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I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling, desperately trying to sleep.
My mind drifts to the past uncontrollably.
I think about all of my failures: my failed marriage, my lackluster career in the Marine Corps, the fact that I took a discharge before my unit’s recent deployment, the fact that I lost friends who went on that deployment and I wasn’t there, the fact that I’d dropped out of school and the only reason I’d taken the discharge was to get that degree, the fact that the business I’d dropped out of school to open had just failed, and the fact that all of this led to me having less than $500 to my name while living out of a small rented room in Long Beach, California.
I begin breathing rapidly, sweating, and shaking.
I reach for the medication bottle on my nightstand, throw four yellow pills labeled Watson into my mouth, and wait for the comfortable stimulation of an opiate high to drown my anxiety.
I begin to feel my skin tingling and a comfortable feeling in my chest, and for now, everything is fine until the next morning when I have to face the reality that my life is broken and I’m the only one who can fix it.
At one point in my life, this process would repeat itself in different versions at least three or four times everyday, and I look at that period as being one of the darkest periods of my life.
Depression, anxiety, and sadness are a mother fucker. They can lead to serious issues like decreased health, drug abuse, and suicide.
But here’s the thing, and this is going to sound screwed up at first, depression, negativity, and anger are not always bad things.
Do they suck? Yes, all pain sucks. But pain is often a necessary part of life and a necessary part of the growth process that gives us what we need to succeed in life.
When we deny negative feelings, and attempt to push them out of our lives completely, we deny ourselves of an important facet of being human and we do not allow ourselves to grow.
Many veterans have experienced loss, traumatic episodes, and the hardships of life. According to the national media, PTSD and depression are rampant in the veteran community, and the suicide rate is through the roof.
These are the facts, and I am neither a psychologist nor a medical doctor, but it doesn’t seem to me like we are handling this the proper way.
Now, I’m not telling you to stop taking your medication or to stop going to your therapy sessions, so please don’t take this that way.
But what I am saying is this: you can take every treatment known to man for depression, but it will not eliminate the fact that sometimes you will feel anger, sadness, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, and many other forms of mental discomfort.
And if you try to completely eliminate these things from your life, you will also prevent yourself from finding your true purpose, growing as a person, and advancing your life.
Knowing this, the key to defeating depression is not by eliminating negative feelings from our lives. Instead, we need to integrate them into our being, understand that they are there, and use our experiences to become stronger, healthier, less fragile beings.
What the hell is normal?
Before we get into the meat of what I’m trying to tell you, let’s get a few things straight. If you served in combat, you went through one of the hardest experiences a human being can face.
You may have lost friends, and you may have seen people die. You probably experienced immense fear and a shit load of anxiety.
But let me ask you this: Would it be normal for you to come out of that all smiley and shit?
In fact, what the fuck is normal?
Is it normal to go around being happy all the time? Is it normal to just come out of a situation like that, settle into a job, get married, have kids, and happily swallow every spoonful of bullshit that comes your way just because you don’t want people to think you’re an “angry veteran?” Is it normal to act like one of those cheese dicks who allows people to walk all over him all day long, or to not voice your sincere opinion when your liberal college professor asks you a question?
No, that’s someone else’s version of normal based on a world full of people who’ve rarely done anything hard or who stood up for anything in their entire lives.
My proposal is this: maybe one of the reasons why you feel so alienated, alone, and out of touch with yourself is because you’re being forced into someone else’s identity.
Maybe you never wanted to be “normal” in the first place, and maybe the main problem is that you’re being passively forced to suppress emotions that you need to feel in order to heal and to feel comfortable in your own skin.
And maybe you’re holding yourself back by not allowing yourself to go through this important rite of passage in your life.
So what are you supposed to do?
Understand that the pursuit of complete happiness is a lie. If you were completely happy with everything in your life, then you’d really have no reason to work for anything.
Life is supposed to have ups and downs, and the negative times in our lives are there to make us stronger. If you never experienced pain or sadness in your life, then you’d crumble the first time anything bad happens.
So rather than seeing the bad times in your life as making you weaker or mentally fragile, begin seeing yourself as stronger because you’ve experienced them. And rather than avoiding anything hard or challenging because of what you’ve gone through, use this perspective to gain the confidence that you’re actually more prepared than the average person to endure hardship and come out the other end in one piece.
Accept the challenges you need to take on to get your life back together, stop using your past as an excuse, and begin using it to fuel yourself to find your purpose, create goals, and make them happen.
Don’t apologize for being yourself
You scan the parking lot after you get out of the car? Ok, fine, you’re not hurting anyone while you’re doing it right? Then carry on.
You sleep with a weapon under your pillow? Well . . . that’s your right, and defending yourself and your family isn’t really anything to be ashamed of.
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed with grief? Take fifteen minutes to yourself, go for a walk or an empty room, and have a cry. Let it out and allow yourself to feel it. Denying that it’s there or bottling it up inside of you will only make it worse.
Feeling stuck in life? Think about creating a vision of what you’d like your life to look like, write down goals, and begin working on them.
Are you alienated from your co-workers and bosses because they think you’re an angry veteran? Then bring it up to them and tell them how you’re feeling in a calm and logical manner.
Now, this might sound crazy to you, and you might be thinking that this is a good way to get fired.
It’s not, and think about what will happen if you don’t. You’ll continue to endure what you consider an injustice, and you’ll allow anger to build up inside of you until you either quit the job or get yourself fired because you let that anger come out.
It’s always better to communicate disagreements in a thoughtful and calm manner as soon as possible rather than letting them fester.
Under labor laws you are just as protected as any member of another population who perceives injustice if you follow the proper procedures to express your concerns.
And if you hate working for other people, maybe you should think about what you can do to work for yourself . . . but that is a blog for a future date.
But don’t be an asshole
You’re awesome. You can endure more than most people, and you’ve been through hell and came out the other side.
But you also gotta realize something: this makes you a tough individual but it doesn’t make you special.
No one is going to give you any special entitlements because you went through something tough in your past, whether that’s combat or any other harsh experience.
And the truth is that you shouldn’t want any. You should want to work for everything and earn your accomplishments. This is what makes the journey worth it.
Be proud of who you are and what you’ve done, but don’t throw it in anyone’s face or try to use it to garner any advantages. If you do, then that’s where people are going to get turned off and start to look at you like you’re an asshole.
Rather than talking about the past, set an example through your actions. Work harder than those around you, and help them to become better and to work harder for themselves. Rather than driving people away from you, this will attract people to you and it will give those around you a better idea of who you really are.
If you’re a veteran, it’s really no different than when you were in the military. To succeed, you need to be a leader, and given your experiences, you shouldn’t have a problem with this.
To Sum it Up
Depression, sadness, anger, and pain all suck, but they’re an inevitable part of life. Everyone experiences them in some form at some point.
You can either let them paralyze and ruin you, or you can gain perspective from them and use your experiences to make you a stronger and less fragile person who attracts people through leadership.
It’s only when you deny that these things are there, or when you alienate your true self by trying to fit into someone else’s mold of what they think you should be, that you really put yourself in a bad place.
So be yourself, and make no apologies for it. But push yourself to be the leader you know you can be by positively influencing those around you with your example.
Above all, learn to enjoy the journey and appreciate how it makes you into a stronger and more complete person.
Get rid of the idea of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and start focusing on Post Traumatic Stress Growth.