You can’t concentrate and your decision-making capabilities have been taken over by a dark fog. You’re just so unbelievably weak and tired because you’ve lost that spark for life. You try desperately to smile to appease everyone around you, but it hurts. The guilt and incred-ible sense of helplessness and self-doubt comes crashing in waves of intense pain because the emptiness you feel tortures you with such feelings of hopelessness. You don’t know how you’ll make it through another hour of a life without sobbing uncontrollably.
Deep down you want to tell someone. You want someone to intervene, but what will they think? The last thing you want is judgment. You’re afraid. Afraid that people close to you will run once you’ve unveiled your deepest, darkest secrets to them. You don’t want anyone to think that you’re weak because for so long you’ve hidden your emotions from sight in a strategic attempt to take on a tough exterior. Your family depends on you for everything. You’re the “go-to” Airman, and everyone believes you have it altogether. If you confide in someone everyone’s image of you will be shattered. Does this describe what you’re feeling right now? You may be suffering from depression. If so, just know that you’re not alone. Your life matters. Talk to someone … anyone.
In the military we’re bombarded with messaging telling us to “give 100 percent and to do more with less.” However, you can’t meet these challenges unless you’re functioning at 100 percent yourself. I know that you’re thinking. You’re sitting at your desk reading this right now thinking “how does the master sergeant have any clue whatsoever about my depression?” Would it matter if I told you that I have suffered from depression myself?
I still remember it like it was yesterday. The depres-sion hit minutes after I gave birth to my first child. After nearly 48 hours in labor and an emergency c-section, the nurse placed a bouncing baby boy into my arms and promptly left the room in a misguided attempt to leave me completely alone in the hopes that I would bond with my baby. The problem was that I looked at him like he was a stranger. I didn’t feel that instantaneous bond that you read about in fairytales. Instead, I felt detached and void of all emotion except one, sadness. I felt an incredible sadness and with the sadness came the guilt.
Why wasn’t I happy? This should’ve been one of the happiest moments of my life and here I was feeling empty inside with no ideas of how to fix what I was feeling. I felt alone. It was obviously post-partum depression. I thought that I could handle it all on my own. I couldn’t tell my husband. What would he think? Would he be afraid to leave the baby with me because he feared for our child’s safety? So, I said nothing. I felt like a horrible mother. So, my husband continued on with his daily life of work and extra-curricular activities. He had no idea. I was becoming an Emmy award-winning actress. I was hiding my emotions from the very person who vowed to love me “in sickness and in health.”
The post-partum depression continued through my second pregnancy when my son was only 3-months-old. I had an infant at home, I was pregnant with my second child, had post-partum depression and my husband was about to deploy to Afghanistan. Was I stressed? You bet. I couldn’t handle it on my own (even though I tried).
Now I know what many of you mental health professionals and supervisors are thinking. You’re asking yourself “why didn’t she just check the box at one of her follow-up appointments to signal to a provider that she was depressed.” Well, it wasn’t that easy. I didn’t want someone to feel sorry for me and I didn’t want my entire chain-of-command informed that I was depressed because I wasn’t showing symptoms of depression at work. Like I said, I had become a great actress. But, I was about to have my break-through.
It was a rough day because my infant son was throwing up, I was sick, pregnant and my husband was still deployed. However, the day had a happy ending. My friend took me to the hospital to have an ultra-sound to determine the sex of the baby that I was carrying. It was a baby girl. For once I saw clarity in my situation. How could I not get help? My son and unborn daughter deserved better. I deserved better.
My next visit to the women’s health center for a pre-natal visit changed my life and my outlook. I filled out the depression questionnaire openly and honestly, letting go of my fear. Five minutes later I was face-to-face with a psychiatrist talking about my anxiety, fears and depression. It wasn’t as bad as what I thought it would be. The doctor helped me formulate a plan to relieve stress, which helped me to bond with both my children. Now I’m not saying that I was “cured” overnight because I wasn’t. It was a long road ahead. It probably would’ve been a lot easier if I would’ve alerted my supervisor and chain-of-command as to what was going on, but I’m a private person and I didn’t want unsolicited bad advice. I wanted helpful advice from a professional. The point is that I took back the control. If I hadn’t my depression could have beat me.
Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it gives you power. So, what do you have to lose by “checking-the-box” or letting a chaplain or mental health profes-sional know that you can’t do it on your own? Just know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I hope that one day that you’re able to tell your story to one of your Airmen. The story about how YOU beat depression. It could save a life. We can’t maneuver and attempt to prevent tragedy unless we talk about depression and its symptoms openly and honestly. United we stand, divided we fall. Don’t be afraid. Choose life because YOU matter.