Army veteran Stephen Simmons arrived home from his last tour in Iraq in 2008, but adjusting to civilian life has been difficult due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It’s not uncommon for those suffering from PTSD to experience feelings of shock, guilt and anger, while also having increased jumpiness, recurring memories of the traumatic event and difficulties sleeping. Interaction with family, friends and colleagues can therefore be challenging, as can going about many other activities in the course of the day.
However, the Oregon resident is learning how to cope and finding increasing amounts of comfort with something called “adventure therapy.” (1) Not only is he enjoying the sense of calm that being outdoors affords, but he’s doing it with his pets — a cat named Burma and a dog named Puppi. He explains that his pets love the outdoors as much as he does, saying that Puppi once scaled a 9,000-foot volcano with him and that Burma has no fear of hiking and swimming in lakes.
How nature and pets help those with PTSD cope
The combination of the outdoors and being with his pets helps Simmons cope. “I realized that I cared a lot more about what happened to me than I thought I did. There’s something about balancing on the slope of a mountain, pumped full of adrenalin, and close to the top,” he explained. “Instead of ignoring and repressing aggressive tendencies or jolts of adrenaline in your system, you can put them to work by challenging yourself against nature. It’s about action rather than apathy.”
As far as how his pets help him, Simmons says he shares a bond with them, noting that he feels that Puppi absorbs his emotions and understands his sad and happy moments, helping him heal. Burma, the rock-scaling cat, is a conversation-starter, something that Simmons feels helps him connect with others more easily.
“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that no matter how dark it seems… that hopelessness — it’s a lie. It’s something that’s hijacked your life, and the real person that you were is still there,” he said of the help that adventure therapy and his pets have provided.