This post occured to me the other day while I was watching Sons of Guns on television. The show is interesting if you’re a shooter or vet. This episode featured the greatest sniper in U.S. history, Chris Kyle, and a rifle he was having customized for his foundation FITCO. He worked with the team at Red Jacket, in particular Glenn “Flem” Fleming, one of the gunsmiths. Flem (as he’s known on the show) is an Air Force vet who said he had to leave active duty due to P.T.S.D. and T.B.I. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.)
I watched the episode with great interest. Chris was my hero the minute I found out he’d punched Jesse Ventura in the mouth. Props attached right from that moment. Jesse was out-gassing about S.E.A.L. team members dying in the sandbox and how they “deserved it.” Chris took exception and calibrated Jesse. Don’t get me wrong – Jesse could whup me any day of the week. But wrong is wrong and I admired Chris’ style.
There was a poignant moment when Chris and Flem were talking about all the feelings that you experience when you leave the service. Watch the episode for the full impact. The thoughts they expressed were the same ones I’ve heard hundreds of vets talk about over the years. I’ve had them run through my mind as well. Both men talked about the depression and isolation that comes from leaving your friends in harm’s way. Even if you’re not in combat you leave behind friends who are truly your brothers and sisters. It’s lonely in “the world” no matter how good your support system is compared to everyone else. It’s a very dramatic change. Even if you’re in a unit like S.E.A.L. teams (or my little band of misfits – the former Naval Security Group) where there’s a lot of lattitude, it’s still the military. Civilian life is so alien that it’s as close as you can get to being sprung from prison after doing a five, ten, or thirty year stretch. (No, the military is not populated with criminals and it is not prison – but the institutionalization is similar. Besides, we used to joke that the difference between being on a ship/sub and being in prison was that prisoners got cable t.v. and fresh produce.)
I could have been standing there with them. And right now you might be standing next to someone with the same feelings. If you know anyone who’s been in the military in the last few years, or even longer in some cases, you probably recognize some of those thoughts and ideas from talking to them. And here’s a few more things they might be going through – substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, extreme anger or sadness, lonliness, and a sense of loss that’s so overwhelming that it physically hurts.
How do most vets deal with it? For many of us that are blessed we can get past it and move onward. We just shrug it off and try to keep the brooding from coming too close to the surface. Sometimes we dont’ do a very good job. We find ourselves all choked up and crying in the shower when we hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the radio. We know that feeling the song conveys. Sometimes we just smile over absent comrades. And sometimes, when the darkness closes in, we kill ourselves. And recently it’s been in larger numbers than ever before.
There’s a thing called “The Spartan Pledge” that I’m endorsing as of this moment. The video is below. Watch it and then continue reading for more information.
(link to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nslIi09gCLQ )
But, you might wonder, you just said you brush on past it. Most do. Some don’t. The thing is you can’t tell by looking at somebody if they’re feeling so low that suicide is an option for them. But you might suspect. You will probably hesitate to bring it up. Even if you’re the closest friend they have and you’ve know them for years. Or served in the same unit. Especially men. We hate that touchy-feely stuff.
So what do you do? First, if you are feeling suicidal quit reading my nonsense and pick up the phone to a suicide hot-line. 1-800-273-8255. You are precious and irreplaceable and … well, suicide truly has never made anything better for anyone.
For those of you who know someone who has been acting out of sorts lately, depressed, distant, dark and moody, etc., find out why. You might really annoy them by asking, but if they kill themselves you will never have the chance to ask or annoy them again. Is your dignity worth more than their life?
You are probably wondering why this is on my mind? Too many people I know have taken their own lives. Too many people I know are in the process of taking their lives and I’m not yet aware of their plight. I wish I was. I’d drop to my knees and start praying for each of them right now. I’d beg them to get help.
Suicide is preventable. It is only a fatal issue if nothing is done to prevent it.
So, pay attention to those around you and make sure that the troubled ones get some help. Sometimes just your asking how they are and probing a bit can bring the darkness to the surface and allow you to help the person. Knock on their door and drag them out to breakfast. Make them be a part of life before death claims them.
If you are in need of help, get it right now. My friends know they can call me for that help. You have a friend that will do that for you. The people at the hotlines are there because they love you and want to help. They don’t need to know you to love you. Call 1-800-273-8255 and talk to someone today.
And, for those whom we’ve lost to suicide, our memories are tinged and darkened. We all wish we’d known so that we could have helped. But since there are no time machines available, go and help those in need today.
Finally, and perhaps the second most important point of this post: Mental Illness is not contagious. Reach out today. You don’t have to be a veteran to help a veteran. You just have to have the love in your heart to extend that hand. Most vets do fine. But there’s no shame in saying that it’s rough “on the outside” and getting help.