The effects of health problems suffered by our military members can impact their families as well, whether they be physical, such as a brain injury or loss of a limb, or emotional, like post-traumatic stress disorder.
That’s exactly what happened to me after my husband, Mitch, lost his life to PTSD-related depression.
We met in Corpus Christi, where he was stationed in the Navy. Corpsmen serve as our service members’ paramedics; they save the lives of their fellow service members who are experiencing intense trauma in real time.
But they also face the prospect of laying down their own lives. I’ll never know all that Mitch saw in the line of duty; he would never talk about it. He was put on 72-hour suicide watch three times before he ultimately succumbed to his depression.
My own depression came quickly after losing Mitch. I became withdrawn; I could hardly eat and turned to alcohol for comfort. I was not receiving medical insurance I did not have access to the benefits and resources of military base privileges. I sought a therapist but couldn’t find one that I trusted to help me. A clinic put me on antidepressants.
Eventually, I overdosed on those pills, which knocked me out for several days. That was six years ago. My life from that point forward was defined by pain of trauma stemming from the loss of Mitch. The depression and pervading guilt telling me that I was in some way to blame never went away. I had come to accept that I would have to live with it forever.
About six months ago, something changed.
I learned about a workshop to help military families dealing with trauma work through their grief. I signed up for a program called Creative Insight, which was offered by Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit that was formed after 9/11 to help families who lost loved ones in the attack. The organization has since evolved to lend its long-term recovery expertise to similarly affected military and first-responder families.
I feared enrolling, because by that point I was no longer a very social person — but I did it anyway. I met another woman who was also coping with a suicide in her family. We had the same anguish — the same “why” questions. We both suffered from depression and needed to learn to love ourselves again. For the first time in many years, I didn’t feel alone.
By sharing our stories and experiences in the program, we learned to work through our pain. Now, I have the language to talk about my feelings. I’ve stopped blaming myself for what happened. I keep in close contact with these women. My friendships and relationships with other people in my life have improved.