Mental Health Journey: Taking the first step

As I spoke the words on how to get started in her mental health journey I watched her eyes grow wide in terror. It stopped me mid sentence. Had what I said been really terrifying? I had just recommended she reach out to Cohen Veterans Network to utilize their free counseling services for post 9/11 veterans and their family. And even though I can’t put into words what I knew, I knew the terror she was feeling in that moment. Believing that lie that I have things under control as long as I don’t touch that box. I can poke around it, but as long as I don’t open it I will be okay. My life is fine.

mental health journey

But here is the thing about trauma.

Even if you have those things hidden in a box those things creep into your life. It comes out in different ways for each person so it is hard to pinpoint. For some it can be extreme anger, depression, substance abuse, or isolation just to name a few. It is expressed in so many ways that even naming a few can make people feel isolated when they don’t see their particular challenge on a list. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t affecting you. 

And I never thought getting help would lead to healing. But I had seen change in someone else I knew. Her life had changed and her story of change led me to grasp for anything that might help me find healing. And even though I knew I needed to do something it took a long time before I finally took the first big step toward healing. I was stuck for a long time in the discovery phase of what my options were. And even when I found a free program that I thought would be helpful it took months before I actually went to the group. 

First steps in my mental health journey

The first time I planned to go to the group I actually only made it into the drivers seat and put the key in the ignition before deciding, no, I don’t really need to give up my Friday night for this. I would be better off to just go back inside. A week later. I was back sitting in the car. And the past seven days had not gone like I had hoped. I knew if I thought about what I was doing I would go back inside.

Movement had to make this change happen. I just started driving. And every thought of doubt (or maybe it was confidence or fear) that I could get better on my own I stopped. I am just going. No thinking. No stopping. There would be no turning back tonight. I ended up crying that night as I began to find the walls around me falling down. And while healing is still a journey I am on somehow I knew I was in the right place. I kept coming back slowly learning about myself and beginning to find healing. 

That first step was hard, really hard.

And while many people might see the first step as going to a meeting. Even though all those things I did to explore and learn about getting help could be seen as not helpful in my healing journey. They were steps forward. They were what led me to get help. It may take a long time to take the big step of actually getting help. But all those little steps along the way are an important part of the journey and are important. So if you don’t know where to start and getting help feels to scary. Start by reading this blog post and then do your own research. You don’t have to do anything else to get started. Just do something with the goal of getting help. 

And while the group therapy was helpful I have found a more useful tool for every day life. A simple tool that is so easy to forget how impactful it is. Because it seems so simple. But for the past 5 years I have incorporated meditating into my life. I sometimes go through long stretches of forgetting how important this practice is but always find myself back to using this amazing tool.


For a long time I used a program for guided meditation. But right now, I have found that just a simple five minute in the morning before I get out of bed of just breathing focused on in and out bringing myself back to the breathing practice when my mind wanders has been life changing. And sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep this simple tool stops my running mind and I find sleep again. 

Cohen Veterans Network

I also have gotten in help in my mental health journey from one on one counseling through Cohen Veterans Network. I was able to get help while I lived in Virginia. My counseling happened to coincide with the fall of Afghanistan. And having someone I could talk to each week was very helpful. She also gave me tools that I could use to help me look at situations that happened and figure out what happened in my mind.

Five senses

I also was able to use another meditation tool where when I felt myself spinning out of control. I would try to remember to focus on my five senses. This I often meant I found myself staring at a wall thinking through the fact I could see it. Leaning into the fact I couldn’t hear it because there was no sound. Next is taste, I could taste it but probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Next, I would reach out and touch it and feel the smooth but also bumpy surface. Then depending where I was I wouldn’t smell the wall but I could smell the room around me.

That is a tool I have used today especially as I have learned my triggers like being stuck in traffic. If I find myself struggling with my anxiety I know that I can look at the steering wheel or the car in front of me to help me find my focus. It is able to reset my mind. 

Other tools and resources?

These are the three main tools I have used in my mental health journey but I know there are so many other tools that are available. Please share in the comments what tools you have used. 

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