When Your Priorities Change, So Do Your Fears

There are many things in life that either freak me out or just plain scare the bajesus out of me. Spiders, clowns, bugs, supernatural nastiness, to name a few. One thing that has always terrified me is the idea of being alone. I’m not talking about being alone as in a room by myself, but rather ending up living a solitary life with a bunch of cats writing My Little Pony fanfiction (ok…..maybe that’s a stretch, but you get the picture)

A year ago, my focus was on my career, my fitness, and just enjoying life. When people would ask me why I was single, I’d say “Oh, I don’t have time for one right now. I’m just happy living my life for me!” And that was true….on the outside. Inside, I was starting to have those dark thoughts of whether or not I’d find someone. Whether or not I’d ever find the happiness that my friends had and, if I did, would it be while I was still young enough to have kids. I was scared to death of never knowing what true happiness felt like. On the outside, I presented myself as being happy as can be with life and all it had to offer. On the inside, I was bitter, insecure, and absolutely devastated that I was 26 and didn’t see marriage and kids on the horizon anytime soon.

And then, just like that, my whole world turned upside down. I found the man who is the very reason my heart beats. My priorities changed once I met and fell in love with Cameron. Sure, my focus was still very much fitness and career driven, but I was making decisions based upon OUR future. I accepted a job in Merrillville so we could move in together, we started planning our wedding, and he prepared me for the training that would come for my next season of competition. Life is brilliant, and I couldn’t be happier.

As my priorities changed, so did my fears….in a way. I was still fearful of ending up alone. I wasn’t fearful of ending up alone because I didn’t find someone—I was fearful of being left behind in the event something happened to Cameron. I had a nightmare the other night that caused me to wake up in a cold sweat and throw up several times. In the awful dream, Cameron called me and said he wasn’t feeling well, so he was going to go home from work early. I told him to keep me posted on how he was feeling, that I loved him, and that I’d be home in a few hours. He then began telling me how much he loved me, how amazing I was, and that I deserved so much. The next part of the dream was me getting home, finding all the lights off, and no dogs barking. I opened the door, turned on the light, and found him on the couch with our wedding picture in his left hand……and a gun in the other. The nightmare then fast forwards to the funeral, where I am handed a folded up flag as I stare blankly at my husband’s casket. And then, thank God, I woke up.

For those of you who don’t know, Cameron is a Marine. Not only that, but he is a combat veteran who has been deployed multiple times to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. He’s endured trauma that I can’t even begin to comprehend, from personal injury to losing his best friends in combat. As a result, he has PTSD, as many veterans do. Veterans with PTSD are more vulnerable to suicidal ideation or attempts.

Cameron has had both. As a mental health professional and a future Marine wife, this scares me more than I could ever express.

I’m a sociologist at heart. I nerd out about statistics like it’s my job……but the statistics regarding veterans and suicide? Those make my blood run cold. They always were shocking to me, but they never were more than statistics until I fell in love with my Marine. Roughly between 17-22 veterans commit suicide on a daily basis, according to most statistical reports between 2011-2014. A recent study found that among OIF/OEF Veterans, those with subthreshold PTSD were 3 times more likely to report hopelessness or suicidal ideation than those without PTSD. This has become my absolute biggest fear.

He is my whole life, my whole heart, and I am determined to help him keep his demons at bay. He has not had another PTSD episode since July 4th, and he is very much aware of my fears. Since he and I have been together, he has lost multiple friends to suicide. Each time, my heart sinks into my stomach and I can’t help but sob because this has become all too common. I refuse to let the love of my life become a mere statistic.

Veterans are more than statistics. It’s time we started giving them the praise, the help, and the recognition they deserve.

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For When Smiling Isn’t Enough

Last night, I logged on to Facebook to respond to some messages before having dinner with my parents. There, at the top of my news feed, was the tragic headline:

RW

My first thought? “Oh, this has to be another death hoax. They’ve killed him, Hulk Hogan, and almost all of One Direction in the past few months.” Then I saw that it was a link to CNN. CNN does not (typically) report hoaxes. Sadly, it was true. One of the greatest actors, comedians, and human beings of my lifetime was gone. I immediately passed the information along to my parents and my brother, and we just kind of sat there after reading the even bigger shock: his death was an apparent suicide.

I’ve worked in the mental health field for almost 3 years. During that 3 years, I’ve worn many hats. I’ve been a direct care staff, a skills training specialist, and am now a care facilitator. I’ve had training upon training about depression and suicide, and it amazes me how taboo the subject of mental health still is. Depression is not a joke. It is a real illness that can affect absolutely anyone. Robin Williams’ sudden passing is a sobering reminder of this. All the smiles, adoration, and fame in the world are not enough to suppress the demons within. Sometimes, death seems like the only escape. Suicide is also a hush-hush subject. Many people consider it to be a “cowardly” way to escape from problems. Truthfully? It takes a lot of courage and despair to make the decision that ending your life is the only way to extinguish the pain. There’s no undoing it—and that’s terrifying to think about. On the outside, Robin Williams was happiness in human form. On the inside, he battled the demons of depression and addiction. No one is immune to mental illness. Eerily, some of my favorite Robin Williams quotes fall right in line with views and treatment of mental illness.

As John Keating in Dead Poets Society:

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

As Hunter “Patch” Adams in Patch Adams:

“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.

As Jack Powell in Jack:

“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.”

As Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man:

“I try to make sense of things. Which is why, I guess, I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.”

As Dr. Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings:

“The human spirit is more powerful than any drug and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter.”

And, of course, as the lovable Genie in Aladdin, Williams said this:

“But oh, to be free…such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.”

And how true it is. You’re free now, Genie. May your joyful soul  find in passing the peace you longed for in life.

If you or anyone you know is battling depression, mental illness, or thinking of suicide. Please get help. You’re not alone and there are people there to help you.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255