhood. I thought being a Seal was the coolest thing there was. You could be an unconventional & outside the box thinker & problem solver, even while being trained in a very regimented way. You had to learn to be not just an excellent leader, but an excellent follower as well. The balance of all of that is what appealed to me.
After HS I went for training in Connecticut for Basic Enlisted Submarine School (BESS). I spent 6 years in the Submarine Navy serving in Hawaii, & Virginia. I applied for SEAL Training Once I wrapped up my time there. I was fortunate enough to receive orders to BUD/s training. It was a 7 month program provided that the candidate could complete the training the first time, followed by Army Airborne School in Ft. Benning & then 6 months of Seal Qualification training…& then to a platoon for 2 years of training. (Throughout those roughly 3.5 years, I was exposed to a lot of explosive breaching & large demolitions, which were causing concussive injuries.) I started having headaches & vomiting but didn’t think it was anything too serious to check into further. Once I was finally deployed, I was sent to ‘The Pacom’ responsible for the Indo-Asia-Pacific region representing our country in places like Korea & Japan, during the Global War on Terror.
I came back from that deployment in 2004 & continued training all over the country. I unfortunately was involved in a terrible skydiving accident, broke my leg badly & retired honorably in 2006. After that, I started doing anti-piracy contract work out in places like Iraq & Afghanistan.
The problems from the Traumatic Brain Injuries that built up over my time in my active duty started to manifest in bad side effects. My vision – color & clarity was affected greatly, I started to have breakdowns, less & less emotion for things, hormonal issues & close friends saying – they didn’t even recognize the old me any more. Most frustrating, was my greatest strength, willing myself through things, I just couldn’t do that to get back what I’d lost in brain function.
By happen-chance I met a man who invited me out to where his son was working at the Brain Treatment Center (branch in San Diego) & a generous foundation paid for my intensive one month of treatments there. Within 3 days my vision started to improve. I learned about the benefits of a Ketogenic diet, was taught ‘fluid painting’ & how the instant gratification from creating something trained your brain to feel enjoyment once again. We learned stand-up paddle surfing which was good for balance & helped w right/left brain connection. I was given TMS therapy, concentrated more on getting the sleep necessary to heal my brain, & learned the healing powers of meditation.
I now am back in school at Columbia in NYC majoring in political science w/ a concentration in math, on the path towards a career in finance. I thought it would be helpful for people to know that there is hope & that life can be better & even enjoyable again after mental health conditions that come as a result of physical brain injuries. I also think it’s important that people know that foundations like this one & the one that helped me with the Treatment Center are friends of veterans & are looking to help us out through their fundraising. So, #SameHere and I hope this helped!