Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among veterans and the struggle to find relief from its symptoms is almost as hard as dealing with the disorder itself. But one Texas veteran is living a new life thanks to an innovative form of therapy.
Timothy Spisak, a retired Navy SEAL, is a tactical flight officer for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Spisak left the armed forces in 2005 and went on a roller coaster journey as he tried to get his life back on track while living with symptoms of PTSD linked to traumatic brain injury.
“For years I had been dealing with bouts of anxiety and depression that I determined, and thought, was going to be my new normal. But once, I guess, I put my ego on the shelf, I realized, ‘This isn’t normal. This isn’t what everybody goes through every day,’” said Spisak.
Spisak would experience bouts of depression and anxiety multiple times a week, without knowing a cause or seeing an end in sight.
The only medications for PTSD endorsed by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs are primarily used for treatment of seizures or depression—Spisak tried both and experienced debilitating side effects.
“[The VA] gave me Prozac, but when you are flying, it causes dizziness. And I don’t think I need to be dizzy while I am controlling a helicopter. Or even if I was still in Highway Patrol. Should I be driving a patrol car at 102 MPH while on Prozac? Sounds like a good ride, but not very good for work,” Spisak said with a smile.
Spisak was eager to get back to living a life he enjoyed. He took matters into his own hands and began researching alternative PTSD treatments. He credits his wife for discovering the potential of ketamine—a PTSD treatment not endorsed by the VA.
“Research has shown that [ketamine] actually does help. It is just a matter of getting the mainstream medical community (sic) to actually buy off on something that actually helps us,” said Spisak.
While his wife was receiving IV vitamin infusion therapy to treat her migraines at Nova Vita Wellness Centers, the retired Navy SEAL learned about ketamine therapy services, and did not hesitate to give it a try.
He alerted his PTSD therapist, who expressed her support, and decided to do a full course of six treatments over a period of two weeks.
“I don’t believe I had any negative reaction. My performance is not sluggish. Other than directly after, I’m a little bit, you know, groggy, but I’m not planning on doing anything afterward and after a night’s sleep I am ready for the next day,” he said.
He called the treatment a “magical mystery tour”—looking forward to the next infusion even more than the one before.
“If you could say I found my Zen place, it was during these treatments. The effects of the treatments then last about four months; then I go and I get a booster treatment. The depression is gone and for the most part I am symptom free for up to four months,” said Spisak.
Despite the VA’s current stance on ketamine for the treatment of PTSD, Spisak was able to find support through a nonprofit organization known as VETS—which stands for Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions. They describe themselves as non-profit working to transform veteran healthcare by finding meaningful alternative solutions for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS).
The mission of VETS is to provide resources, research, and advocacy to improve the quality of life for U.S. combat veterans and their families. Spisak said that he could not be happier with how the group worked to get him the treatment that changed his life.
“They were really, really good. It was very stress-free dealing with it. I just sent them a verification of my records and who I am. After [they verified my diagnosis] the next thing I know they are contacting [Nova Vita] directly, set it up, and I really did not have to do anything,” he said.
When asked what he would say to another person suffering from PTSD about Ketamine therapy, Spisak had four words.
“I highly recommend it. I can’t even put into words how much [Nova Vita] has been helping me.”