These Post-9/11 Women Veterans Open Up About Their Mental Health Journeys
March 20, 2020 | 3-minute read
Looking back, Veronica thinks she underestimated just how hard it would be to leave the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier,” she says. Instead of enjoying civilian life, she found herself withdrawing. She stopped playing softball and basketball. When friends called and asked her to come out, she would just stay home.
“I was definitely the person who thought, ‘This is my problem; I have to deal with it,’” Veronica says. “And it’s a lot. It’s a lot to put on yourself.”
She’s not alone. Several women Veterans have shared their challenges of living with depression and anxiety after leaving the service.
I was just bottling it all up.Melissa
For Melissa, a Veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, it wasn’t that she felt sad. She just felt numb to it all. She had experienced military sexual trauma, and when she returned home, she felt herself pulling away from her fiance. She also had trouble sleeping and issues with anger. “Because I wasn’t dealing with anything,” she explains. “I was just bottling it all up.”
Jessica had a feeling of “nothingness” when she left the Army. She found it hard to get out for a run or even a walk around the block. “I know that will help me if I do that,” she remembers thinking. “But there’s no way. There’s absolutely no way.”
Jennifer says navigating relationships proved harder than before — “even the easy, everyday conversations about grocery shopping or how the kids were, or my nephews. … I couldn’t relate to a lot of people in the civilian world.”
“Before treatment, I spent a lot of time just by myself and in my room,” Jennifer recalls. “I slept a lot. … Kind of didn’t take care of myself at all. Didn’t eat well. Didn’t communicate well with my husband. It put a big strain in our relationship, because he didn’t know how to talk to me because of my depression. I didn’t know how to talk to him, either.”
Jennifer struggled to see a future. She got off the phone quickly. She stopped returning emails. It all just snowballed, and the joys in life began to disappear. “It didn’t matter if the sun was out,” she says. “It didn’t matter if there were puppies and kittens. It just didn’t matter. I just wanted it all to stop.”
When Jessica began to have thoughts of suicide, it terrified her. “I realized it was extremely serious and that I needed help.”
Melissa remembers walking into VA at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. “I was like, ‘I need to see somebody.’”
And that’s when things began to turn. For Melissa, Jessica, Jennifer, and Veronica, the connections they began to establish through treatment — at VA and outside VA; in person and through telehealth sessions — made a difference.
“The moment I was able to go and talk to someone, it felt like a huge burden was just lifted off of me,” Veronica says.
“I couldn’t believe how supported I felt,” Melissa says.
“I’m learning ways to deal, just in general, in life,” Jessica says.