Mental health is such a taboo and touchy topic in this day and age. Unfortunately, it’s an illness that so much of the population deals with, yet no one wants to talk about it. It’s like when I was in school (a long time ago) and parents didn’t really talk about sex with their kids. Everyone has sex, but no one talks about it. It’s like going to the toilet – #1 or #2. Why is it ok to say, “I gotta pee!” But very few would dare say “I’m gonna go take a dump real quick.” Literally, EVERYONE is doing it but NO one wants to talk about it! I think for women, it is even more of a taboo subject because men (and other women unfortunately) think all women are crazy anyway. Here is a little secret about women and mental issues – YES we all have them from time to time, and some a little more often. Hormones, stress, post-partum….there are so many physical and biological things that come with us having that X chromosome that makes us a little cra-cra. And you know what else? IT IS COMPLETELY NORMAL!! But what about when it goes beyond the occasional blues or being overwhelmed with kids and responsibilities? What about those who’ve been in combat, or been exposed to other violence such as sexual assault? What about those women? PTSD is the hot word in the media these days and apparently only Veterans get it (enter sarcasm). Unfortunately, the media has made what is already a difficult condition even more difficult because of the stigma that has been attached to it.
How many of you deal with anxiety? And I’m not referring to getting anxious while waiting on something like a phone call or Christmas. I mean the feeling that the walls are closing in around you – even though you might be in a HUGE space or outside even? I have battled major depression and severe anxiety for most of my adult life. It’s funny when I tell people who know me this because they know me as this outgoing person who can get up in front of a large group of people and speak on the fly and who goes on TV all the time with no qualms. “NO WAY do YOU have anxiety!” some will say. The truth is that I have learned to cope with and live with my condition. But that wasn’t always the case. I remember a time when I would go to the mall with my son who was 3 at the time. It could be a normal day and nothing was going any different nor was there any additional stress. All of a sudden I just felt this feeling come over me like everyone was watching me and the walls were closing in, my heart started racing, I just knew that I looked like I was freaking out and that people were staring at me. I became disoriented and couldn’t remember how to get outside from where I was standing. (Don’t forget I have a 3 year old with me.) I finally found my way to the parking lot and fortunately had scored parking spot within sight of the entrance. I practically ran to my car, put my son in his car seat, got in the front seat, turned the car on – and just sat there as the waterworks began. What the hell just happened?? That was the first panic attack that I remember having – although I didn’t know that’s what it was when it happened. I had always been a little more flustered in certain social situations – but something like that had never happened. It scared the hell of out me! For a while after that, I avoided the mall and other really large, crowded places. Now, years later, after having done a lot of reading on the topic of panic attacks and anxiety, I know that NO ONE could tell that I was freaking out. I only envisioned that they did. How crazy is that? Am I crazy? To think that people can literally see or hear what’s going on in my head and that I’m physically acting out these feelings so that others can tell? Another irrational line of thoughts was the year I retired. I avoided going on base as much as possible. I stopped going to my medical appointments and everything because I didn’t want to be on base. Just driving up to the front gate my heart would start racing. Then the thoughts would come such as the front gate guard knowing I was on base to go to the mental health clinic. How on earth could he possibly know that? But I still thought it.
How many of you ladies, don’t sign up for help during the holidays or school supplies season because you simply CAN’T go to a place that you know will be crazy busy with lots of people (like a Black Friday sale)? How many of you have simply done without (or should I say let you kids do without) because you were unable to simply could not physically go to that place to pick it up? How do you explain to your child what anxiety is? During this past year, I posted numerous opportunities for our veterans to sign up for free school supplies, holiday food baskets, etc. I was fortunate to know (personally) the ladies in charge of these events. They kept telling me that they don’t get many female veterans signing up each year. I explained the issue of severe anxiety to them and even though it stated on the registration that ONLY the veteran signing up could pick up their items (could not have a friend do it), they allowed me to pick up for many of the women veterans in my area as long as they registered online. It just wasn’t something they knew was a problem. Well it is a problem! But the good news is that there is hope for you if you fall into this category. For me, I started going to church. I never was a religious person before but I am officially a member of the God Squad now. Aside from that, you have to find a wing-woman (or man). But in order to do that, you have to get out and meet people. Well that’s kind of any oxymoron of sorts. I have anxiety which makes it hard to meet people but the key to coping with my anxiety is to meet people? YUP! But not just any people. Find yourself some people more like you – a little messed up! Ladies, we are all a little variations of crazy. The key is to find people that fit into your crazy mold. I can’t say this enough!! If you are struggling with anything that you can relate to having been in the military – you will continue to struggle until you find a tribe of other women veterans. I’m not saying it’s easy. No, it is down right frightening and hard! But you have to make yourself do it. Just find one – and the rest will suddenly find their way to you.
Oh, my Dorie started kicking in and I forgot one important point in all that above. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY!! (Ok, yes you are crazy – but not any more or any less that the rest of us!!). What you are feeling is a natural reaction to something – some kind of mental or physical trauma – that you have experienced in your life. And you are NOT the only one going through it. Counseling helps (the Vet Center is always the top of my resource list), but beyond that, the best advice I can give is to find your way to others like you. Don’t try to push through it on your own. There is no need to overwhelm yourself with all the responsibilities that you have (mom, wife, work, bills, etc) and add “how the hell do I manage this condition?” A shared burden is a lighter burden. We are not meant to go through life alone. We are meant to have friends, better yet, we are meant to have Sisters – and not necessarily the kind that shares DNA. We are designed to be social creatures and when we recluse, we condemn ourselves to a life of misery and despair – and that is not a life.
Ok, so far all you ladies out there that are constantly needing to find the EXIT sign, don’t let it control you. YOU are in control of YOUR life. Tell yourself that every morning, throughout the day, and before you close your eyes. I AM IN CONTROL…