* A quick disclaimer: many years have gone by since I first reached out for help, and I know things have changed, as well as our sister services having different ways of approaching mental health administratively, but in general I think the process is still the same.
Picking up from last week; I think it was the following day after finding myself in the VA did I find the mental health care office on base, and was able to make my first appointment. I will say to most that have not gone through this process yet, please have patience, unless you find yourself in a really bad place and need assistance right away. The initial appointment is a bit tricky, as you are not there to begin laying on the couch yet, nor beginning to use the tissue box next to it…like I have…many times. This first appointment is an intake, to fill out a frustrating amount of paperwork, or an iPad or computer. An intake nurse will later ask you some follow-up questions in order to see what the “right” type of help is for you. After this is complete, you will then be able to schedule your first counseling appointment! I use the exclamation mark for two reasons, to poke fun at how tough we think we are, but then imagining needing that box of tissues, and to also to show that a really incredible new journey awaits you.
I would like to go back to a key word I used above, “patience.” A couple years after I began treatment, I found myself in a situation that every friend dreads having to do; I had to go to my command about my friend’s drinking and family troubles. Without going into great detail, after trying to help him for months, things were getting worse, to the point that his career and family were hanging on by a thread. This was all due to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his time while deployed, and the prevailing attitude that if one gets help they can kiss their career goodbye. Well, I could not get through to him that not only did I go for help, but I also took medication, was a fellow officer with a high security clearance, and that I had not lost anything in getting help. Still, his downward trajectory was so fast, that I ran out of ideas and had to take the next step. Unfortunately the command did nothing but ask him if he had any issues, and when he replied “no,” they sent him on his way. After learning nothing had been done, I was finally was able to convince him to go along with me to meet my doctor, and that we could both sit together and talk to him about moving forward and getting treatment. I am sad to report though, the gap from that day until he could be seen was one month, and it took almost exactly that month for him to lose both his family and career. In that time we also had to part ways to do other things in our career, and because he was not a “danger to himself or society,” I can’t write instead that he got in a few days later and is now a success story of the system.
It is in my opinion that there are quite a few lessons from this story, and I will start with I am thankful for organizations like Operation:I.V.!! We need real answers to the problems in treating PTSD.
We are taught in the military to be leaders, self-sufficient, superheroes, and many more adjectives, but rarely are we taught when and how to ask for help. In the above story, my friend was incapable of asking for help; I needed to be a leader and force my friend to get help, by bringing him there myself, or by risking our friendship to save him and his family from himself. If you need help reach out – you will be surprised to find out that you are not the only one in need. Coming to this site is a step in the right direction, and if you the reader are the one in need, nothing comes for free, even if the service is paid for the real work begins with you.
In closing, pride ruins not only individuals but entire nations. When it comes to bettering one’s self by obtaining knowledge, wisdom, and insight, gained through hard work (because conquering mental health challenges are harder than any physical challenge); pride needs to take a backseat just like it did in boot camp, and then reappear at the appropriate time like it did on the day of graduation. Let our journeys begin together by me telling my story, and you the reader sharing your story to those that can give you the tools to begin the hard work the lays ahead. Remember, we didn’t choose the military because it was easy, we chose it because in some way, shape or form, we wanted to be better for having served, and this mission will not be complete until you feel and know that about yourself.
My best wishes to you and your families, and as always I welcome your feedback.