I’ve dealt with depression for probably the last ten years of my life. At first I just dealt with it, knowing that I had gone through a traumatic experience that would leave an impression on the rest of my life. I grew accustomed to being down. But just dealing with my symptoms ultimately led me to a worse state. Exhaustion set in, withdrawal from friends and family, anger and frustration at the drop of a dime, impatience etc…I lived in a whirlwind of hate and bitterness. What drew the line for me becoming pregnant with my oldest daughter. I finally had an excuse to be happy. I was happy because I had to be happy for someone else. Which is definitely not the right answer, but possibly a step into the right direction.
Fast forward through a divorce, another deployment, a loss of a beautiful friend and teammate, leaving the military, moving 2000 miles across the country with a toddler, another marriage (my final marriage I must add) and add two more beauties to the crazy mess. I am no longer allowed to live in hate, because if I do I will create three images of myself that will in turn go out into the world full of hate and guilt and recreate the demons I accepted and tried to suppress the last ten years.
My goal after my youngest was born was to fix me. I needed to fix these feelings that were not right and not fair. I learned that living like this was a waste of life. And over the past few years I have witnessed life wasted and I could no longer waste the life I was spared.
So I reached out. I had all the opportunity to start the journey to not ultimately fix but deal and accept the issues that were wrong with me. I did what most veterans do, I walked into the local VA hospital and asked what do I need to do to feel better. That was the first step. and in hindsight a disaster in the making.
After I returned from Afghanistan I have seen 4 separate psychiatrists, not having changed by fault of my own, but the Dr. leaving the VA to work some place else. I have had 5 separate primary care givers, 3 through the VA and 2 from the Hospital on Fort Benning.
Throughout this time I have been prescribed over 7 prescriptions ranging from anti-depressants, sleep aids, hormonal therapy, and other anti-psychotics to boost the ones I was already taking. I had blood work done to check thyroid and any vitamin deviancies and/or any hormonal levels that may be out of whack. All came back normal but my symptoms remained the same. My case kept getting passed to a new Dr, who I would ultimately have to retell everything in my chart, because I know they scan it over 5 minutes prior to my visit. That moment you are sitting in the chair with just the Doc and you and they are silent for what feels like hours, and its totally awkward, yeah they are scanning your chart because they don’t know fuck about you.
I saw a psychologist for over a year who offered exposure therapy to ease my symptoms but ultimately made them far worse to the point I became suicidal. I felt confident enough to tell him that it wasn’t working and was responded with “You know I am doing you a favor by seeing you.” Now, I’m in a position of trying to get to know my emotions again, I know a lot of us may go above and beyond what the “normal” person may express in times of stress, but my response, at that time was sufficient for me, and I kindly told that Dr. to fuck off, and I never went back.
So I’ve let some time go by. I got to the point that I believed my state of mind was just something I had to live with and my lack of emotion or over emotional state was just the person I had to be. There was no help for me. I was left to live with my diagnosis and not be the person I wanted to be. I believed that. I settled for that. I’m ashamed of myself for becoming that.
I fell into another depression these past few months which led to a more severe suicidal stage in my life. I had always thought I would never care if I lived or died, but I would never do it at my own hand. By this time it was different. I was creating “the plan” everyone warns you about, and I was becoming more and more comfortable with that plan regardless of the absence I was going to leave in my family. It’s so cliché, the commercials for anti-psychotics and the famous quote “If you have thoughts about killing yourself contact your Dr. immediately” I’ve never met anyone who got on the horn and just casually called the Dr. and told them they were about to off themselves. Besides getting in touch with your Dr. through the VA is like killing yourself so it’s a lose-lose situation.
After months of not giving a fuck I finally broke down and called the notorious suicide hotline. With the support of my husband and the friendly voice on the other side I was able to come back to center and realize I needed to get some serious help.
At first I did my own research. I’m not sure about self diagnosis, but I do know that I want to know the options I have and the medications, or holistic therapies that are out there before I head into the doctors office. I did my research wrote a list of questions and medications I thought would benefit my symptoms and called the VA.
“We can get you in January 10 2017” my jaw dropped. It was the beginning of December and I had to wait an entire month and 10 days before I could get any help. I asked to be referred and they transferred me to a number that was disconnected. For many of us hoplessness starts to set in and feeling like the world is crashing down is heavy. I decided to call the hospital on Fort Benning, unfortunately my primary Dr. was unable to seem me for another month, but another physician would be able to see me the next day. Great, some hope. All I needed was a referral and I could talk to someone outside the VA about the whirlwind I have been caught up in.
Now, like most, I get super anxious going to the Dr. I hate reliving the same conversation over and over with a new Dr. All I needed was a referral to psychiatry and I would go into depth with them, because ultimately they were the ones that could actually educate me on what I was feeling and how to move on.
I arrived early, which is unusual for me, and I was checked in, in less than 10 minutes. The nurse got my vitals as usual, and the “Doc” came in shortly after. A captain walked in looking as he just graduated medical school, sat down and looked over my file.
“PTSD? are you in the service?” Now this is when my frustrations start to set in. I got it, I’m a female with PTSD but you couldn’t tell because I’m in civilian clothes and not in army fatigues. “Oh nevermind, it said its not combat related, sorry your husband is in the service, hence the Tricare.”
I stared at him… “No, Sir, I was in the service and I do have PTSD from a non combat related incident.” He raised his eyebrow confused and went back to the chart.
Jesus Christ. “I was raped….Sir” You don’t have to be “combat” to go through something traumatic. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sir.”
Then everything went to shit from there. He scooted his chair closer to me, wrong, fucking wrong thing to do, and kept telling me how sorry he was and it’s so sad that things like that happen, and if I need to just walk in and talk, he would see me as a walk in. Talk about a fucking trigger. He then went on to if he made me uncomfortable for being a male.
