Today. It’s 12:17 A.M. And today is the day I get to see my husband for the first time in 2 1/2 months. TODAY. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it was gut-wrenchingly hard. And other times, it’s almost as if he was right there with me. I can’t believe 10 1/2 weeks passed so quickly. I can’t believe everything that has happened over the course of just a couple months. This wasn’t the life I chose. I told myself and told him millions of times that the military lifestyle was not one I was willing to live. I prayed against it and deeply struggled with his yearning for this career path. I didn’t choose this, but that does not mean I will put any less effort into it. I don’t easily let others take the reins of my life. But after four years, I finally did. It took me four years to trust, love, and open up enough to face my biggest fear. It took him four years to break those walls and lasso the fears that no one else could penetrate in 22 years. So, he chose it for me, and I could not love him more for it. Everyday I have found myself adapting healthier coping strategies and absolutely blossoming under the pressure of separation. I spent my existence terrified of this life. He spent four years trying to convince me of its highlights. I was paralyzed with fear for what this meant for our relationship and my mental health, but he knew me. He knew I would excel at this life. He knew I would overcome anything thrown at us without so much as a flinch. The financial responsibility – I got it. The emotionally-taxing decisions to be made – I’ve made them. He knew my capabilities better than I did. He knew the pressure on a military wife would only inspire me to succeed. He knew me better than I knew myself, and it took four years for me to realize this and relinquish the control onto which I so unhealthy grasped. And so I’m feeling thankful today. Undoubtedly, I am one very lucky lady. I am grateful that I have a partner that sees my potential when I’m blinded by mental blockades. Today, I get to see my husband, and I can’t wait for him to explore the newly-acquired depths of maturity, responsibility, and selfless love I now possess. I love you, C. 💕
Good afternoon, sunshynes! Today, it has been laid on my heart (and mind) to talk about mental healthcare. By the way, Happy Fourth of July! It is INDEPENDENCE DAY here in the United States. It has been a long 242 years since the USA was declared independent from Great Britain. Now, for some reason, Independence Day has led me to want to write on the state of mental health care in the US. Now I was blessed to be born in the grand ol’ state of Oklahoma – land of the most fireworks injuries and highest incarceration rate for women!!! Oh, and probably the land of the worst mental healthcare in the civilized world!!!! (That is not a fact; just throwing that opinion out there.)
What would possess someone to want to be a mental healthcare worker in Oklahoma – the state that makes deep cuts to the mental healthcare budget any chance it gets?? Honestly, I couldn’t give you a logical reason as to why I decided this was for me. I can’t even tell you how many times I have lied awake at night, wondering if I would have to uproot my family to find decent work in my chosen field. I can’t tell you how many times I have cursed myself for my calling. I’ve scraped every inch of my mind trying to find the reason behind my drive toward a life devoted to mental health advocacy. But it’s kind of like similar to my college degrees: what possessed me to get degrees in English and psychology? Literally, what demon entered my soul and convinced me to get degrees in not one, but TWO, of the lowest paying, highest rate of unemployment, and most disregarded fields by the Oklahoma government? Ain’t that swell? I can counsel people and correct their grammar – all while living in a cardboard box down by the river.
Disclaimer: Please don’t point out typos or whatever to me. Most of them are purposeful. Some are just because I don’t care. It’s nice to sit down and write informal articles for the first time in my life. I could recite my entire Advanced Grammar textbook aloud. It is absolutely mesmerizing to actually be able to talk in second person. I cannot even tell you how much easier my life is. Dr. Bruce, if you read this, just know that I am very aware that I should be using dashes instead of hyphens in all those places, but this website doesn’t accept the keyboard shortcut for a dash. I could probably type it into Microsoft Word and copy and paste every time I needed a dash, but we both know I use way too many dashes for that to even be a viable option.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, America, land of the free and home of literally awful healthcare policy. I want to tell you a story. . . About two years ago, I was in my Intro to Counseling class, and we were discussing how difficult it is to find help for an endangered patient. My professor (also a practicing counselor) was telling us the basics about a patient of hers. She was a minor with suicidal ideation and had admitted to the counselor that she was going to attempt to commit suicide. Side note: When a counselor, police officer, teacher, etc., has reason to suspect that a person is an immediate danger to themselves or others, they have to report it. That person is then supposed to be committed for evaluation for 72 (?) hours. So, my professor had a CHILD telling her she wanted to kill herself and she could not find a bed for this girl anywhere in Oklahoma. It took about four days to finally get this girl a bed in a mental facility to be evaluation, and that facility was about six hours away in Texas. Not only did this child’s parents and my professor have to play the role that our state psychiatrists should be playing, but they also had to drive out-of-state to get their child the help she needed.
