The little hamster wheel in your head that just keeps spinning and running until it seems like it's out of control. Random thoughts pop in and out, your head jangles, and sleep is damn near impossible.
Intrusive, distracting noise from the outside: televisions continually blaring, the intellectual wasteland of social media with its addiction to trivia, jarring music, nattering voices.
It all sounds like some of the symptoms we experience from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, which has been part of the human experience for millennia, has for the past few decades now been given a name and, for some more recently, a status. Or, in a few instances, an excuse.
In a lot of cases what the VA is far to quick to diagnose as PTSD is simply a normal human reaction to a stressful situation. Combat, certainly for a few, but not the majority of vets. Rapid transition from civilian life to a highly structured institution like the military, relocation or deployment, disengagement with one’s home base, all cause stress.
The reverse is also true. Veterans leaving the military, after one enlistment or a career, are venturing into a strange, unknown environment, even if they don’t realize it. Instead of institutional discipline, self-discipline is required to succeed. Employment doesn’t seek you. The pace differs and goals of the organization seem meaningless after dealing with mission-critical tasks on a daily basis.
The civilian population at best pays lip service to your military experience but is, in truth, not very interested in what you have done. Some view you as a ticking time bomb; others may see you as someone who wasted time better spent on making money, going to school, or just hanging out.
So if the wheel keeps spinning and even worsens with the witch’s brew of psychotropic drugs the VA counselor pushes across the table, you obviously need a change.
At Valhalla Project we offer one: Trade PTSD for PSTD.
PSTD, as we define it, means “Plenty of Shit To Do,” and you’ll find it here in abundance. Most Valhalla Project veteran participants come here without serious PTSD, but they are instinctively seeking something that will “get them out of their own trip,” as Valhalla founder Chris notes. The most successful ones are eager to learn, intensely curious about new things, and want to be kept busy.
When they realize that instead of being in a “dependent” mode they are thrust into a “caring” mode, they learn quickly that scores of animals and poultry are absolutely relying on their oversight for the essentials of life, the mental confusion stops. There is both life and death here at Valhalla. It is not a petting zoo, or a family-friendly farm animal showcase. Valhalla is a working homestead with not only farm animals but also wild predators and therefore the 24/7 need to safeguard the life sustaining resources that everyone here depends on.
Do you like the farm-fresh food? Then you need to insure that the plants and fruit trees are properly watered and mulched and that predatory insects are not consuming your chow.
Surprise: it’s not all about you anymore. Living creatures are completely dependent on you. For some it is a real shift in a way of thinking. For others there are some similarities to what it was like downrange, where the value of lives seemed to matter all the more when surrounded by actual threats and dangers, and where fully focusing on tasks at hand while ready to take action can again make all the difference to another beating heart. There is obviously no comparing a newborn lamb with a human being, or an injured bird running from a fox to a buddy in trouble during the heat of battle, yet the end effect remains similar: it’s not all about you again, and you are sincerely needed.
Once more, all military active duty and veterans who come to Valhalla participate in creating permanent improvements for use by people just like yourselves, as well as for future generations of combat veterans. The Valhalla Project has a 100 year plan: every flower bed, rock wall, perennial garden, set of bookshelves, park bench, outbuilding, and other key features will be here for decades or longer, and each one can be traced back to the individuals who built or planted them. It is a form of legacy that again emphasizes that you are needed, you are not alone, and your actions even here in the civilian world can and will benefit other veterans for many, many years into the future.
It is true: some Valhallans are perfectly squared away and simply interested in what it takes to set up a homestead or small farm of their own someday, somewhere. Valhalla is an excellent testing ground for those veterans looking to get their feet wet before making costly decisions on property purchases. They learn that here along with fundamental permaculture and production techniques that demonstrate the value of independent living and self-sufficiency. Maybe they will never actually do this, but the values imparted by the experience transfer into other fields of life.
A partial list of the PSTD activities at Valhalla Project:
* Care and management of sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, livestock protection dogs, a herd dog, and two lazy cats.
* Growing a sustainable vegetable, herb, and fruit complex.
* Building essential structures, often from materials harvested on-site.
* Permaculture design and implementation with a practical eye.
* Forestry management, including harvesting firewood, mushroom production, and lumber production.
* Preparation and cooking of fresh, nutrient dense, delicious food.
* Making fermented foods such as sauerkraut, apple cider, cheeses, yogurt, and others from fresh ingredients.
* Experiencing the abundance of self-sustainment based on cycling materials through designed systems that minimize waste and maximize production.
* Building and maintaining hiking and camping grounds.
* Constructing wildlife habitat areas and wildlife friendly structures such as bird, bee, and bat boxes, food plots, and watering areas.
* Incubating, hatching, and early care of chicks, ducklings, and poults.
* Birthing sheep and goats.
* Preparation of season-specific homemade foods for professional working dogs.
* Learn a wide range of skills that enhance your self-confidence and gain a renewed sense of mission and purpose in life.
If any or all of these endeavors interest you, please contact us for information on how to get accepted as a Valhalla Project participant.
-- Valhalla Project President Gordon Cucullu, US Army Lt. Colonel (ret.)