This post about the day I chose not to kill myself was a difficult one to write, a difficult one to publish, and may be difficult for you to read.
Today is one of those days. It’s the worst part about being a disabled veteran. The day you receive that phone call, email, or text message. The day you hear about another old friend who took his life.
Another friend lost
It absolutely sucks when that happens. The gut-bomb of all news that leaves your heartbroken, your eyes flooded, and a frog in your throat. You sit there at a complete loss for words; your body paralyzed, unable to move. You see your mutual friends, completely devastated having just talked to him a few days ago. A week ago. A month ago. You heard he was feeling better and starting to lift himself out of the funk. That dog of war who survived the battle field, but didn’t survive the battle he brought home. This happens every day. On average 22 veterans take their own lives every day.
Often in my experience, there are 3 types of struggling veterans.
- They don’t feel better at all, but don’t want anyone to know or feel sorry for them, so they try to convince everyone else they are fine
- They don’t feel better at all, but desperately want to, so they convince those they talk to that they are doing better in an effort to convince themselves.
- They really do start to feel better, then have a massive relapse.
Veterans are more similar than they think
I’m no different. I tried convincing everyone I was fine when I wasn’t. I wanted to believe I was ok when I wasn’t. I wanted to pretend like my problems weren’t actually problems when they were. Talking with friends I lived with in the hospital, we all endured those thoughts. Pushing through only because we didn’t know anything else and because we hadn’t fully lost hope in finding help.
I had plenty of doctors telling me not to do anything or seek any more help because I was waiting to die and no one could do anything to help me. I had mental health professionals (social workers, case managers, psychologists, and psychiatrists) all tell me that my feelings were justified and I shouldn’t be ashamed. It was ok to have severe anxiety over being sick. It was perfectly ok to experience symptoms of depression when your body no longer works and you can barely stand up long enough to brush your teeth. It was ok to be angry by doctors failing to diagnose, help, or explain your deteriorating health. It was ok to feel a desire to cut the pain out of your body. I felt sick to my stomach by the amount of enabling, victimizing, and pill popping my local veterans health facility. It was ok to grieve the loss of another friend I met while living in the hospital when I was still on active duty. It was ok they killed themselves, their suicide justified because of the lack of quality mental health and physical health care they received.
Why are veteran suicides so openly justified??????? This does nothing to help the veteran community, especially those dealing with disabilities, both visible and invisible. Absolutely nothing. The tragic deaths of these incredible men and women should never be justified. They should be fueling a massive fire for change that will apparently never come from the Veterans Administration.
The day I chose not to kill myself
I had spent the earlier 5 years flirting with the idea of ending my pain. I struggled with walking. I struggled with talking. I stumbled everywhere and with everything. My doctors had a nasty habit of publicly berating me for seeking emergent medical attention because “no one could help me” and I was “just waiting to die.” I saw older veterans at physical therapy smile at me, sweetly telling me I looked like they did not 6 years earlier. I looked at them mortified.
You see, all disabled veterans have role models: people to look up to so they have something to look forward to “on the other side of recovery.” Me? Not so much. I was in that class of disabled veterans with “invisible injuries…” the MS (multiple sclerosis), lupus, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, can’t eat/sleep/function/live variety. The “other side” of my condition was incontinence and death. Not much of a life to look forward to.
In 2010 I decided to move cross-country from California to Virginia in search of a better medical team. My search abruptly came to an end when my doctor disenrolled me from the veterans healthcare system after being unable to help with my seizure and autoimmune disorders. The doctors I saw were perfectly fine medicating me with pharmaceuticals that I had bad reactions to, but refused to help me acquire a disability placard. They had no problem sending me to see a psychiatrist because I “cared too much about my health and needed medicine to make me forget to care,” but they couldn’t be bothered to figure out why I was having medical problems or to treat the underlying cause. They were quick to tell me I shouldn’t go grocery shopping if I wasn’t feeling up to walking across the parking lot, but wouldn’t help me find a resource to make it to my appointments without having to drive myself.
Every day I had to drive over a long bridge. A bridge that spanned a few miles over ocean water. There were many times I had an incredibly strong urge to drive off the bridge. Sometimes those urges were overwhelming.
I wanted to know what it would feel like.
The freedom of flying through the air.
The sound of the windshield cracking or shattering on impact with the ice cold water below.
The rush of frigid winter ocean flooding over my body.
And all my pain ending in one deep saltwater breath.
It was poetic. A morbidly poetic thought, intoxicating my mind that suddenly paused when I saw her face in the rear view mirror.
She sat there, golden and glowing with the sunlight basking over her through the back window. She gave me a sobering reason to stop my thoughts and wait until another day. That incredible creature panting behind me. I couldn’t drag her down to the cold darkness with me. She already had enough abuse in her 5 years of life before I rescued her just 8 months earlier. There sat my rhodesian ridgeback service dog. She deserved better, had her own anxieties she worked through beautifully. She deserved more than to be plunged into ice-cold salt water. She didn’t like baths or anything cold. It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t be the cause of her pain. I continued driving, thinking maybe next time when she isn’t in the car with me.
No one would have known about those thoughts I had. Most people thought I was doing just fine. I wasn’t. People who lived with me thought I was doing just fine. I wasn’t. The only people who suspected, were ones I lived in the hospital with, the ones who truly understood. Looking back now, I’m sure they would have been heartbroken, but not surprised. Giving up is easy. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a way out. Often this is the way out.
There is always something to look forward to. There is always something to live for. Whether it’s not messing up a pillow your wife left in the back of the truck, making it home to see your son smile one more time, or the love and a kiss from your dog. There is always an excuse to keep living. When you’ve made the choice to keep living, there is always something to find that makes life worth honoring your decision to live.
Pain. Hate. Confusion. Perseverance. All military veterans go through a cycle. Most struggle with adapting to civilian life. Military veterans need to serve. Communities need service. Use your struggles to find your passion. Find purpose in your pain by making life for one other vet a life worth living. There are programs, such as the fellowship at The Mission Continues, that offer minimum wage to veterans who work part-time hours with a local nonprofit of their choice. There are outreach programs all over the country you can link up with. The Combat Wounded Coalition does some incredible work helping veterans too.
For me, and 4 of my close friends who also struggle with failing health and unemployability as a parting gift from the military, we went a different route. We seek and teach emotional healing. We seek to help fellow veterans embrace enhanced wellness through nontoxic living. We also seek to help fellow veterans embrace the therapeutic benefits essential oils have to offer. These oils aren’t “girly,” they are incredible lifestyle enhancers that work the kind of miracles on the mind and body that you really have to experience to fully understand. This has helped us all in a few different ways:
- reduced our pain (both physical and mental)
- increased our energy, stamina, and abilities
- boosted our positivity and self-esteem
- provided us with a source of personal and professional development
- provided us with measurable success
- given us a reason to keep pushing through
- enabled us to “pay it forward” to help other veterans in need
We chose life. We now choose to use the life we still have to help fellow struggling veterans choose life. This is what it looks like to be “on the other side” of recovery when you have military-related invisible injuries. Life looks like hope. Life looks like love. Live looks like true help. Life looks colorful. Life looks like acceptance. Life looks purposeful. Life looks like a second chance.
Find purpose through perseverance.
End the #22aday
Let us help. If you know someone who wants to recover and push through the mental trauma and anguish, let them know they are not alone and there are people who do want to help. Shoot me a message through the contact us pop up to the lower right corner of this screen with veteran help in the subject line. Or head on over to my coaching page and set up a time to talk with me!