I guess I started noticing it after I first joined and moved to my first duty station. I mean I always felt different from other people, and my friends would tell me I'm grumpy, but I never really connected the dots. It's sometimes hard to separate a personality type from a mental disorder.
It wasn't until I really was on my own, in a new part of the country, that I started to reflect on what might be going on with me.
I was tired all the time, and wanted to be on my own a lot. Even though there were a bunch of people from my unit who hung out, I never really wanted to be involved. I had this feeling that it was interfering with my life, like I had something better to do, but I didn't. Half the time I'd just watch TV or waste time online, which made me feel worse.
I'm proud to say I still did well at my job. I was very good technically, but I was still struggling when it came to the sort of extracurricular stuff that everybody else was doing. I just had no motivation to go above and beyond like that.
Still, I didn't actually have anything clearly telling me that something was really wrong. I just felt like I always did. I wrote off some of the feelings to, you know, being in a new place.
But I felt like I was living a double life. Here I was, progressing at my job, coasting on small talk with my coworkers, whatever, but then in my dorm I was just a shut-in. I was so far in my own head, and I couldn't break out. And I felt like I couldn't talk to anybody. I started becoming self-conscious of the way I came off to other people, so I just started avoiding everything. It was like a vicious cycle.
So, it was actually my brother, on the phone, who pulled it out of me, who went beyond the surface level of "how ya doin?"
When I heard myself talking about all these issues, it was a serious reality check. I went, "wait a second, I am seriously sad right now."
It's amazing how much of a difference just talking about something makes. So I kept doing it. I actually went in to Mental Health and had a few regular sessions where I'd just unload about anything and everything, which really helped me gain a better perspective on my issues.
The most helpful part of those sessions was something called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which is just a way of recognizing your negative thought patterns and becoming aware of how they affect your life in different ways.
In a lot of ways, I was more comfortable talking about my issues, but they didn't completely go away. It was a slow process.
But, I did end up talking to the Shirt, who told me something I'll never forget. He said, "If you break your arm, people run to you, to help you. If you say you're depressed, people run away."
I think that saying is important for two reasons. First, just because mental health issues aren't obvious, doesn't mean they don't deserve as much medical attention as a physical problem.
Second, I think a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about mental health, which is still a shock to me considering how common it is to deal with depression, or anxiety, even when it's just for a little while.
I think most people do and would understand each other and be able to support each other if we just talked more.
Ask your Airmen, ask your family, ask your friends or your significant other, "Are you really fine? Are you really okay?" Pay attention to each other.
I know it can be hard, it's tough, it's uncomfortable. But we're all here on Earth, we all put on our pants one leg at a time. If we all took the time to listen, I think we'd all be better for it.
By no means am I living a perfect life. I still have tough times. But at least now, it doesn't feel like I have to go it alone.