Sometimes hardest part is to recognize you need help and then actually going to get help. Sometimes it requires you to overcome the military mental health stigma that has been trained into who you are. The path to starting getting mental health help was a long process. I think it took me over a year before I went to my first Celebrate Recovery meeting after learning about the program. Through the program, I was able to find healing and started to let go of some of the things I didn’t even realize I was holding on to.
Then a few months after we moved cross country I got a rash and the medication made me go through an experience where I realized my mind wasn’t functioning as it could. As I went through the experience I knew I needed to write about how it made me feel. It was a slow-motion realization of how quickly my mind could convince me everything was fine, when at the same time my anxiety was sky high and I no longer could sleep at night.
How to overcome the military mental health stigma
A few months ago, I started taking a medication for a rash that went unnoticed until the heavy medication was required. I read, okay, I skimmed the side effects. I remember reading “this medication has side effects, but your doctor has determined the risks outweigh the benefits”. But I don’t take medication very often and kind of thought that was a normal statement.
When I have taken drugs in the past I have seen the little effect on my personal life. The medication helps my body to get better so I wasn’t too worried. I started taking the medication and the rash began to get better. And for the first few days, I felt fine. But as I down-stepped the medication life began to get harder. I struggled to focus. I felt off. My sleep wasn’t great, but overall, I was sleeping most of the night. And then I started not sleeping. I was wide awake with a racing mind at 2 am and unable to fall back asleep.
Before not sleeping I had already started to recognize something was wrong. I felt as if my days were flying by, life was happening, but I just was there. Not truly participating. There were so many good things going on around me and instead of being excited I just dreaded the next day and the challenges ahead.
I knew there was something wrong. But since we have moved recently and I was blaming the feeling of being off to moving and not feeling settled. Not realizing how much the medication was also having a part to play in my mental health struggle.
How do you realize that what is going on inside of you is not just a minor problem? How do you get help?
Talk to someone
This doesn’t mean find a counselor and get help. Talk to a friend. A mom. A spouse. Someone who is not inside your head who can help you see if you are thinking clearly. An outside perspective can help you figure out what is true and false.
An outsider can also look at your overall situation with a different perspective. Maybe it is just stress and you need time to adjust. But when you tell someone else what is going on inside your head you may learn that you need more help than you think.
Then as I talked to a trusted friend, she reminded me about the medication. She reminded me about the side effects. She reminded me to give myself grace as I worked on getting better.
Check your situations
Moving was dominating my life. And the increased pressure I felt at first, I attributed to moving. But deep down I knew there was something else going on. Moving is very stressful and getting settled isn’t easy. But I had been dealing with the stress of moving for a few months and this felt different.
There are often times when small things in life can uproot problems hidden in your past. Make sure to take an inventory of things that have changed or things that have happened. It will help you figure out what new thing is causing you to feel the way you do.
By taking an inventory I realized the medication was the new thing I had started the past week. It was easy to read the list of side effects to realize it was causing me to tailspin.
Other possible life events are having a baby, losing a friend or family member, or reliving or being reminded of a traumatic experience.
Do you need to give yourself grace?
Sometimes after you do an inventory and talk to another person you realize you are being too hard on yourself. Do you hold yourself to an unattainable standard?
During my struggle with the medication, I had to use the television to get through each day. I felt so guilty each day for the amount of tv my son would watch. But in these times of struggle tv may be an important resource you need to use.
Give yourself grace as you work toward healing or your new normal.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is one of the easiest and hardest things to do. The weight of the world and all the things you need to do can feel overwhelming and sometimes taking care of you is the last thing on your mind. But taking time to take care of you can help you as you work through your emotions and help you feel like yourself again.
For me working out is a great way to help me take care of myself and release stress. This can be anything from going on a walk on a nice day, to cross training, to go for a short run or even yoga. It doesn’t have to be extreme. Just a few minutes to take care of you.
Get Additional Help when Needed
The stigma toward counseling is starting to fade. But I still think getting help when you need it is a hard step forward. I was able to find help with dealing with my deployment experience and other things from my past through Celebrate Recovery. This is a form of group therapy, but you can also look into one on one counseling from Cohen Veterans Network.
What ways have you overcome the military mental health stigma? And if you have found help what method did you use to get help?