Now that is outrageous. Here are some more outrageous facts (2017 State of Mental Health in America – Access to Care Data):
- Seventeen percent of adults with a diagnosed mental health disorder are still uninsured in the US.
- About 56 percent of adults with mental illness received no past year treatment in the United States, and, for those that did seek treatment, 1/5th continued to report unmet treatment needs.
- About 58% of Oklahomans with a mental illness received no treatment in 2017. That is over half. Almost 6/10 times, a mentally-ill Oklahoman went completely untreated by a mental health professional. More often than not, Oklahomans go untreated. We aren’t even good enough to get this number below half??
- Only 16% of children with Major Depressive Disorder received consistent treatment in Oklahoma!!!
- Oh, and Oklahoma has the highest prevalence of children that lack mental healthcare.
SO, I’m not sure why I want to be a counselor in a state that CLEARLY does not value the mental health of its constituents, but I do. I want it more than anything. I want to be that counselor that makes a difference in the lives of others – the counselor that overemphasizes self-love and healthy relationships. I want to help others, but this is what counselors are up against. Vote them out. Vote out the individuals that believe mental healthcare is the first budget cut to make. I’m going to provide the best in mental healthcare, but I genuinely hope I don’t have to do it out of a cardboard box. I genuinely hope that my clients, especially children, don’t have to be moved six hours away to be given the help they deserve. But, hey, Happy Independence Day.
I’ve been trying to find a way to express or even document all the problems I’ve had over the years with OCD. OCD is as special type of disorder. One that has caused me tremendous pain in my life. My thoughts are really scattered. I’m unsure of how to write what I’m feeling – of how OCD has made me feel. It’s a lot of years to cover. Ten years old is when I feel that my OCD wholly manifested. I do not know exactly what age I began to exhibit symptoms, but I do know that it was full blown by age ten. My mother can definitely attest to that. Ten was a year of confusion and anxiety. I wish I could remember my compulsions during my younger years. I wish I had been diagnosed earlier so I would have had time to better organize my long list of compulsions. I wish that we would have known there was a name for what I suffered from. Very few people, even twelve years later, know the extent of my battle with OCD, if they even know of it at all. An SSRI + a serotonin agonist and exposure therapy works well for me. I learned of Albert Ellis over the years and his work with irrational beliefs. Counseling myself and exposing those irrational beliefs is a hobby I’ve become quite good at over the years. But I wish I would’ve have known in sooner. I wish that OCD wasn’t so misunderstood that I was misdiagnosed for years with generalized anxiety. I wish I would’ve known I wasn’t a sinner for the thoughts I had. This post is a huge step for me. And honestly it’s just rambling. But it feels good. It’s almost an unexplainable purge of emotions and worries that have been built up inside for so long. If you met me today, you would never know I have well-managed OCD. My college professors don’t know. Even after four entire years of our lives intertwixt. Albeit, some may have some suspicion that something was wrong, but I don’t think there is a person that has met me in the past 6 years that could tell you I have OCD, besides my husband. He knows from little leftover fragments here and there and from childhood memories. But the thing about OCD is that it’s still inside me. It’s my brain. My brain that has too much or too little of this or that. My brain that works in such a specific way that even medication can’t change it. It makes it easier and less anxiety-provoking to deal with the thoughts & compulsions, but it does not change the way I think. I wish I could construct an exhaustive list of all the repetitive thoughts I’ve ever had. There have been times of some relief. I am aware that my OCD is exacerbated by stress, extremely emotional situations, and not being in control. Control is a huge one. Not being able to control an extremely stressful and emotional situation + my OCD = a very very bad outcome. An outcome that I don’t believe medication could even prevent. So I’ll live my life as best I can. I’ll live it in the most stress-free demeanor. My personality has shifted over the past four or so years. A patience level gifted from God and an incredible ability to remain calm are the two main markers of my present self. My 16-17 year old self had about 1/10 of the patience and relaxation I have now. But this personality change was a necessary evolution. Survival of the mentally fittest. I evolved to a personality that could better tolerate the workings of my brain. It occurred over the course of years, but it really did the trick. I gain more patience with each passing day. I actively try to evolve into a person that has a greater ability to relax and deal with stressors. In the name of full disclosure, I bet you guys are wanting to know what it’s like inside the brain of an OCD sufferer. Let me show you. Car rides seemed to do it for me something extra in my younger days. I still have extreme issues when it comes to car rides where I am not driving. But, for some reason or another, car rides caused me to exhibit some of my most memorable compulsions. I couldn’t talk, listen to the radio, even enjoy the scenery because I was busy counting car lengths. Normal enough? The car lengths had to coincide exactly with the sections of fence. I would tell myself “oh if you get to 100 then you can stop.” But I had to start over every time a car length did not perfectly line up with a section of fence. I