This post is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/Make the Connection. The opinions and text are all mine.
When I first met my husband, he had just returned from 18 months as a tank platoon leader in Iraq. He seemed to me like a “normal” dude and we started dating. And for all intents and purposes, he was normal. I mean, what is normal anyway? I had not deployed and didn’t know much about reintegration but neither did he. This was in 2009 and the Army had just gotten on board with the whole “mental illness is not a sign of weakness” thing. Through many nights, we talked through many things. So often, all he wanted to do was tell his story and have someone listen so he could work through it in his mind.
Fast forward a few years later and we had just given birth to our 2nd child. We were both company commanders and he had just gotten back from his second deployment to Afghanistan. And we were stressed. I had never experienced such stress before in my life. Learning how to be a family of 3 (he deployed when our son was 3 months old), being pregnant and having a baby, as well as us both being in charge of a couple hundred Soldiers will do that to you I guess.
While my husband had figured out coping skills and ways to work through his stress through exercise and talking it out, I had not. At one check up with my daughter, I scored painfully low on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and was referred to behavioral health.
I was immediately diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. I had bi-weekly appointments. I was on a low dose SSRI. And slowly, I started to get better. When I was in the middle of PPD, I thought I would never feel like “me” again, I thought I had done something wrong because I was just angry all the time, I had a hard time bonding with my daughter because nothing about my life felt right.
Thankfully, being at an Army hospital, and being constantly screened for PPD, I was able to lift the veil and move forward. My husband and I stopped fighting over dumb things, I started bonding with my daughter more, and when we lost our 3rd child at 19 weeks gestation, I knew when and how to ask for help. If you need some ideas for coping with mental health issues, Make the Connection is a great resource. Not only do they have great tips but they also have vignettes from other Veterans and their success stories. Mental Health challenges do not have to be done alone and I love the Make the Connection website for all the stories.
While I have not yet deployed in my 10 year career, I have still had my mental health affected by my job and family life. Reaching out and getting help as kept me from spiraling down into another depression. While I have had 2 more children since losing a child and was not affected by PPD, I still go through waves of grief for the child we lost. Army Behavioral Health has been instrumental in teaching coping mechanisms and knowing when to reach out.
Mental health has been an important part of my career. From seeing Soldiers return from multiple temporary duties to being friends with fellow Army mothers and see their struggles, I am always a strong advocate of know how to ask for help. If you find yourself needing assistance, do not hesitate to ask for help. Asking for help was the strongest thing I could have done because it enabled me to get help and figure out how to deal with my feelings instead of just avoiding them. For more tips on getting help, check out Make the Connection. This month is Mental Health Month so be sure to reach out to fellow Veterans and share this great resource!