Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur when a traumatic event is experienced in someone’s life. It can cause uncontrollable thoughts, extreme anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and memory loss, which often last for years if left untreated.
It’s estimated that 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older suffer from PTSD. Today we’re going to tell you about one of them.
Michael Harding is an Australian veteran whose journey started in 2010 at the age of 21 when he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. During his tour, Michael was involved in a firefight that lasted three and a half hours and resulted in the death of his section second-in-command.
Immediately after that Michael began experiencing full body muscular twitches. He was evacuated and diagnosed with Conversion Disorder, a form of PTSD with functional neurological symptoms. After being medically discharged in 2012, Michael returned home to his wife Bek a changed man.
Back at home, Michael started receiving treatment from veterans’ services that included exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a number of different medications.
“They only exacerbated everything,” Michael says. “Made my condition worse. The medication suppressed everything, and because I couldn't really feel anything emotionally, I was a zombie and wouldn't get out of bed before twelve.”
Frustrated and feeling hopeless, Michael then turned to alcohol. “I was just a mess,” he says, consuming up to a 750ml bottle of alcohol each day. Eventually Bek suggested that he needed to try something different and that’s when they started looking into alternatives.
The first real change they made had to do with nutrition. Since being discharged Michael had gained over 80lbs between the medications and alcohol. They started with a juice cleanse and during that time Michael was able to lose about 30lbs off the bat.
After the initial cleanse, they continued focusing on eating a plant-based, whole-food diet. They also tried medical cannabis, which is illegal in Australia, but they were willing to try anything and had read the studies being done in the United States about positive impacts.
A healthier diet combined with exercise inspired Michael to finally get off all medication. But as Michael describes it at this point, “things were alright.” He was still having a lot of night sweats and nightmares, and his twitches would still occur. He also had a lot of social anxiety.
“It wasn’t until we stopped the with medication we started dealing with PTSD and Conversion disorder for what it really was,” says Bek. “The med’s suppress everything and they don’t allow you to work anything out at all. They just numb you out. Basically, it’s an unsustainable life. You can’t live like that or experience happiness when you’re on as many meds as Michael was on.”
During this time Michael also returned to his job, but he only lasted four months. No one else would hire him. He avoided large crowds and even family gatherings. He disconnected from his civilian friends, and most of his Army buddies didn’t understand what he was going through—although sadly, a few of them later learned firsthand as they had their own experiences with PTSD.
Bek continued to research alternative therapies online until finally one day she came across a video of Joe Rogan, former host of Fear Factor, talking about floating. She watched a few more videos and although she couldn’t find much research to support it at the time, she knew floating would be great for PTSD as well.
Michael on the other hand was was tough to convince. “I honestly thought it was going to be a waste of money,” he says. But for the next 6 months Bek slowly brought up the idea and after agreeing to pay for the float, she finally got Michael to agree to go.
At this point, he was only one week away from having to speak at a fundraiser for an event he had helped organize, so his symptoms were worsening with his stress levels. Bek and Michael traveled over an hour to visit the nearest float center and planned to do three sessions in one week as suggested by the technician at the center.
After just one hour in the tank, it was clear that Michael was hooked. “I hopped out feeling on top of the world” With a big grin on his face, he turned to give Bek a kiss and said, “Let’s book the next two sessions!”
His third session was on Friday, the day of the fundraiser. “I still had a lot of anxiety because it was probably about 150-odd people at the event, but it was a lot more maintainable. I was able to participate and help coordinate people.”
During the Fundraiser Bek spent her time talking with veterans and attendees, telling them about their successes with natural and alternative therapies for PTSD. As she was explaining their newest adventure with floating to a friend, she heard something that brought tears to her eyes.
Michael was speaking at the fundraiser. Into a microphone. In front of 150 people.
“I instantly burst into tears,” Bek says. “It was the biggest turnaround because I honestly thought during the week that he wasn't even going to be able to make it to the event. He was that worked up and stressed out, and a lot of his symptoms had returned. So then to hear him get up and talk on the microphone, I balled my eyes out. It was even bigger and better than what I ever imagined. It was incredible.”
Both Bek and Michael spent the next months floating twice a week until they eventually purchased a reconditioned tank and set it up at home so they could float as often as they like.
Today, Michael is an advocate for the use of Integrative Therapies in the treatment of PTSD and other mental health issues. He also serves as a mentor in Trojan’s Trek, a peer-to-peer rehab program for veterans in South Australia, and speaks publicly as an active member in other ex-service organizations and charities.
Through the combination of a regular floating habit along with healthing eating, exercise, meditation, yoga, medical cannabis, positive affirmations, and peer-to-peer-rehabilitation, Michael has finally found his way back to a life that he loves.
Michael and Bek were also speakers at the 2016 Float Conference held annually in Portland Oregon. Check out the video below to hear more of his story first-hand:
Zen Float Co is proud to support Veterans and offers a 20% discount off of a home Float Tent purchase. To learn more information about our special pricing for Veterans please click here.