Ty Oswald on tackling PTSD among military veterans with Apollo

How a military veteran is using Apollo to combat the mental health stigma in his community.

The Apollo community is a diverse community who all share a common belief – that the human body is powerful and we have the capacity to heal. Through a series of member features, we’ll be highlighting some powerful stories from Apollo users and their causes. 

We recently had an important conversation with Ty Oswald, founder of BeArded WARRIORs, to discuss PTSD, mental health stigma, the importance of community, and Apollo’s role in his community of veterans.

Ty Oswald came back from serving in the US Army in Iraq in 2003 and didn’t talk about it for over three years. He returned home to Huntsville, Alabama, got a job at a Best Buy, and felt like he was doing a good job masking what was really going on — serious trauma from serving in the military in combat. It was only until a colleague pulled him aside and recognized subtle behaviors that would be identified as PTSD, that he opened up and sought help. 

This period of painful silence led him to found BeArded WARRIORs, a nonprofit organization of military and non-military volunteers that provides veterans and their families a community of support after service. 

Creating a community to talk about (and normalize) mental health, open up about combat, and integrate the experience into everyday life are important pillars at BeArded WARRIORs. 

Ty is always on the search for resources to share with his community to better face the realities of life as a veteran. This is where his path crossed with Apollo Neuro.  Apollo has proven to be an important resource in his toolbox to deal with the everyday realities of PTSD.

What was the transition like after serving overseas?

I rewired helicopters in the military in Afghanistan and then sold TVs in Best Buy in my hometown in Huntsville, AL. I didn’t talk about my experience as a soldier in combat for years. I was in a period of deep self-isolation. I thought everyone was looking at me, and I was internally judging myself based on what I thought others were seeing in me. I had too much pride to admit something was wrong. Looking back, I could have asked for help. 

When I got a diagnosis for PTSD, my family admitted they knew there was something going on, but they were waiting for me to open up about it. It’s never anyone’s fault, it’s on the individual to ask for help, but my advice is that there is never the right thing to say or the right time to say it, but don’t wait. 

PTSD, anxiety, stress, depression, anger, all of these mental health challenges affect everyone who has daily contact with the veteran. They all deal with it too. I made a point to make BeArded WARRIORs vet-centric but oriented for the whole family. Spouses of veterans find support here too. We get kids together.

Why did you start BeArded WARRIORs?

First, it was my knowing and admitting that I needed help. At work, a colleague pulled me aside to point out behaviors he noticed that were concerning. These weren’t affecting my performance, and they were things I thought I was hiding well. 

The realization that I wasn’t hiding nearly as well as I thought sent me on my path to find help. After three months of deadends, I realized the resources I was looking for didn’t exist in Huntsville, which has a huge military presence. This was 2006, so there weren’t many other vets who had served a full 15 month deployment like me yet. Anything available was far, and that was frustrating because I didn’t have the finances to miss work. I was also a full-time single father and my son was going anywhere I went, and the support I was finding was far away and only available to vets — family members not welcome. 

I thought, why isn’t anybody doing this? I needed it, so why don’t I do it?

Seven years later, what does BeArded WARRIORs look like?

Word spread within my buddies and it grew a lot. Seven years later, we have 11,000 people involved. For every five people who are looking for help, there are more than 10 people looking to help. That’s how we grew.

We do 5ks, 10ks, mud runs, yoga, outreach to homeless people in the community (vets and non-vets), among lots of other events. For Christmas, I bleach my beard to be Santa Claus and hard-as-nails vets dress up as elves. The return that vets get from feeling a part of the community and the reactions they get from the community keep the guys showing up. They feel engaged and know that people are waiting for them to show up at the next event.

The goal among my vet buddies is to be able to tell a story from combat, and quickly transition to “hey, I’m running out for a coffee, do you need one?” We don’t want to break down whenever we talk about deployment, but we want to talk about it. What happened to us is never not going to happen. It’s never going to get better, but you can.

How did you first learn about Apollo?

I was out to dinner with my now-wife and friends, and I didn’t want to be there. I was disconnected and playing on my phone, not engaging at all, and just having a bad day. My wife’s friend noticed, and she begged me to try her Apollo. I was really resistant, but I put it on and kept playing on my phone. Within ten minutes, I had naturally and subtly opened up to the conversation and let my wall down. I started doing my research that night, and I was instantly thinking how I could correlate this with the guys in my group. 

Three days prior to this, a Marine veteran called me past midnight on a Tuesday, and was in a bad spot. He’d had too much to drink and was thinking about guys he’d lost and his time deployed. I went with another Marine buddy so I wasn’t alone, and we sat him down and spent hours talking. 

After witnessing how Apollo had gotten me in a different state of mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much faster that work could have gone with this veteran, bringing him down if I had an Apollo. There have been dozens of these situations where I’ve been called by a vet or a family member of a vet, and being able to provide a resource like Apollo is game-changing.

I tell them how they can start with ten minutes of Apollo a day to not get stuck in a rerun of their mind. It allowed me to start engaging with people in a way I couldn’t before.

What’s your Apollo routine?

I use basically Apollo all day. I wake up with ‘Energy and Wake’ up in the morning. From convoy experiences, driving can be hard for me, so I keep my Apollo on ‘Clear and Focused’ to stay calm driving. After tons of surgeries on my legs and spinal fusion, I used Rebuild and Recovery after workouts. I relax before speaking engagements with ‘Meditation and Mindfulness’. For talking and engaging with people at events or virtually, I use ‘Social and Open’.

To learn more about BeArded WARRIORs and get involved, please visit https://www.beardedwarriors.org/. If you’re interested in being featured on our blog, please reach out to Rachel at rachel@apolloneuro.com.

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