As a man and an Army veteran, talking about my “mental health” doesn’t come naturally, but this story is one that needs telling. It’s a story of struggle and ultimately, of healing and hope.
After returning from my fourth deployment, I noticed I had changed. As an infantryman in the U.S. Army for nearly 26 years, I wasn’t as resilient as before. I had difficulty staying calm under pressure, dealing in a balanced way with adversity or conflict, or letting things roll off my shoulders. Coping became an effort of will. Crowds put me on edge and made me feel aggressive. My reaction was to withdraw. I wanted to be left alone.
Why I finally decided to seek help
After years of dealing with this state of mind, I was not getting better.
When my moods and my withdrawing became noticeable to my friends and particularly my family, I decided to look for some help. My doctor put me in touch with the Warriors Research Institute, a research center within the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. They called me, offering free, professional telehealth sessions aimed at helping me cope and teaching me how to own what was going on with me.
I was hesitant at first. I wanted to withdraw, remember? But withdrawal wasn’t what I needed. I decided to go for it, if not for me then for the sake of my loved ones who I knew were being impacted by my struggle.
I had sought help before but mainly we talked about things. I wanted to do something; to get after it.
My doctor put me in touch with the Warriors Research Institute, a research center within the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. They called me, offering free, professional telehealth sessions aimed at helping me cope and teaching me how to own what was going on with me.
Once a week, the doctor and I would dial in and she would take me through systematic drills so I could confront the things I was dealing with, a bit at a time, explore what I was actually thinking and feeling, and take constructive action. We would explore the emotions that certain settings caused me. We didn’t avoid anything.
Some of what we did could be intense, but the drills were designed to help me control my fears. Specifically, one had to do with water. We capitalized on my passion for swimming for exercise. She had me hold my breath a little longer than comfortable while thinking about fears I had while deployed. Through repetition, I confronted but did not overdo stressors. She would have me write my physical and emotional responses down, then we would review them together. I found this helped me cope rather than go into “fight or flight” mode.
I’ll liken the experience to training: Learn an action, practice it, understand it, get better at it, then move on to another in the sequence. Each week we trained a little more and went a little further.
How I rebuilt my strength and learned to cope
I am glad for my experience with the Warriors Research Institute and grateful for their compassion and support. They gave me methods and means to confront the things that ailed me and helped strengthen my coping skills. I personally benefitted from the 12 weeks of sessions and especially liked the fact that I was attending them in the privacy of my own home at times that were convenient for me.
I don’t think I am “cured,” but I do think I have restored some of that resiliency that I used to take for granted. Along with that is the confidence.
But here’s the thing: nothing worthwhile is going to be easy. My doctor made me work and gave me “homework” to practice and write down throughout the week.
None of what we did involved withdrawing. I had to venture outside the box I had put myself in. I stuck with it and am glad I did.
Today, things are much better. Crowded places, vague situations and impending confrontations don’t hit me quite as hard and I can continue on without worrying about how I will react. While I might still get a little revved up, I also know I will handle it fine.
Related: Bridging the mental health gap for veterans and first responders
I don’t think I am “cured,” but I do think I have restored some of that resiliency that I used to take for granted. Along with that is the confidence. I believe I now have coping methods nearer at hand to apply as I go through the ups and downs of normal life. Avoidance and withdrawal are no longer my first choices. I also know where I will turn again should I start to feel overwhelmed or I receive cues from my loved ones.
The Warriors Research Institute provides an effective, accessible resource to veterans, within reach, and supports the privacy and dignity we deserve. If you or a loved one find yourselves in need of support, reach out to the folks at the Warriors Research Institute and let them help you learn to help yourself.
Contributed by an anonymous Army veteran.