There is one barrier to seeking mental health treatment that veterans seem to face. That barrier is often the one that is most difficult to overcome. It’s the barrier inside each of us, the internal stigma against seeking treatment. The whole “suck it up and drive on” mentality. The “I can handle this” mindset that binds us until we can’t handle it any more. So here are six warning signs that things are getting out of control.
1. You just don’t give a crap anymore. Was there a time in the past where you enjoyed something? Fishing, snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing? Hanging out, poetry night, line dancing, whatever? When you find yourself avoiding those things that you used to enjoy, something’s wrong. Do you find yourself staying in bed or sitting in the house and do nothing instead of going to the gym, hitting the trails, or going to a museum? You might need to figure out what’s behind that. Maybe life circumstances have changed. Once you have kids, it may be a bit more difficult to be that outdoor warrior, sure. ,So develop new interests and hobbies that fit your new life circumstances. If you’ve lost interest and haven’t replaced it with something positive, then there are some challenges there.
2. You just don’t give a crap anymore. This goes beyond losing interest in what you enjoyed and into the dangerous area of suicide. The danger of suicide in the veteran population is real, and some of those veterans who died by suicide might have thought they could handle it as well. Suicide happens on a continuum. It starts with the vague, “maybe it would be easier if I just weren’t here anymore” all the way to having the means and intent to take your own life. Why wait until the clear contemplation is happening? That’s the danger zone, the tipping point. If you find yourself thinking variations on the theme of, “This would be so much easier if I were gone” or “maybe they’ll be better off without me” then you need to reach out and tell someone. Afraid that you’re going to lose your security clearance, future job prospects, your freedom, your reputation? First, when you reach out when you start to have these thoughts, the likelihood of the paramedics showing up at your door are much less than if you wait until you have a clear plan. Second, none of those things will matter if you’re dead. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true.
3. You give too much of a crap about things. This is sort of the opposite of the first idea. If you find yourself getting too far into excitement, adventure, and really wild things, you might be starting to spin out of control. Skydiving’s great, there’s nothing like the rush of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. If you’re spending way too much money or way too much time chasing the rush, then there’s a chance that you’re going to crash. It’s all about balance in your life. If you’re running and leaning forward, you find that you have to start running faster to avoid falling. Sooner or later you find that you’re running too fast and faceplant. Hard.
4. Something in your life has more control over you than you have over it. I’m talking about substance abuse here. I know what you’re thinking; I don’t have a drinking problem. I’ve always been a drinker, everyone around me has been a drinker. We work hard, we play hard, it’s what we do. Those screening questions when you were in the military? “How often do you have a drink?” It always seemed like if you had more than two beers three times a week, you were labeled an alcoholic. “Not me, man,” you’d laugh, sneering at any pansy who would pass out after a couple of beers. But if you can drink a handle of vodka without batting an eye, or a suitcase of MGD or PBR or a mini-keg of that rockin’ new micro-brew in one sitting, then things have gotten way to far out of control. Any time that you lose time…blackouts, don’t know how I got here, even losing time in your life because you’re hungover and can’t get to work…something needs to change. Same with drugs. If you find yourself spending more time and energy looking to make a score than you are looking to make yourself better, then there’s a problem.
5. Something in you has more control over you than you have over it. Here, I’m talking about emotions. Fear and anxiety. Anger and rage. Sadness and depression. If you start to recognize that you can’t seem to control your emotions, and instead are controlled by them, it’s time to talk to someone to figure out what’s going on. Sometime there is a lack of awareness of what triggered the disruptive emotion, and that trigger could have happened six hours ago or six years ago. If you find yourself flying off the handle at things…toys in the floor, significant other twenty minutes later than you expected…then there is something there that needs to be figured out.
6. Someone else brings it to your attention. This is about relationships. Not just with a spouse or significant other, but any connection you have to others. Friends. Family. Coworkers. Community. There are a couple of ways that people can bring it to your attention: By coming out and letting you know, “hey brother, hey sister, something ain’t right here.” Also by not letting you know, and just taking off. Look up and see everyone gone, maybe because of points 5, 4, 3, or 1, which could lead to point 2. The challenge is, if we don’t start to listen to those in our lives who care most about us when they start to bring up the subject, then someone is going to come into our lives that might care less about us and more about our behavior. Law enforcement. District Attorneys. Judges. If someone with a badge is bringing this to your attention, then things have really gotten too far.
So if any, most, or all these things are going on, you need to reach out for help. And when I say, “reach out for help,” I mean find a mental health professional. There are way too many resources out there for you to spiral out of control. Don’t want to go to the VA because all they do is pump you full of drugs? A) how do you know that’s what they do if you don’t check it out for yourself, and B) tell the doc you want to figure out a way to handle this stuff without the meds. You have the ability to express what you want, you don’t have to sit there and take it. You don’t have to put up with anything controlling you, as long as it is within your power to change.
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