Imagine not being able to sleep, or work or control your emotions.
Many military veterans struggle with those problems as they return to civilian life with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
It's been 10 years since Jonathan Cranor served in the U.S. Army, but it seems like it was just yesterday.
"You don't want to remember but you can't help but remember," Cranor said. "Seeing your buddy who you just talked to that morning come back in a body bag."
Cranor spent six years active duty with an infantry unit, including a tour in Iraq's infamous Sunni triangle. The worst of war came home with him.
"Not being able to sleep due to dreams. Large crowds? Can't do it. I have to have my back to a corner," Cranor said.
Signs of PTSD - feeling alone, feeling out of step, unmotivated - appear in a tiny region of the brain called the amygdala.
SPECIAL SECTION: Learn more about PTSD
Using advanced neuroscience, Dr. Jerzy Bodurka and his team at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research study the brain to help veterans overcome PTSD. With funding from the Department of Defense, they recruit vets like Jonathan who are willing to be paid to undergo painless, MRI testing.
Four years into the study, the team discovered that soldiers can learn to regulate their brain response using an MRI and a setup similar to a video game.
"They're not using pictures of tanks or bullets or guns," said Dr. Bodurka.
They're using penguins. By manipulating his own brain signal, Cranor learns how to control the area of the brain that triggers PTSD.
"Some of them can really control well their own brain but not all of them," said Dr. Bodurka. "We trying to also figure it out what's the factors that some veterans can control very well and some don't."
The team at Laureate said they want to help veterans to be able to better control their emotions, feel joy again and ease stress.
Cranor said it's not easy signing up. It took courage he admits, but he hopes the data from his testing will help other veterans and encourage more to be a part of the research.
"It's not about yourself. It's about doing your duty for your country and for your battle buddies," he said. "It could make it to where we cure PTSD."
Click this image to find out more about Laureate's PTSD study.
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