As a young man, under 20 years old, I was so active all of the time I had very little trouble with depression. My first encounter the mental health providers was when I was in the Air Force. I had completed basic training and technical school. When I got to my first assignment, I got a job that was a very stressful, fast paced job that I had not been trained for. To go with that, the mess hall that I was assigned was absolutely the worst! My first bout with clinical depression was beginning and I didn’t know it. Apparently, it was invisible to my co-workers and supervisors as well.
I had been trained in telecommunications. Teletype, card punch, message formatting, and sending receiving messages were the major components of my new career. Telecommunications as it turns out, included telephone switchboard. Statistics showed that the four position board processed up to 1000 calls in an hour on day shift. (The record) The night shift by contrast was a grave yard. Cleaning chores and training happened on the overnight.
I had taken to reading training materials and practicing typing when things were slow. One morning at the end of my shift, just before day shift took over, I remember glancing at the door between the office and the switchboard room. My supervisor was standing there, starting at me with a very worried look on his face. It didn’t really concern me at the time, I had no idea that there was something wrong that involved me.
Morning shift took over the board and my supervisor asked me to go with him. He had a plain manila folder with him and I was getting nervous as he offered no explanation to where we were going. We pulled into the base hospital parking lot and before I knew it, I was stripped out of my uniform and into a hospital gown. Didn’t have a psych ward so I was put in a 4 person ward with two other people, an orderly took sat at a desk near the door. The staff psychologist came to see me about an hour later. He casually asked me how i was doing.I still had no clue what the hell was on.
Finally he produced the folder that my supervisor brought. It contained a single sheet of paper with typed words on it. Basically it said that I had talked to God and that it was okay for me to die. Then the real news, I had typed it the night before! The supervisor had found it on the typewriter where i had left it. Then came the questions. How long was I suicidal? How long had I been depressed? On and on. I didn’t even remember what I had written and I wasn’t particularly depressed as far as i was concerned.
I underwent a physical exam and questioned about alcohol (I’ve never drank) illicit drugs (not those either) and other impertinent things. Then the MMPI. Hours of sitting, answering questions, marking answers on the answer sheet. By now I am getting annoyed and tired. My stay was incredibly boring. TV amounted to soap operas during the day and 1970’s programming in the evening. I had insomnia which I complained about but got no treatment. I saw the psychologist a couple times a week. During one session he asked me if I would object to going to the ward at the Air base in San Antonio. It was a rhetorical question, it turned out. He had just wanted my reaction to the question. After nearly a month in the hospital at my home base I was flown to the hospital in Texas.
The ward in Texas was a surprise. It had a large day room with comfortable furniture and had four, four bed wards, two for men and two women. The group therapy room had one wall with the Dudley Dooright characters in a castle made up to look like a ward. Humor! Go figure. I met with a psychiatrist the first day and was set up with a schedule of activities. As it turned out, i was there exactly two weeks. No one on one therapy, no antidepressants, and growing depression. The psychiatrist did offer me a medical discharge of I wanted it. I had no idea what would have meant for me. That is for a different gripe post at a later date.
From that morning that I was taken from my job, everything was arranged. The hospitalization of course, travel to Texas, and my stay there. At the end of that two weeks, I was given new orders to go back Kansas. By chance and a clear moment, I was able to find the travel section and arrange a flight back to Wichita. I didn’t really care if I made it back. I called my duty post but couldn’t find anyone to give me a ride from the airport to the base.
While I was in the hospital at my home base, there was a Marine recruiter who I became with friends. He had given me his card before I was sent to Texas so when I landed in Wichita, I Called him and his wife came and got me. Just like that. I was SO despondent that I wasn’t ready to report back. He understood and suggested that I stay with him and his family for the coming weekend which I did. He drove me back to my car on Monday and I called when i got to my barracks. My boss was nonchalant and said to report back the next Monday.
This is where my career falls apart. Because of the depression, my security clearance had been revoked. I can’t even go back to work on the switchboard. Secondhand, I find out that my choices are; a mundane taxi job or basically a janitor job or an administrative honorable discharge. I was in the darkest, place ever in my life not caring what would happen to, me next.
First i think i too stay in. They tell me i can to a military lawyer about it. Guess what. He and the commander come into the room together having a great conversation. I don’t know what to ask so i just ask if taking the discharge is in my best interest. He assures me that it isand the days later I’m driving home.
Recap. Taken from my job, stripped of everything that meant anything to me. Incarcerated without treatment, turned loose to find my own damn way home, can’t get enough support to even get a ride back to base, given rotten advise about the discharge (if I would have taken the medical discharge of I would have known the options, not to mention extended education benefits that would have helped shape a new career.)
Within one year, three months and twenty nine days, my life went from a career that I wanted and looked forward to, to a depression that has dragged me through the sewer throughout my life. The events from that time effected nearly every decision about jobs and relationships in this life. I have tried to see about a disability rating that I was offered while in the service, through the VA. I have been turned down. It is my fault because i don’t know how to present my evidence to how it pertained to my service connected disability.
That’s my first encounter with the mental health community. I encourage any comments or ideas!
Many more posts to come!