*This post is not sponsored by any company and represents my own experience and preference*
Friends, Family, and Your Community
It is OK not to feel OK. In today’s world, where social media lifestyle is the only point of reference we have, it almost makes it embarrassing to say that my life is not perfect. I am not always happy even though my Instagram seems like I am living my best life. I used to look at my teammates in the military and wonder how I am the only one who seems to struggle with mental health. Everyone seemed like they have their life together and then there was me – a hot mess of a person, barely making it through the day. NO ONE talked about it. And then one day I went to the chaplain and said this to him. My good chaplain replied: “Aleks, everyone struggles with something, they just come see me after hours, because they are embarrassed.” I was dumbfounded by that statement. We made it embarrassing to seek help, to show the weakness of some sort. But what seeking help really is, is strength. You are reaching out for help to become a better and stronger version of yourself. You want to grow and change. If that is not brave, I don’t know what is.
So, when I started experiencing combat-related nightmares, I purposely talked about it in my office. I told my whole team that I am not sleeping well and that this one dream keeps coming back. At first, they made fun of me. “Women,” they said. “Brand new soldier, first deployment, and you are already struggling.” Yes, I am struggling. I am not sleeping, and it is affecting my life. I let them poke fun at me, and then when they got all the jokes out, one person said: “When I came back from Iraq, I was jumping on any noise or sudden movement. I had to seek help.” Then, from there, it went to a whole conversation: “I went to VA (Veterans Affairs) after my deployment and saw a therapist when one of my soldiers killed himself. It messed me up and affected my marriage. I had a tough time opening, so the lady made me write instead of talk. Eventually, I got everything out that was bothering me. Maybe you should do the same thing.”
This act right here opened up a very long and emotional conversation between my team and me. I could’ve just stopped once they started making fun of me, but I didn’t. I wanted this to be OK to be said out loud. I AM NOT DOING OK.
The next day, one person asked me if I am still not sleeping. I said the nightmare came back again. He said: “Dude, I think you need help. Go talk to Chap. Or we can go talk somewhere if you want, I’ll listen.”
If we didn’t have that conversation day before, they wouldn’t think about it at all. If I didn’t say anything, they wouldn’t know anything too. And I understand, some environments are not like this one described. Sometimes you are surrounded by wrong people and toxic masculinity where you don’t feel comfortable to share as I did. But I assure you that there is always someone who will listen to you. There is always help available, no matter where you are. YOU are NOT alone.
How Everything Started
It’s been three, now almost four years ago, since I stopped writing this blog. I kept the website and paid WordPress every year to keep the domain. I knew I will come back to writing once I find inspiration and something that will have meaning to me (because writing for others is great, but writing for your soul is freeing).
Since then, I stopped pursuing fashion, quit my job, joined the Army, and turned my life around. With all these great experiences came consequences; dues to be paid. I struggled with mental health even before enlisting, so PTSD was not an unknown subject to me. Still, I grew up in Eastern Europe, where no one talked about it, even though everyone knew what the symptoms are.
This syndrome is not exclusively for military or adults only. Children can suffer as well, if they experienced any sort of trauma. Sometimes, we don’t know which event exactly triggered us; like in my case, where I had to dig through years of family drama, war scenes and unhealthy relationships to find what is causing these issues.
I went through life, thinking that traumas are something everyone experiences, and everyone deals with them behind closed doors. But then I hit a wall two years ago (figuratively) and had no other option but to seek professional help.
It took a lot of self-evaluation and pride to do this because let’s face it, no one wants to admit they have a problem. But I realized that my mental issues are affecting my everyday life, my work, and the people I care about. Once I found the right therapist (affordable), I scheduled an appointment. Within one month, I noticed the shift in my mood, my performance, sleep quality, and general desire to live. I spent 8 months in therapy, and then I had to deploy. I was mentally in a good shape to go. Still, of course, the Army has its own challenges, and I was back on having negative thoughts and developed insomnia. What was different this time is that I recognized my behavior faster than the previous time, and I acted sooner to find help. I dialed Military OneSource one night because my thought process was not healthy, and I was scared for my life or what I might do. A few days later, I went to see my chaplain. And this time, I didn’t have an issue to talk about what was bothering me. I didn’t know exactly what was bothering me, but I expressed my concerns and explained the best I could about what was in my head. I wasn’t ashamed of my condition. I needed help. And when I stopped going to the chaplain, I started exploring different means of peace. To be honest, sometimes talking doesn’t help, and sometimes you talk so much that you have nothing else to say. You still struggle, but you can’t analyze it over and over again. So, I found a few different ways to deal with anxiety and sleep issues.
Apps on your phone
Relax&Sleep Well App
This app is available for Apple and Android devices and has in-app purchase options. I tried a few different apps to get me to sleep, but they were all short, and for more extended versions, you had to pay. I liked this one because it had almost half an hour of meditation and hypnosis, and the music is very soothing. It took me a few nights to get into the habit of stopping thinking about stupid things and open this app. After 3 days, I was getting about 6-7 hours of sleep. It was THAT easy.
There are several good podcasts out there, but my all-time favorite is Jay Shetty’s “On Purpose” podcast. I discovered this recently through his Instagram, and I started listening to it in the morning when I am getting ready for work to boost my energy and mood. The other podcast I love (or even YouTube videos) is Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations. Now, people have different opinions about Oprah. Still, I honestly care about the effect it has on my mental state more than I care about politics. If the message is right, it will have my attention. And one of the videos I watched recently talked about purpose and how everyone has a one; you just have to embrace it. I liked that because it emphasized how you already have it, you don’t have to find it, you just have to look deeper within to recognize it. That is a powerful message.
This section is critical because there are times when you can’t fix your problems and thoughts by just listening to podcasts and positive messages on social media. Sometimes you need professional help, and that is totally OK. Here is a list of some helpful places you can find assistance:
- Crisis Text Line (text: 741741) – I learned about this a few months ago on Facebook, when someone shared a number to text if you are having a crisis (not just suicidal thoughts).
- Military OneSource – if you are serving in the military, served before or you are a family member of someone who served, this website is available to you free of cost. Military OneSource offers every possible help for our service members, not just medical assistance (yes, you can get help with taxes there).
- Low-cost therapy – Let’s be honest, therapy is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be if you know where to look. Your therapist doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist, it can be a social worker who specialized in mental health. If you take this route, you will pay about 3 times less for sessions, and most of the insurances cover at least 50%. I was paying out of pocket $60, and insurance matched $60. Research your local social services and see what is the best option for you.
So here I am, a few years later, writing for my soul (and hopefully, yours). Mental health is still not enough talked about in the media, even though a lot of celebrities started promoting it. As I am learning to take care of myself, I am expected to take care of others as well. And you can’t help someone if you are the one in need of a help. So, I am asking you to talk about your problems and face them. And once you face them, embrace your power and talk about the experience. You never know who might need to hear it.
Comment below any suggestions or more resources that I didn’t list and I will keep updating this post. Cheers!