It took me almost a year to go to the mental health services at our base's med group and I wanted to speak on my experience because this might help someone understand or give someone someone the courage to go. The only time I've ever gone to a counselor was once before, while Ryan was deployed. I was a married, senior in college and the people that I ran to the most to vent about my problems were my sorority sisters. Respectfully, they had no idea what I was going through and that's ok. But I needed to vent to someone who was a third party. That one visit helped a lot during a time when I felt very alone in my experience. When I became a missileer, my experiences handling anxiety and stress changed exponentially. I'm someone who takes high stress situations as an embraced challenge. I relish it. But this time, this was different. My job experience was affecting every aspect of my life and this wasn't just the past few months, but the past year. I'll try my best to express how I felt but the key words would be overwhelmed and hopeless. I would study my ass off and still get questions wrong on tests or look completely idiotic in trainingrides...or at least that's how I felt. In an environment where everything needs to be perfect, if you don't feel perfect, it starts to weigh on you. In some ways I felt trapped. I work on a small base, in a small town, that is an hour from Helena, and three hours away from the next major city. Flying out of here is expensive and I worked all of the time. When I wasn't working, I was sleeping to try and recover the sleep that I lost while I was pulling alerts. It was a cycle that never stopped. My confidence levels, which were never a problem for me, now I found to be dwindling. I was nervous all.the.damn.time. My anxiety was terrible and although I might not have always shown it, often times, especially before evaluations and training rides, I had to give myself pep talks. I know, it sounds ridiculous but these were events that made me feel so completely insignificant. This type of anxiety and nervousness was so bad that it was basically debilitating. This wasn't something that happened on alerts (don't worry) but more in my personal life. It also affected my marriage. I was crazy grumpy after alerts and the stress of my job influenced (and still does) how I treated Ryan. I had sob sessions in my car because I didn't know why I was here, I felt dumb, and I hated so many aspects of my life. I felt like I couldn't do anything about my situation and it sucked.
When I went PRP down (aka wasn't pulling alerts), I had the time to go check out mental health. I had so many reservations about it. I didn't know if my problem was "significant enough" to go see a therapist or a counselor for it. We're always encouraged to seek out resources if we need it but what do you do if you're questioning whether or not you need a resource? I also chose to speak on this because sometimes people think that you need to "just see the big picture." If your anxiety is that bad, you can't see anything but the problem. Taking deep breaths and retail therapy only does so much.
Four months ago was the start of a situation that I will never forget. Instead of feeling like crap internally, it was all over the news for everyone to make assumptions about. The stress, worry, and anxiety was bad for a lot of people. That was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. I called, made the appointment, and two weeks later met my therapist.
It was such a positive experience. Based on what I went through, if you're even slightly concerned- GO. Check it out for at least one appointment. I've gone to two appointments and I'll definitely continue while I'm on this assignment. I never felt judged and I think it had to do largely with the fact that I don't work with my therapist. He/she is literally not in my chain-of-command and that made a huge difference. My therapist helped me gain perspective and I've been so much better because of it. Apart from that, I've also spoken with base chaplains and that has also been a positive experience. My recommendation is that even if you're not concerned about anything in your personal life, get to know these resources anyways. I think there was this veil of mystery that really hindered me from checking them out and it took a really bad situation to provide an open door to them.
May is Mental Health Month and I think the media sometimes portrays mental health as this big, scary ordeal. But really, it can be anything and sometimes it's good to just let it go by finally addressing it. You don't always have to understand or see the big picture, but if you or a friend is going through something- invite them to those resources. Sometimes you just need a third person to hear you out.
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