never got to 100. Cars doing it some more for me during this same time frame. I had a specific rhythm I had to tap with my feet repeatedly for the entire length of time we were in the car. I was so focused on tapping this rhythm perfectly that I eventually would tap it without even realizing. This compulsion ruined band for me. I couldn’t ever keep the true beat without regressing into my rhythm. I had to shut the sliding door to my grandparents’ van without touching anything but the handle. My body or any other object couldn’t brush any part of the door or I would have to shut it again. This compulsion was a complex one. It has a few more parts to it. If I managed to shut the door within the standards mentioned above, I still had to buckle my seatbelt and have the door shut within 7 seconds. Or I had to do it again. I can’t tell you how many van doors I’ve slid open and closed. The worst part of these compulsions is the irrational belief that went with them: “I have to do it like this or God doesn’t love me.” I was raised extremely religious, and I felt that this was the ultimate sin. In fact, I was so ashamed by this that this blog is actually the first time I’ve ever admitted to it. To anyone. Ever. Because it’s completely irrational and WE ARE SO AWARE THAT OUR THOUGHTS AND COMPULSIONS ARE IRRATIONAL. Please don’t feel the need to tell me that these thoughts are outrageous. I know. But the synapses in my brain just can’t carry that information to the place it needs to be. Medication helps. But it is an everyday struggle against who I am. Against the chemistry in my control center. I wish I could remember more battles I’ve had over the years, but I can’t. I want this to be a post that I can update with recalled memories or new compulsions when they inevitably appear. Excuse my messy thoughts, my brain is broken.
This post is from my experience with having a spouse in basic training; however, that does not mean that this post is solely for milsos. We will all face loneliness at one point or another, whether it stems from a break up, relocation, death, or falsely perceived loneliness stemming from mental illness. I have experienced loneliness from all these items. But, at present, I am not lonely. My husband is at basic, but I do not feel “loneliness.”
Being alone has pros and cons. We can’t always equate “being alone” with melancholy and exile. There’s a very fine line of social interaction that we walk every single day. Maybe your walk is straying a little to the right or left – that is okay. There are so many different ways to think about loneliness. Let’s explore:
During my undergraduate career, I took a class literally titled “Loneliness.” It was an upper-division elective for my psychology degree. It was on a Saturday in the middle of summer. It happened to be my birthday. And nothing against Mr. R – he was super rad with his disco music and oral cancer candy – but I don’t think that human loneliness can be fully explicated during one Saturday from 8-4:30. We learned that loneliness can be the cause for so many mental health issues. We demonized loneliness until an impartial view of “being alone” was impossible. Addiction? They’re lonely. Depression? They’re lonely. But I really think that being alone needs to be starkly separated from the feeling of loneliness. The linguistic roots of the words are the same, but our evolved human brains have complexified (that’s not a word) to a much more intricate level than just linguistic associations.
Being alone has value in self-care. And not “assigned value” by society; it actually has inherent value all by itself. Being alone – and learning to delve into the self exploration that this breaks open – that is an acquired trait. That is a learned trait. Actually soaking up all the usefulness of being alone is not something that will ever be accomplished in a day, but it is also something that can never be accomplished without you. You, in all of your naked and vulnerable states, are the sole key part to making the most of being alone. You.
Being alone serves so many purposes. It is not a proponent of addiction or depression; misunderstanding the role of being alone is the proponent of mental illness. I want you to know that there is a huge variety of benefits you can obtain from being alone: self-exploration, uncovering passions, solving problems, etc… Counseling is my passion. The urge to assist others with their problems came out of one of the loneliest times in my life. Now I can look back at tell you that all that time I spent feeling miserably lonely, I was undeniably confused about what was happening in my future life path. I could not fully comprehend what all the mechanisms that were working and gears that were turning in tandem until many years later. I spent a lot of time as a teenager feeling utterly abandoned because of some (un?)fortunate circumstances. I overcame those. During that time, I could not see the innerworkings of my personal passions becoming solidified. But I see it now.
It took me quite a few years to get back to a completely healthy place. When I am alone, I am not lonely. My husband is gone, but I am not lonely. My grandmother has passed away, but I am not lonely. My mother-in-law was taken much to soon, but I am not lonely. I have simply reached a portion of my individual journey where great happenings are bubbling up inside me. I have just reached a stretch of my life where C & I have emotionally united goals that we are striving toward. I have reached a point in my life where my grandmother & I are separately working toward our goal of creating a legacy. My mother-in-law & I are still, undeniably, working together on our united goal of C’s well being. I am not lonely. You are not lonely. What shared goals are you still working toward? What activities do you feel help you get in tune with yourself? Why do you think we demonize being alone?
