Can You Overcome PTSD After Being Away At War? PT. 2 Denny’s Story

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Denny Salisbury returned home from Iraq a different person. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury during a horrific car bombing that took the lives of others in his vehicle. The medication that the military subsequently prescribed for him only made things worse, and after attempting to take his own life, Denny decided he needed a different option. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by Denny as he relays the story of finding his path to recovery.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades, using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest-quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Alright, welcome back. We are with Denny Salisbury and we're talking about Iraq and IEDs-

Tana Amen: Hard story.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and multiple psychiatric medications. So Tana meets Denny on a survival weekend which, as she said, I was ambivalent about, to start.

Tana Amen: He wasn't ambivalent. He was clear.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I was in the Army for 10 years. I did-

Tana Amen: He was clear he was not going.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I did enough survival training.

Tana Amen: He looks at me. He goes, "Do I not take good care of you? Do I not put a really nice roof over your ... Why are you going to sleep out in the wilderness?"

Dr. Daniel Amen: Anyways, she was so excited when she met you, and thought our work could be helpful, so she invited you to the clinic. What was that like for you?

Denny Salisbury: Before, I mean, I was kind of-

Tana Amen: Let me back up for one second, because he probably thought I was a crazy lady because I hear his story, and I'm trying to tell him, "Hey, this is what we do." I jump in my maternal kind of way that I do, and he probably thinks I'm psychotic, so ... And I'm trying to tell him what we do. Then I'm reaching out to him, and he's probably like, "Who is this crazy person?" I mean the whole way that it came up was probably a little intense for him, I'm suspecting, because I can be intense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Really?

Tana Amen: A little bit, so I'm going to guess-

Dr. Daniel Amen: I had no idea.

Tana Amen: ... that it probably was a little weird for you, knowing me, which I don't try to be, but I am, a little intense, so tell us, from there, what you were thinking and then how you came here.

Denny Salisbury: I like to emphasize when I teach that everyone has something to teach. You can learn from everyone. It doesn't matter if you're the instructor, and so when I tell my story, that's kind of my hopes is to entice people to maybe share their story with others within the class, explain to them even why they were there or why they're excited about being in a class about wilderness survival. To hear you come up and talk to me, I mean, it was awesome because it was about a topic that I was passionate about, and I enjoy it. I enjoy understanding about my injuries so that I can overcome them better.

Tana Amen: See? Not everyone thinks I'm crazy. Okay, good. Go on.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What did you think when you were coming to the clinic to get scanned?

Denny Salisbury: I was nervous, obviously, driving, I mean, before because I had no idea what to expect. It took us three hours to get there from Ventura, so I had a lot of time to think about it, and it was nerve-racking. Then I show up, and it's just this really nice facility, and I kind of, again, didn't know what to expect. I've never had some radioactive dye put in my blood before, so ... and then-

Tana Amen: If I could jump in, because when I meet Denny, and we're out in the field with this wilderness survival, he's really bright, really confident, really on his game. He's got everything under control, and so when you come into the clinic, he was nervous, and he voiced being nervous. He's like, "I'm nervous about seeing my brain." I'm thinking, man, this is this really tough Marine who had everything under control, and now he's nervous, but that's not an abnormal thing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, but he got blown up.

Tana Amen: Right. My point that I want to make-

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'd be nervous too.

Tana Amen: Wait. The point I want to make is it's not abnormal. I'm a trauma nurse, and I'm used to having things under control, and I was nervous, and that's not an abnormal thing for people to go through, so just ... I just want to paint that picture. He's like, "I don't know what I'm gonna see, and it makes me a little uncomfortable."

Dr. Daniel Amen: Okay, so you were nervous, and then we went over your scan. Now, the holes ... He does not have any holes in his brain, but what he had was very significant decreased activity in his frontal lobe.

Tana Amen: That's decreased blood flow, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Decreased blood flow.

Tana Amen: Probably from the blast injuries.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Very decreased activity in his left occipital lobe, and so that's what we call a coup, contrecoup injury-

Tana Amen: That's from the blast, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... where the front part gets hit, and it'll slam the brain against the back part of the skull, so-

Tana Amen: Like shaken baby.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Like shaken baby, where you see damage in both, and so even though he's done a great job at his own recovery-

Tana Amen: Better than most.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that there is significant healing that can still occur, and so I showed you, well, here is what it is now, and it's clearly hurt, but here is the potential for healing. That always get me excited. When you left after you saw your scan, what was going on in your mind?

Denny Salisbury: Before you showed me what was wrong and how to improve it, I still had to go through the testing that you guys had, and I remember just being almost angry at myself because I could see myself choosing the wrong answer every time, like before I click the button, it's like I'm, "Oh, that's wrong," and I still press the button. I mean, again, still nerve-racking, but then when I ... When you showed me how I can improve it, that's when it started settling down for me. I seen that there was a path to getting better, and that's kind of been something I've been trying to do since Iraq, really, is just find the problem, understand how to make the solution, and then continue with the path. That's basically how I viewed it for the entire trip back and since. I mean once you showed me that, I just see that there's a way to recover, and I enjoy that.