“No Sir, you see my last deployment I was attached to Special Operations and worked with primarily all males. I’m sure you are familiar with Ranger Regiment, and probably see a bunch of those guys for how fucked up their bodies are, but no, males do not make me uncomfortable, in fact I got a lot of closure from working with those guys because they are really honorable and amazing at what they do. I owe part of my sanity to that deployment.”
He then went on to tell me how he wanted to go to Ranger School and what I thought about women in combat. I just told him I don’t care and I just needed a referral to see a psych.
And this is where it gets good! He told me he couldn’t give me referral but if my anxiety eases up I should join a gym where they offer yoga and learn how to breathe because that would fix most if not all my problems.
I thought I had my anger under control but my steering wheel felt otherwise.
But you see, I’m a trooper, no dumb ass Captain is going to get the best of me, I’m going to get help, you’ll see.
My appointment with the VA finally came up. I got my mom to watch my girls. I was seeing, yet again another new psychiatrist and was hoping, if not praying today I would get some clarity. It takes me around an hour to get to the Tuskeegee VA Medical Center. I arrived to the Mental Health Department checked in and sat amongst maybe ten separate Veterans waiting to be seen by a psych or shrink. Mostly everyone, myself included have our heads down, most not on their phones but just checked out. It’s like we all know where we are, but not the extent of everyone’s emotional stress. It put a pit in my stomach seeing so many people down and out, I felt ashamed that there were so many “me’s” in the room. The Doc finally came in and took me back to his office.
Now I don’t know what my luck is, but for some reason I always get the Dr. I can’t understand a damn thing they are saying. This time was no different. I sat in the chair closest to the desk. I cant hear worth a shit anyways and stared at him. He stared back. It was like the longest staring contest that maybe lasted 30 seconds until he stopped and started reading the screen and typing with one finger. Any typing in my file makes me sick, but one finger slow typing makes me want to shoot myself in the foot and head to the ER. But not in Tuskeegee because they don’t have an ER, and plus guns aren’t allowed. So there’s that.
He went over my novel of medications and asked how they worked out. He then went to tell me the medication I was taking, that was prescribed by every other VA Dr. I was taking it wrong and had been taking it wrong for the last 5 years. Awesome, now we are off to a great start. I went on about my symptoms he said “uh huh” as he one finger typed and finally stopped and stared at me again. He said okay here’s what we are going to do, and rambled on about mood stabilizers and anti anxieties and anti depressants, and told me to try this for two weeks and call in to let him know how it went. From my research, I know I didn’t need any of that shit, and from what he was describing it would just make my symptoms worse. I inquired about pot and he laughed at me and said he didn’t know anything about it and Alabama doesn’t allow it. It was just a question, but it must be pretty funny how I don’t want to be doped up on a million drugs that need another million drugs to counteract the side effects of the million drugs he prescribed me.
He finished the conversation with okay here’s what you need to pick up from the pharmacy. He listed 4 separate anti psychotic medications, none I have ever taken, none that fit the symptoms of my diagnosis. I stared at him. I finally got ballsy enough and told him I didn’t want to be a zombie and live on pills for the rest of my life.
He shrugged his fucking shoulders.
So the VA has created this Choice Program, where if you cant get into an appointment in 30 days or if you live 30 miles or farther from the VA you are seeing you can be referred to a civilian Dr. in your area. Perfect. I am fed up with the VA and want stability and understanding, I want a second opinion and a plan that works. So today I got on the phone and called the VA eligibility number and sat on hold for over a fucking hour. Twice. I even went to route of trying to go back to the Military Hospital to get a referral but they cant see me for another two months for an appointment but I can come in and see Dr. Captain Dip Shit again. NO. NO. NO. Just NO.
I chose to write all this down because this is out of control. This is unacceptable for any Veteran not just me. This is unacceptable for health care in general. Why is it so hard to put in an inquiry for a referral to a doctor of my choosing that will accept my insurance or if its my choice to pay out of pocket. Why the fuck is that so hard? If you are so backed up, refer your patients out. Stop the selfish bullshit. I thought seeing a doctor, not my primary doctor the next day would be a great thing. Wrong. Why do specialty doctors have different ways of prescribing medications and therapies, I know a one size does not fit all, but for fucks sake I had 3 doctors tell me for 5 years to take a medication at this time at this dose, and another tell me he was sent in to clean the mess up from what these other doctors had created. They have been telling patients wrong for years? There is something wrong with that. There is something wrong with doping Veterans up on medications they don’t need to just get through an appointment. Don’t Doctors take an oath before they practice medicine? We are not whiny ass people, we are actively trying to get back into society but may need a little push. This is why the stereotype of Veterans is so horrible. I have read the rants from Veterans about their experiences within the VA, a lot of the time people say “Well get up and do something!” We have! We’ve tried we offer suggestions, we come in prepared to our appointments and lay out who we were and who we are now and what has and has not worked and what we would like to try. But it does not work that way. If you say one work like mood or sleepless nights the first thing shoved in your face is a prescription for medication that will fuck up your brain on an entirely new level. Ask a Veteran if they just go home and pop these pills the Dr. prescribes them. I guarantee they research the hell out of them and may have feelings of uneasiness about what they are going to endure the next couple months. It’s heartbreaking. I know I am not the only one that has gone through the ringer. And I want people to know, we as Vets are doing something about our health, we want to get better, we want to be present in the life we live, but we are being failed by a healthcare system that is fueled by misdiagnosis and doping up veterans.
Out of this entire experience I can say one thing. The lady on the suicide hotline was amazing, and if you, like me feel ashamed, or if its hard to talk to anyone including fellow veterans, call them. They are amazing. And sometimes that’s all you may need as a reassuring voice to tell you it’s ok.