My husband graduates basic next week. While many of the loved ones have struggled greatly with the separation, my husband has complimented me on my “incredible strength.” But I’m not strong; I just know how to occupy my time in a healthy manner!What type of loved one are you?The Worrier, The Crier, The Overdoer, The Social Media Fanatic, The Sulker, The Emotionless Robot, The Researcher???? Okay, my personality is definitely aligned with the overdoer and the researcher. I’m just a normal spouse who fits into a typical category, just like you. I would love to just write and tell all of you how I made it through having an SIT in basic training with relatively few emotional cuts and bruises.
- GET OUT THERE AND CROSS THE LINE: Step out of your comfort zone. Yes, I know it is super fun to sit in the corner at Panera Bread and stalk his company Facebook page (totally not talking from experience, haha), but that will never satisfy you. It may actually upset you even more because 1.) His company page is probably going to post very few things, 2.) Panera Bread alone is actually super depressing, and you’re probably sitting there, watching all the couples and cursing the day your SIT swore in, and 3.) It is just not a productive activity. You finally have some alone time, and, by golly, you are going to make the best of it!! What did I do to step out of my comfort zone??? I started mixed martial arts classes. Now, that was a huge leap out of my tiny, nonviolent comfort zone, but it’s something that tiny voice in my head had kept encouraging me to do for years. But I never would do it. I was too busy or tired. Not only has that provided me with group exercise (yay, endorphins!), but it has also created a tie between my experience and my SIT’s. It allowed him and I to feel connected through similar activities. C thinks it is amazing that I started MMA and is ecstatic to begin classes with me when he returns. He also said he hopes I can’t K.O. him. That last sentence was completely irrelevant; I just wanted to brag for a second, haha!
- Join a support page: I am not a frequent poster to my support page. I personally like to sit back, relax, and understand how amazing it is to be digitally tied to all these people overcoming the same struggle as you. Sit back and think about how huge the world is, but, at the same time, how many of your strings are crisscrossed with the strings of others. Sometimes the posts are super sad – missed phone calls or recycled SITs – but sometimes they are beautiful. Sometimes there are people in that group that you connect with so effortlessly that your life will never be the same. Sometimes there is a person who posts the most uplifting, incredibly things that you really need to read and absorb. Sometimes you can be that person for others. They make never know how much they affected you, but that string will always be there.
- Make the letters fun: There is no reason to feel like your letters need to be plain Jane. I am sure that your SIT would absolutely adore an unconventional letter. It will make their day and will give you something to look forward to. What new letter format can I think of today? The best part about these letters is the fill-in-the-blank and return letters. Not only are SITs short on personal time, these letters are also a great deal of fun and can add a deeper level of connection between you two. Contact me if you want any more details about the letter formats I have. Some of his favorite questions were, “If basic had a theme song, what would it be?” and “If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?” I didn’t stop at just fill-in-the-blanks; I would sit down and think, “What are our short-term goals? What is my SIT interested in doing? What is a common interest we share?” So I’d sit down and create anything from hand-copied hilarious memes off Twitter to house plans I personally drew with our future home in mind. He loved all the effort and personalization I put into the formats. He said it really encouraged him to know that I was still giving it 100% even while separated. So do something that lets your SIT know that you are, undoubtedly, thinking of them.
- Find out who your friends are: You’ve been through many obstacles with your friend group, I’m sure. But there’s something about having an absent loved one that really weeds out those friends. That is not to say that you won’t be friends with most of them anymore; rather, it’s saying that there will be one or two of these people that just stand out from the rest. There will be those few friendships that absolutely blossom during this time. Look out for those people. Those are some irreplaceable friends.
- Enjoy the little things: I honestly just had to throw this one in there – think about how much less laundry you have to do???? Isn’t that incredibly??? I went from 5 loads a week to like a half of one, haha! Clothes next to the hamper instead of inside it?? Solved. Spending an excessive amount of money to feed this huge dude?? How about investing that money instead!
- Document the moments: Take pictures or videos of events that you think your SIT would want you to share with them. I’m not talking the obvious moments, like babies being born. I’m talking everyday moments that unite you guys. For example, C and I had been on edge for months waiting to see what this new building could possibly be! There were rumors circulating that it might be a Starbucks, but, personally, I thought the building was shaped like an Aldi food market. So, I took a photo of exactly where I was sitting (the Braum’s drive thru) when I discovered that it was actually ANOTHER Verizon store. It was understandably a very melancholy day after that. But he is definitely going to laugh at me for that one.
- Focus on your goals: This is me. Focusing on my goal of counseling. It took two months for me to think of blogging my journey of becoming a counselor, but here I am. It’s my first day, and I have made like four posts already. These thoughts were just overflowing out of my brain. I am so glad I created this blog. I am so glad you’re here. I cannot wait to use this blog as a tool to help others and become a better counselor.