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What I’ve Learned as a US Army Veteran With Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Today, I choose to talk about mental health. One, because it constantly haunts my every keystroke. Two, I think it’s important to give voice to the way those with mental health issues deal with everyday life.

Roughly 12 years ago, I was beginning to struggle for no reason. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. I was recruiting, in the latter half of my career in the U.S. Army. I had just gotten back from a deployment, was sent off to school and assigned as a recruiter. I mention that because it could be easy for me to point to it and hang my hat on that ideology. I do believe it affected me in ways I can’t explain. I am also sure it is part of the problem; however, to say it was the catalyst, I can’t be sure.

One morning, on my way into work, I got my first sign. I had to pull the car over because I was crying so hard, I couldn’t stop. It came from nowhere and for no reason. I felt a kind of grief I couldn’t explain. Ask any recruiter, no matter the service, and they will tell you the job has more stress than deployments. It is a different kind of stress, but nonetheless hard to maneuver through. No one sets out to fail, so inherently you work as hard as you can.

The next sign was thinking about dying with a great deal of anticipation. I am not saying it’s right by “normal” standards. When I was a teenager, I would think about death as I did about sex. The thoughts wouldn’t relent, and it drove me to self-medicate to try and get through it. This caused issues between me and my wife of 22 years. If not for her seeing the signs before I could, I would not be here today; for that, I will forever be grateful.

Guess what? No one tells you when you go get some “happy pill” — by the way, I hate that terminology — that it could take months or years before you find relief. Medications can have horrid side effects, but you take them because you hate your illness. It’s no different than any other illness and too many people take it too lightly.

Well, why does it take years, Bryan? Good question; let me explain. It takes, by medically backed science, two weeks to one month for you to see any relief. Well, what happens when you get a side effect you can’t deal with? You get another medication, then that is another two weeks to one month. There are dozens of antidepressants, so that could take a very long time. Even then, when you find relief, it can stop working efficiently and hence the cycle continues.

I have learned a lot, and maybe someday I will write another book about this very subject. That is not today, though; I am already writing my second book. If talking out loud gives people a sense of not being alone, then I have achieved what I set out to do. A few things I will say before I close this out:

1. Family.

Don’t feel you can fix it for them, or that it’s your responsibility. It’s not your fault this happened. Support them as best you can but have a frank conversation with folks close to you, so they know. I keep a small arrow system written on our home calendar to know when I’m down, when I’m going back up or when and if I have a decent day. It shows it without having to talk about it all the time. For someone like me, who doesn’t speak much at all, it can be hard to have to energy to interact.

2. Those who struggle.

Understand you will have to make your way through a gauntlet of medications before you find relief. You might get lucky, but go into it knowing it’s going to be a while before you find anything outside what you know. It is worth it, it is difficult, it sucks; embrace that and you will not get stressed out as much doing the regiment.

3. Those around you.

You don’t have to have something to be sad about. Your day doesn’t have to go badly; it just is. You can’t understand if you have never been through it. Even if you have, each person’s mental illness is explicitly their own. Do your best to be patient.

4. Lastly, talk to someone.

Yes, I know; I am an introvert as well, but I am telling you it helps. Find a counselor, a friend or anyone you trust, and just tell them. People can sometimes do a better job of dragging you along until you forget. This is where the sweet spot is. I’m not saying you can just will yourself into happiness but having someone help you is better than dwelling in where you normally spend your days.

I hope this helps someone. I will always be a mental health advocate because, for me, it’s not a choice. With understanding and knowledge comes power.

Follow this journey on the author’s website.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Originally published: August 7, 2019
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