It’s incredible to me how far-reaching my last blog post (Battlefield) made it. The response was overwhelming. Not just from people I know or talk to on a regular basis, but from people I haven’t talked to in twenty or more years and even from people I’ve never met. From the comments on my Facebook of the link to my blog, to the private messages, texts, phone calls, emails, and even the comments I saw from others that shared the link to their page. I made a few new friends that I otherwise would have never known. Thank you.
I write for my own therapy. But it is very nice to have the positive responses I received. It is encouraging and motivates me to continue to tell my story. I expected to have maybe a hundred views total when I published “Battlefield.” I had over 400 visitors to my blog on the first day. “Battlefield” is up to almost 800 views in a week. Incredible. I never expected it to be shared as far and wide as it was. But it’s an important story. Suicide, specifically among veterans, is real.
Both my deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, were as a chaplain assistant in the army reserves. It’s not the hardest job, but it does come with certain stresses. Obviously, like my job title suggests, I assist the chaplain. Appointments, travel arrangements, meetings, security (U.S. military chaplains are non-combatants and do not carry a weapon), and so many more tasks. Although I do not do any counseling to individuals, I have always played the role of go between for a Soldier and the chaplain. Many, for whatever reason, do not want to talk to the chaplain about their problems. There is a stigma to it. I can’t even think of the number of Soldiers I’ve talked with over the years because they felt more comfortable with the assistant as opposed to the chaplain. Hundreds.
In addition to my regular duties, I have taken it upon myself the last five or six years in all the units I’ve been in to take the lead role on suicide prevention and awareness. I have had specialized training in the subject of suicide prevention. I have conducted and facilitated more training sessions than anyone else that I personally know. I have intervened with Soldiers with real suicidal ideations, some that had a plan in place, at least one in particular that was on his way to carry it out. I know the warning signs. I know the risk factors. I know how to help someone get through it or to get the help they need. And I’m very comfortable doing it. It is something I have always taken seriously.
With that said, the irony is not lost on me that I attempted suicide. How could I get to that point knowing what I know? Why in the world would I not use my own teachings? For a short time after my suicide attempt I felt like a hypocrite. I tell you what you should to do help yourself or others, but I don’t follow my own advice. Then it hit me. A dentist doesn’t fill his own cavities. A heart surgeon does not cut open his own chest. I was not capable of fixing or helping myself. And I was too stubborn to let any one else help me. In addition to that, I was not doing anything for self-care. My self-care for now is writing and sharing it with you.
While in the hospital after my attempt I was diagnosed with PTSD and major depression. These are both things that I knew about in myself but tried to cover it up and deal with. For a while I fooled everybody. But as time went on it became more evident that something was wrong with me. But I felt that if I knew I was “crazy” then I must be sane enough to realize that, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? However, if I break my leg, and I know it’s broke, that doesn’t mean it’s going to heal itself. I would still need treatment, I would need a doctor. Mental illness needs to be looked at the same way physical problems are looked at. It’s the same concept. If something is wrong, fix it. But for some reason with mental illness, it’s always viewed differently. It’s a catch-22.
One of my favorite books that I’ve read is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The title of the book is actually where the phrase originates. Here’s an excerpt from that book:
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern
for one’s own safety in the face of danger that were real and immediate was
the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and he could be grounded. All he
had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would
have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if
he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy
and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian
was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22…”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines Catch-22 as “a situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.” So, in my mind, as I dealt with what was happening to me, I thought that since I knew it was going on, I must really be ok. If I were to go to counseling and tell the therapist that this is what’s wrong with me and I know it, and they agree, that I must be fine. That actually happened to me shortly after returning from Afghanistan. I was so in tune with my flawed mental state and what needed to be fixed, that the therapist said he thought I was good to go, as long as I worked on those things. I didn’t need to see him anymore after only three visits. The problem was I stopped working on those things. I fell into a hopeless mindset. I spiraled out of control in my emotions, thoughts, and actions. All the while, thinking to myself, that I’m ok simply because I know what’s wrong. If I know I’m crazy, I must be sane. That train of thought almost cost me my life.
The irony of life, or at least mine, is that I had all the tools to help someone else. I just couldn’t use them on myself. To further turn my life into irony, I spent the first few months after my suicide attempt mad as hell that it didn’t work, yet still making plans for the future. The thoughts of not wanting to live still hit me once in a while, but there is no plan to take such actions. I promised a number of people that I would let them know if I needed that kind of help again. I intend on keeping that promise. I know I have a long road to go and I know that I will never be the person I was before. I’m not a big fan of the person I am now, but I’m getting better. Slowly but surely.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to share it and get this message out. An average of 22 veterans a day take their own lives. Maybe this story will help even one person change their mind about committing suicide or the stigma of getting help. Or it might help one person understand what some of us go through when we battle our demons and nightmares. I’ll keep writing for my own therapy and also in the hopes that it makes a difference to someone.
Good day and God bless.