Tana Amen: Well, and I got a really cool text from you, I wasn't expecting it as quickly as I got the text from you, about a week afterwards. You said, after only a week, you were starting to feel better. You felt more hopeful and more positive, that you noticed your energy was a little better, and that you had more energy to go outside and do things with your daughter, and that you were excited because you had a plan. That's what we love. Usually, we get that a couple weeks later, and that was a week after you had been here. How long did it take before you really started to feel pretty good about it?

Dr. Daniel Amen: What we did, just to ... So we put you on a group of supplements, multiple vitamin, high-dose fish oil brain boost, and then something to really help with focus and energy. I really wanted to significantly increase the blood flow in your brain and, given your experience with medication, that's really not where I wanted to go. I wanted to-

Denny Salisbury: I [crosstalk 00:07:37]-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Can we do this naturally? It's the same protocol we used with our NFL players. We've scanned and treated 200 or more, now, NFL players. Their brains actually look very similar to your brain because they have thousands of sub-concussive blows, and so I was really confident we could make a big difference in your life, and you've been really cooperative, from what I understand. I mean that's often what it takes. It's give your brain the nutrition it needs, stop doing anything that hurts your brain, and let the healing accelerate, let it begin.

Denny Salisbury: Right.

Tana Amen: I have a couple questions. In our last segment, you guys brought up a couple of things, and I think it's sort of relevant here, and I want you to sort of talk about it because, looking at his scan ... You actually published a huge study where you could see the difference between PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Okay? Listening to your story, I'm shocked. I'm astounded, but yet we hear it all that time that, number one, the military doesn't have a better way of assessing these poor kids, they're kids, before they put them back out in the field. I'm just stunned by that, but it sounded to me like they did not assess well. Okay?

He had a massive brain injury, and they did not assess that well. Okay? When I early on in the segment said, "Oh, wow," well, when he first got there a month later, he had PTSD and a brain injury before he even had his big blast injury, and you're like, "Wait, wait. No, he didn't." I don't understand the difference because I'm thinking an IED goes off, there's a crater next to me, and everyone and 12 people in my car get a concussion. For me, that's PTSD, okay? So help me out here.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, but this is really important. Not everybody who's exposed to a trauma develops post-traumatic stress disorder. If you think of a bell-shape curve, 10% of people exposed to a trauma will end up with long-standing PTSD.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But 80% will not, and 10% of people will actually develop this thing we call post-traumatic growth and-

Tana Amen: This is interesting. This is important.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so we can't just say, because he experienced something bad, that he had PTSD. You can't do that. After the second blast where-

Tana Amen: Your friends died.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... friends are dying and ... And it sounded clear you had PTSD, and you had the effects of traumatic brain injury. When I looked at your scan, you obviously had the traumatic brain injury, no question in my mind at all, but you also had PTSD. I published two studies, actually, on veterans, and then a large one on 21,000 people showing, well, we can separate is this PTSD or TBI, or is it both? It's very clear you had both, and people using the tools they had, they tried to help you, which ultimately hurt you, and there's just such a better way to do this.

Denny Salisbury: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The VA has such inertia. I makes me crazy because I've actually been to the highest levels of the VA going, "This is a better way to do it," and they go, "Oh, that's really interesting," and then nothing happens. It's a scandal, in my mind. We could be doing better, and we're not doing better, and it's because people aren't making smart decisions. But that's not why we're here today. Why we're here today is to talk about you. The scan, sounds like, motivated you, gave you information and hope, and since then, you've taken the supplements. What else have you done to help your brain?

Denny Salisbury: I'm trying to get back to fitness. Well, especially with this surgery on my shoulder, it's just been kind of a-

Tana Amen: Yeah, it's hard.

Denny Salisbury: ... stagnant. I mean I'm trying to regain that motivation because I know that, I mean, I got a hopeful future, and I want to spend a lot more time doing what I love, which involves a lot of wilderness training and teaching, so I know that I have to get back to that point. In order to give back, I need to be able to help myself.

It's interesting that you guys talked about the PTSD because it's similar to what they taught at Menlo Park through Stanford, which was put on by the VA. They basically said that, and I agree with them, right, that trauma can happen to anybody, right? Your interpretation is whether or not you have PTSD. If you grew up and, say, your childhood's wonderful and nice, and you experience something that's crazy and bad, that right there can give you trauma, and vice versa. If you grew up living a terrible existence in the beginning, and then you experience something nice that you've never seen before, that too can give you trauma.

People that have it in neutral, a little bit of both, that are able to overcome it the best. Maybe that's how I had it because the PTSD has not been so much of an issue as the TBI for me. I feel like Menlo helped me really recover from the PTSD. I interpreted and understood what it was wrong with me so, I mean, just like that, just like the brain scan, that's how I feel, right? I see the answer to my TBI, whereas I've seen the answer to my PTSD before, and it's exciting, very exciting, and I know that I have to work hard to get back on track. Nutrients, and being healthy, and eating right is, obviously, key to that. I mean-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Along with exercise, like you said, and you had number of other insults that people usually don't consider insults, so how many times have you had general anesthesia?

