If you read my story, you will understand the struggles I went through for over twenty years as a military spouse and carrying the scars of mental health issues. Mental health is not a joke. Depression is serious, anxiety disorder is real, and both can lead to a tough path to walk alone. When someone is depressed, telling them to “stop wallowing in self pity” is not the answer and will make things worse. When someone has an anxiety attack, telling them to “just stop thinking about it” is not possible and will make them think more about it. When a child has Autism, telling that child to “just pay attention” makes no sense to that child and they will ignore you or get distracted.
Those who do not struggle, cannot comprehend the emotional and mental stress that we endure. Anxiety does not happen just because of some tragic event or because you are worried. Anxiety Disorder and Depression can trigger at any given moment, without any reason. The mind is always in a fight or flight mode, it never rests. Most people think less of mental health disorders than they do physical disorders because they cannot physically see the problem. However, just because you cannot see it, does not mean it does not exist. Think of a mental disorder like a muscle spasm, when you get those tiny spasms in your muscles that just randomly happen for no reason and you can’t control it or stop it. The brain is the biggest muscle and mental disorder is like a spasm. It happens and the only way to control it is certain techniques like pacing, humming, or talking to someone to redirect the mind or medication.
Personally medication was not an option for me. People with Anxiety actually fear medication more because they worry about the side effects or any types of loss of bodily functions. In fact, I had a young doctor tell me one time that he could give me something to ease the anxiety when I felt one coming on. His exact words were: “It’s like a shot of vodka in a way. It’ll help you relax.” Now, mind you, this was years ago and I was underweight, I never drank alcohol, I had three kids all under the age of five and my husband was always deployed. I question a doctor who decides to prescribe someone like me a medication that is “like a shot of vodka” when I need my clarity. I was not a medical professional, but I had common sense enough to know that being out and about to just pop one of those pills while driving with my kids or even just being home alone, may actually cause greater harm than good. Finding a medical professional who truly understood you when you’re military was a very difficult thing to do. Between moving around every two to three years and doctors being deployed and moving themselves, there is very little space in between for you to actually get to know your doctor, and vice versa.
This posed a problem for many military families, as depression, anxiety, and Autism were on the rise and suicide had become such a big issue that the military had to acknowledge it enough to create mental health programs. At one of our military stations I went through four different mental health professionals, all of who rarely worked with military families and I never felt comfortable with any of them. This issue then percolated into the community the more I spoke about it and wrote books about it. I became the voice for many other military women going through the same thing and at a Government Conference for Mental Health, I was able to escalate the issue further to become a focal point in the community.
Now that we are retired and I have learned to balance my happiness with everyone else’s. I am still proud to continue working as a Life Coach with both military and civilian mothers through mid-life transitioning. Being a mother is not easy, being a military spouse is not easy, being a woman alone takes more than a smile and a cup of coffee. We need to be there for each other.