We are kicking off mental health month by sharing Jenny Pacanowski’s military experience. She talks openly about her mental health, as well as her struggle with drugs and alcohol after deploying to Iraq in 2004. When she came home she knew something was wrong, but no one knew what to do with a female combat veteran. Women were not technically allowed into combat roles in 2016 and this was early in the war.
Even when I deployed in 2010 and came home and spoke with a therapist about my struggles, I was told I would be fine. It just takes a few months to adjust back to normal life. Hearing Jenny’s story of knowing something was wrong and not being able to find help reminded me of my own experience. It makes me sad that even six years later, the military was not offering more mental health help those who were coming home from deployment.
This episode is sponsored by Ashleigh Magee Coaching. If you’d like to learn more, send Ashleigh an email to admin@AshleighMaGee.com.
Jenny Pacanowski is a poet/combat veteran/facilitator/public speaker/playwright and curator.
While in the Army she deployed to Iraq in 2004. Jenny was a combat medic and provided medical support for convoys with the Marines, Air Force, and the Army. She also did shifts in the Navy medical hospital. In Germany, she was part of a medical evacuation company.
Jenny is the Founder and Director of Women Veterans Empowered & Thriving; a reintegration program that utilizes writing and performance to empower veterans to thrive in their daily life.
Jenny collaborates with multiple organizations including colleges, universities, middle schools and theatres across the country.
Mental Health in the Military
Jenny Pacanowski started her military career in 2003 as a way to pay off her student loans. Less than a year after going on active duty, she found herself on her first combat deployment in Iraq as a combat medic. While in Iraq she provided medical support for convoys with the Marines, Air Force, and the Army. She also did shifts in the Navy medical hospital. Jenny shares a lasting memory where her convoy was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device while waiting on a bridge on a night operation where they were almost hit the Marine convoy under the bridge with friendly fire. While home on Rest and Relaxation during her deployment, Jenny did her “goodbye tour.” She didn’t expect to come home from the second half of her deployment. She made a point to see all the friends and family that she could while home. She said goodbye to them, but did not tell them of the danger she would be facing while going back to Iraq. While she was home from Iraq she also found out that the military would not pay off her student loans.
This made her angry. She contemplated not returning but felt compelled to return. She could not bear the thought of her comrades dying and her not being there to help. When the deployment was over, she started to work to find out how to get the military to pay off the loans they had promised when she enlisted. She was able to transition to the Reserves and go back home. She got a lawyer and took up the fight for the military to pay back her loans. It eventually took a Congressional hearing for her loans to be paid off for time served.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder grabs hold of Jenny
When Jenny got back home she struggled with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and began a very destructive lifestyle. It took years with the help of her parents, a private psychologist, the Veteran Affairs, and a writing workshop to help with her PTSD. Even after she began her road to recovery, it took years before she finally woke up to the state her life had become. She talked about experiencing a life-changing moment while looking around at her situation and seeing her beat up arms. At that moment she said this has to change and it was at that point things started to change and she got a handle on her drug use and alcoholism.
A turn toward hope
She is now a successful poet, public speaker, playwright, and curator. The work she is doing to help veterans and to build a bridge between the military and civilian divide is so important. It is changing people’s lives and changing their stories.
She tells young women considering joining the military to not get caught up in the recruiter glorification of the military. At the end of the day when you sign up to join the military, you are the military’s property. It requires a lot of sacrifices to be in the military. If you have a family, you are asking them to make sacrifices as well. It is important that you take a hard look at what the military has to offer. Then decide if it is the best choice for you.
Connect with Jenny:
Additional Mental Health Resources:
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