Denny Salisbury: Oh, man, seven at least.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, and general anesthesia's not good for your brain, and so just coming out of the shoulder surgery, it just means, okay, that's an insult. I just need to keep doing the right things to put my brain in a healing environment, and your brain can then heal from it. But if you eat bad food, if you don't sleep, if you are not exercising, you're under chronic stress, you believe every stupid thought you think, then all of those things puts your brain into a toxic environment, and then it prevents healing.

By doing the right thing every day, when we do your follow-up scan, which we should do fairly soon, odds are we're going to see it much better. We're going to celebrate that. For the rest of your life, because your brain has been hurt, you want to be on a brain-healthy program, and ultimately, that will allow you to be the best teacher, the best partner, the best father, but it starts with loving and rehabilitating your brain, and so it's got to be a lifelong commitment to loving and rehabilitating your brain.

Denny Salisbury: Right.

Tana Amen: I'm just curious, Denny. Did they teach you meditation?

Denny Salisbury: They did, but I ... At that time, I wasn't really in the mindset to begin meditation. It's definitely something I would like to try or pursue in the future.

Dr. Daniel Amen: On BrainFitLife, we have an online community. If we've not given you access to it, we should, There's actually meditation audios, brain-enhancing music.

Tana Amen: They help you if you're not used to it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There are hypnosis audios for things like pain, and sleep, and relaxation. All of those things are natural, right? You're not going to have any side effects from them, but putting them as ways to decrease stress can be really helpful. Did I talk to you about hyperbaric oxygen?

Denny Salisbury: You did. You said that was one of the best ways to get [crosstalk 00:15:55]-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, so if that's something you can do at home or near your home, that would be a great thing to help us accelerate healing for your brain.

Denny Salisbury: Right, so I have definitely kept that in mind. I've asked a few people. That's about it. It's on the top of my list for healing my brain, that's for sure. It's just unfortunate, at the moment, I've had to focus on my shoulder, so I mean there's a lot going on for me. I just got to stay in the present and be aware that there is a path for my healing. I mean if I lose track of that, that's when I slip into the whole PTSD and start having the issues that so many veterans are experiencing, and so that's ... It's just being active and aware of it all the time.

Tana Amen: I'm the same way. Activity, for me, is critical. I think, for some of us, exercise is medicine. For me, it is certainly medicine, but I will tell you, because there have been times in my life when I have not been able to be active, and it really gets to me, meditation is like medicine as well, and so when I can't be active is when I really focus on meditating. If you're not able to meditate on your own yet because you're not used to it, sometimes those guided meditations, like what Daniel was talking about, can be very, very helpful, and I even have a couple I can send you that I've actually done for my community too, so-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. No, you should do that.

Denny Salisbury: I would like that, absolutely.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: On BrainFitLife, there's a guided one, so all you have to do is do it with me, called the Loving Kindness Meditation. It's very powerful.

Tana Amen: Simple, but great.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, and actually, it's been shown to help with people who have PTSD, so that can be really great. All right. Well, we should plan, in a month or so, or whenever you feel like, "Okay, I'm back from the surgery," and you've been on the supplements consistently for three months, you should come back, and we should scan you. The scan, probably going to be better. Whatever it is is good news because we're going to see what you have, and then we'll make more recommendations to try to continue to heal and optimize your brain.

Tana Amen: We need to do something on post-traumatic growth and how people can turn their PTSD into post-traumatic growth.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and some of the things, Denny, I want you to think about, since you've experienced this, so there are five areas of post-traumatic growth: a new appreciation of live, that I'm alive, that I survived, as opposed to the guilt that I survived and other people didn't, how you relate to others, which is different than before, your personal strength, the new possibilities, and spiritual growth. Those are areas we can talk about.

Tana Amen: I do all those. Maybe that's why I don't focus on-

Dr. Daniel Amen: You do all of those from your traumatic childhood.

Tana Amen: You know what's interesting? I don't know if you ever experienced this, Denny, because I hate the idea of being a victim to anything or the idea ... I hate it so much, which is why I sort of like that warrior metaphor for my life, and I focus on martial arts and things that are empowering and notice that whenever someone has a message that sort of puts you in a victim ... We went to church recently, and the message was on sexual abuse, but they kept focusing on making women victims, and I got so upset, and my head started to hurt, and I think it's because I've spent so much time focusing on not being a victim to it, on turning it around and making it something that I've grown from, that you can't sort of tolerate being a victim anymore. It's really important. Do you know?

Denny Salisbury: Right. Yeah, that's like the glass half empty or glass half full kind of people. You can either be a victim or you could be a survivor.

Tana Amen: Yeah, or a warrior.

Denny Salisbury: I would much rather be a survivor.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You teaching survival training, I mean I just think that's-

Tana Amen: Perfect.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... a very special metaphor.

Tana Amen: And you're good at it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, that's one of the reasons you fell in love with him.

Tana Amen: Yep.

Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, so stay tuned. You're listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Tana Amen: Thanks so much, Denny.

Denny Salisbury: You're welcome.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We will have Denny on again. Thank you, my friend.

Tana Amen: Thank you.

Denny Salisbury: You're welcome. Thank you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook we give away every month.