Take the First Step Toward a Healthier Life
April 23, 2020 | 5-minute read
You are not alone.
No matter what you’re facing — whether you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, experiencing feelings of depression that you just can’t kick, or wondering where to find help — you are not alone.
Every day, Veterans find support for overcoming mental health challenges. And, even though the support they find may be different, each of them had to take a first step. Whether it was acknowledging that something was wrong, starting a conversation with a loved one, or picking up the phone to reach out for support, that first step is critical.
Here are some tips from Veterans themselves on starting down the path toward a healthier life.
For some Veterans, sharing their feelings and experiences is essential. Just knowing that they can always talk to someone who understands can make all the difference.
“Life is so much better now, because I know that I have someone that I can call,” says April, a U.S. Army Veteran who learned how to help manage her PTSD. “It really feels good to know that there is someone that’s there, who’s waiting on me, who will be there any time that I need them just to talk — just to get that emotion out of me. There’s always someone there for me.”
“There are plenty of people out there that are waiting to talk to you and help you and give you that guidance that you need to become healthy in all aspects of your life,” says Catrina, an Army Veteran.
Catrina served in Iraq as a unit supply specialist. After she left active duty, she had two or three years that seemed ordinary; however, Catrina could no longer ignore the signs after she experienced a flashback. That’s what finally prompted her to reach out to her local Vet Center for help.
Thanks to treatment, Catrina was able to recognize the stressors in her life and find tools to help cope with them. “What you learn is — it’s OK not to be OK,” she says.
Cliff, a Veteran of the Army Reserve and National Guard, learned the same lesson. He was inside the Pentagon when it was struck on 9/11.
“It’s important that soldiers do know that people go through dark places … and that’s OK,” he says. “You need to go to a trained professional to help you through those things and give you steps so you can deal with those issues and problems when they come up.”
Catrina and Cliff both know that reaching out for support made a positive impact on their lives.
“Going to counseling and dealing with what I did doesn’t make me less of a soldier — doesn’t make me less of a man,” Cliff says. “If anything, it makes me a stronger soldier and a stronger man, because I can now deal with those issues and problems as they arise quicker.”
There’s nothing wrong with needing help.Catrina
“There’s nothing wrong with needing help,” says Catrina. “We can only get better when we acknowledge that we need that help.”
Reagan, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, learned the hard way about the perils of trying to ignore his issues. Three days after returning home from Iraq, he started working a job that was more than full-time, which he continued seven days a week for the next three months straight. Reagan explains that everything seemed fine until he wasn’t so busy.
After earning a promotion, he didn’t have to work quite so much. As his free time increased, so did his irritability and fatigue. He didn’t want to talk to anybody, and his relationships deteriorated. Then, he started becoming violent at work.
Reagan lost his job and was about to lose another one when a friend’s father, a former Navy man, came to town. The two Veterans hit it off, sharing stories and comparing experiences across generations. After learning about Reagan’s post-deployment troubles, the Navy Veteran suggested that Reagan get help through VA.
“It’s like he knew something that I didn’t, because he had already been there.”
Reagan resisted the idea at first, but eventually he went to VA, where he was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since then, he has realized that although he may not be the same person he was before his service, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And he’s found that trying to quash your troubles by ignoring them or staying overly busy doesn’t solve anything.
“You’re going to run, but you’re going to get tired sooner or later, and that problem is going to be there,” Reagan says. “If you’ve got an opportunity to … talk to somebody, you need to go do it.”
“I remember sitting in that chair the first time and a doctor looking at me saying, ‘Hector, this is very hard to hear right now, but I need you to really listen,’” the former Army Ranger recalls. “And he said, ‘You’re going to be a better man because of this.’”
Tristan, a Navy Veteran who received treatment at VA for anxiety and problems with alcohol, encourages his fellow Veterans to overcome whatever fear they might have about getting help for a mental health concern. “Just start it,” he says. “It’s always hard to start something new, but … once you take that first step … you say, ‘OK, this isn’t weird. This is OK.’”
“I’ve had nothing but a love and a personal connection with the people who are treating me,” Nicole, an Army Veteran, says of her VA experience. “They really go out of their way. The phone calls, the letters, the everything is like they’re really putting out that effort to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’”
“People were so kind,” recalls Tim, a Marine Corps Veteran whose flashback to Vietnam led him to find care at VA. “I talked to a psychologist who said, ‘It might take you from 12 to 17 sessions, but it’ll help. We know it will.’ And I just thought, ‘12 to 17 sessions? Wow, that’s not forever!’ There’s the end.”