Jodie Lewis, M.Ed., CRC, LPC, NCC
“Never quit, never give up” is how Travis Mills lives his life, demonstrated by his attitude throughout the narration of his autobiography, Tough as they Come. The young United States Staff Sargent was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he set his backpack down on an intermittent explosive device (IED) and as a result, became a quadruple amputee. The book takes us on Travis’s journey describing his life before the explosion, through his initial response to his injury, into his rehabilitation period, and finally gives an example of how Travis moved into the transcendence stage concerning his disability. In this blog, I give a summary of Travis’s story. Secondly, I discuss what stood out and what was relevant as a professional working with people with disabilities (PWD). Third, I examine and apply the information covered to the psychosocial and coping needs of PWD. Finally, I explain more in-depth about how the content and skills discussed in the book may be useful for PWD.
Travis begins his story with a history of what his life was like before becoming a quadruple amputee. He considered himself a young midwestern boy who loved football, his family, hometown, and friends. Travis explained how college was not a good fit for him and how he indeed found his place in the army. While in the army, Travis met the love of his life, Chelsea. Travis and Chelsea were soon married, and they had a sweet baby girl. It was during Travis’s third tour in Afghanistan the young family’s entire lives would change forever; this is when he became a quadruple amputee due to an explosion. Shortly after the explosion, Travis describes his experience of finding out he was an amputee and how it was the first time he considered giving up. I listened to the audio version of the book with Travis narrating, which seemed to make the story so much more personal and vulnerable; in fact, I was moved to tears several times. After the explosion and when Travis was stable enough to be moved back to the United States is when he saw his family for the first time (other than his brother-in-law who was a fellow brother in arms and flew overseas to be with him immediately after his injury). How Travis described not wanting his wife to see him as a quadruple amputee moved me to tears. The book was not full of fluff; it was more an account of one man’s raw and authentic journey through injury, disability, recovery, acceptance, and transcendence.
Listening to Travis’s story, many things stood out that are relevant as a professional working with PWD. One of such things was hearing how Travis responded to his injury and disability at each stage of his journey. In the book, Disability, Society, and the Individual, Smart discussed the topics of good and poor response to disability and the three categories associated with this response; to include cognitive, behavioral, and affective (Smart, 2016). How one responds cognitively to disability means how the person thinks about disability, whereas the affective response is how an individual might feel and express emotions about the disability. According to Smart, good examples of cognitive and affective responses include, redefining disability and managing one’s emotions in a positive way (Smart, 2016). In addition to these two responses, Smart describes the behavioral response surrounding disability to include, “Active mastery of disability, compliance with treatment regimens, seeking out social support, returning to work and for many PWD, actively fighting against the stigma and prejudice of society.” While listening to Travis tell his story, he describes his thoughts and his feelings about his disability, and it is apparent throughout he ultimately had a “good” response to his disability. Travis worked through his stages of disability into the stage of transcendence where he is now advocating for PWD, public speaking, and founder of a non-profit organization called the Travis Mills Foundation which serves wounded veterans. Travis’s response to his disability gave a first-hand account of what healthy response to disability might look.
In addition to Travis’s response to his disability, another thing which stood out to me was how his family responded to his disability. In the article, Family Coping in Families with a Child with a Disability, Lustig, discusses how families can have an impactful influence on the lives of children with disabilities (Lustig, 2002). The author goes on to discuss the importance of understanding the problem solving and coping strategies of how families adjust to a family member who is disabled. Travis’s wife, brother-in-law, parents, and other family and community members supported, encouraged, and loved him throughout his entire journey.
Additionally, it is vital to have an awareness of not only how a PWD’s family impacts the person with the disability as well as how the disability itself might impact the family. This is an essential aspect of assisting PWD and their families in coping and acceptance of disability.
Finally, let us take a more in-depth look at how the content and skills discussed in the book may be useful for PWD. The content in the book, which seemed the most useful for PWD was Travis’s relatable and realistic attitude. Travis focused on how important it was for him to be independent and free. Travis stated, “Ability to live a life in freedom might be taken away due to injury, or it might be because of political oppression, the ability to live a life in freedom is cherished, desired, worth fighting for, worth getting injured for, and even worth dying for.” Additionally, through advocacy and his honesty and openness, Travis moved to a place of transcendence.
In conclusion, I gave a summary of Travis’s story. Secondly, I discussed what stood out and what was relevant to me as a professional working with PWD. Third, I examined and applied the information covered to the psychosocial and coping needs of persons with disabilities. Finally, I explained more in-depth about how the content and skills discussed in the book may be useful for persons with disabilities. If you are looking for a relatable, authentic, and raw account of one PWD’s journey, this is the book to read, or in my case, listen!
Regardless of the experience you or loved ones are going through surrounding the area of disability, our dedicated and experienced One Change Group Counselors are here to help you. Contact us at onechangegroup.org to set up a free initial consultation today.
Chan, F., Cardoso, E.D.S, & Chronister, J. A. (2009). Understanding Psychosocial Adjustment to Chronic Illness and Disability. A handbook for Evidence-Based Practitioners in Rehabilitation. Springer Publishing Company.
Smart, J. (2016). Disability, Society, and the Individual. (3rd Ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Lustig, D. C. (2002). Family coping in families with a child with a disability. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 37(1), p 14- 22.
Mills, Travis. (2016). Tough as They Come. Convergent Books.