Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
I recently had a deep and engaging conversation that I later realized was exceptionally applicable to the veteran community, and, unfortunately, may also tie into our alarming statistic of 22 veterans a day ending their own lives. Often, we hear advice that sounds something like “don’t be an island,” or “be willing to ask for help; you can’t do it alone.” But, my conversation gave me a deeper look at how those with a DD-214 may get themselves into dark places without intentionally knowing.
My discussion contrasted being alone and being isolated. Alone is a physical status; if I am the only person in the room, I am alone. And, this is usually a good thing, and occasionally necessary for our mental health; it offers time to reflect, unwind and be with ourselves. It truly is an important infrequent practice. On the other hand, isolation is a mental and emotional state, and can be accomplished even in football stadium, surrounded by 65,000 other people.
Isolation can quickly become dangerous when we aren’t sharing our emotions and challenging thoughts with others. When those feelings and ideas are left inside, our problems quickly grow and we, individually, do not always have solutions to changes our thoughts or emotions. Further, we were trained while wearing the uniform to suppress emotions, focus on the mission and execute at all costs. Now, post-DD-214, we must pursue avenues to work through these emotions, memories and perplexing thoughts.
Before starting the Veterans in the Wild podcast, I was disengaged with the veteran community from my active duty time. Now, even only four months into this podcast adventure, I can absolutely testify to the sense of connection and joy I’ve felt when talking to another vet. And, if you have a DD-214, you’ve very likely sensed this feeling as well. We have a shared history, connection, sense of purpose, and know that, together, we’ve endured “THE SUCK.”
Of course, professional counseling is appropriate in many cases. Other veterans are not trained medical professionals. Often, the VA can provide counseling services, and many state and local governments also have veteran services as other options to explore.
You raised your right hand and swore an oath to defend our nation. You shouldn’t have to continue to carry the mental and emotional burden of your service, or any other puzzling thoughts, emotions or ideas. There is NEVER an inappropriate time, thought or emotion that doesn’t justify you asking for help!
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