Military and Mental Health Vignette

Transcript

Michael
I'm a do-er. All I wanted to do was deploy. Ever since I joined.

I was on two deployments before I met Steph. One to Kuwait and one to Djibouti. I guess you could call me lucky -- I didn't have any close calls, didn't know anyone who died. It was fun.

That's why when I got tagged for a third I was pretty stoked. I couldn't wait. Just after that was when we found out Steph was pregnant.

Steph
That feeling of being a parent, of finding out that you're gonna be a mom, is... it's indescribable. It felt like everything I had done in my life til that point was to lead to this baby.

Michael
It was the best and the scariest day of my life. I can't fully describe the feeling. Looking back, I realize how much scarier it must have been for her.

We knew the baby was due while I'd be halfway across the world. And, to make matters worse, we didn't have any family.

Steph
Our parents are all gone. I lost my brother when I was 15. So we're really all each other has. We knew we had our Air Force family, but it can be hard sometimes to ask for help, or, I guess we were afraid of relying on others when we thought we should do it ourselves.

Michael
So the stage was set. We were terrified, I think, but we were going into this knowing there are people who have it way worse, obviously. You hear stories about people who lose family members while deployed or any number of war-related impacts, be it loss of a limb, or brain injury, or worse.

Steph
So, when we were comparing our situation to some of the worst case scenarios, it felt like we had to just... be... strong and... work through it and that's it.

Michael
I left for Bagram, and the dread and excitement and anxiety... grew exponentially. It was just the extreme of all the emotions.

Steph
I had my job to keep me distracted and I was reading a lot of maternity books. I was doing yoga. I was starting to feel like I could do this. I started to really feel in control.

Until I got a call.

Michael
About a month before the due date, we had a really bad mortar attack. There had been a couple since I arrived, but nothing really to worry about -- they're either duds or land outside the base.

Steph
He told me there was a rocket that hit near where he was walking, that some people were hit with shrapnel and rocks.

Nobody died or was seriously injured, but I just... that day my world tilted.

Michael
I could tell the rocket attack really shook Steph. And looking back, maybe I shouldn't have said anything, I don't know. But that's kind of when things started to take a turn.

Steph
Michael and I had been working through his chain of command to coordinate his R&R with the due date. But when the time came, he ended up stuck waiting for a rotator flight out of Kuwait.

Michael
I ended up in the airport, essentially watching the birth and meeting Vivian for the first time on my laptop on the floor. But honestly, once I saw her face, I forgot about everything else.

Steph
He finally made it home for two weeks, but... things just weren't clicking.

Michael
There was a lot of stress surrounding my R&R. A lot of happiness too, but I knew it was breaking Steph's heart to have me meet our daughter only to leave again.

Steph
I felt like... not myself. I felt overwhelmed, I felt constantly distracted, there were times I felt like I couldn't even get out of bed. And when Michael left again it just got worse.

Michael
To see Steph like this as I'm heading out the door... it was tearing me apart. Another couple weeks later she told me she didn't know if she could take care of Vivian on her own.

Steph
I began to realize: I'm losing my ability to function. I felt like I was going crazy. I was having extreme guilt for almost blaming my beautiful daughter for this state of being. It was excruciating.

Michael
I told her, "You need to go to the doctor, today. This is not normal."

I mean, imagine you're in a different country, eight-and-a-half  hour difference, and your wife says she doesn't know if she can take care of the baby? I couldn't focus on the mission, I was irritable, I was a wreck.

Steph
I thought maybe I had postpartum depression, but, I mean, it's a stressful situation for anyone, so I kept thinking, "You can get through this, just take it day by day."

But I couldn't. Not without help.

Michael
Steph is strong. She's the strongest woman I know. But with the deployment, becoming a mom, and now this diagnosis, it's gonna be too much for anyone.

Steph
They did diagnose me with postpartum depression, and I ended up with a combination of medication and talk therapy. And I'm not gonna say it was easy, but over time, things became easier.

Michael
After I got back she felt like she could stop the therapy, and eventually went off the meds as well.

Steph
For anyone who is in a similar situation: Don't be too proud. Recognize when something is going wrong with you mentally. If you start to feel off, get checked out. Talk to someone. Things got better for us... for all of us, but it could have gone much worse.

Michael
Do it for your spouse, do it for your family, your kids, your friends. Talk to somebody. See a doctor. You don't have to suffer.