Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 3-3-2022
“They will never get their lives back. Their parents will never get their kids back. And there are many more who will never get their limbs back. Many more who will never get their sanity back. You say that you will never forget… but you already have. –EaE/ LCSW/ OEF Veteran
My psychiatric interview in early 2018: (I was already off of Active Duty for almost four years but still in the Air force reserves, and just 8 months into my career at the Brooklyn Vet Center)
Civilian psychiatrist: “I don’t know, I mean I hear that you are saying you’re experiencing all of these symptoms… but you’re a pretty new therapist. Many new therapists think that they are taking on the same symptoms that their clients are, it’s just a lack of experience perhaps….”
My thoughts as I listened to this feedback: “Ummm… I’ve already told her about Afghanistan. And that my trauma therapy sessions with my clients were giving me intrusive thoughts back to my war experience, increased anxiety, increased hypersomnia, severe depression and difficulty with intimacy and socializing… how can she not connect the dots? This is chronic PTSD mixed with the secondary traumas of being a psychotherapist… but I’m the newbie… yea, okay.
After painfully going through psych eval after psych eval, I was beginning to get hopeless. I reflected back on my time when I had just been released from Active Duty in the summer of 2014. Technically, there were some warning signs even way back then. Long walks, 2-3 hours a day in which I wanted to keep away from everyone, but it was never enough time by myself. Disconnect, numbness, agitation and avoidance. I became more obsessed with the gym, particularly martial arts, and I did not want to engage in anything else, to include conversations with people. My eating was getting out of control yet again, what else was new? I did love my college experience, that happened to be my saving grace and I cherished every moment of it since it was the most freedom I had ever experienced in my life.
Back to 2018: I went from one failed relationship right into another relationship that had “Red Flags” written all over it, but I wanted to hope that I had found something ‘special’. I then began to obsessively self-medicate with things that shall remain nameless for now. These things were introduced to me by my new significant other, and we rushed through a tornado of a relationship full of drugs, trauma bonding, abuse and more. Somehow, it distracted me from my current traumas, but added on in the long run due to the domestic violence. I was getting financially and mentally drained while he fed me fairy tales, exploited my kindness and manipulated my thinking patterns.
One silver lining: I became service connected for VA disability at a 30% rating for depression, hypersomnia and PTSD. This wasn’t much, but it was a start, and it led me to my decision to fully get out of the Air Force reserves. “What about retirement??” Many people asked as they could not fathom why I would serve 10 years, and not ‘suck it up’ and ‘just’ do another 10 to get a DoD pension. But, if they had to ask, then they simply did not understand. This was chronic mental illness, and although I was still highly unaware of just how deep and severe it was getting, I knew enough to know that I needed to call at ‘quits’ with the military.
Someone in the past few years had recently made a Facebook post asking people for the TOP 3 Hardest things they had ever done. I made my list very matter of fact and concretely:
#3 Afghanistan deployment
#2 Step parenting (Alongside irresponsible & abusive biological parents, I might add)
# 1 Hardest and without a Doubt: Being a Trauma Therapist (To be more specific, being a trauma therapist that already has PTSD)
My receptionist could see the pain in my eyes early on in my career at the Vet center, he predicted I wouldn’t last two years. I lasted 3.5. When I think back on this time, struggling with trying to balance this career, the Air Force reserves as well as my own mental illnesses and trigger responses from my deployment, it’s hard to describe. I was beyond burnout. I was a zombie. Everything in me was drained due to my emotionally laborious job. After the work days, I was no longer present or functional. My coaches started calling me lazy due to my lethargic state, or getting on me for not being able to ‘concentrate’. My now ex was angry at me for being ‘lazy’ and unable to do much after work besides drug my mind away from reality. My friends started expressing concerns about my memory and lack of ‘presence’ even when I was around them. Apparently I was retelling stories over and over again, and unable to focus on what was being said.
Technically, I believe I could have held on a little longer than 3.5 years, but the break up (In Jan of 2021) was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and led me to the decision to fully resign, move back to CA with my father and change up my entire life. This was one of the hardest decisions to make, because it required me to suck it up and admit I needed help. I honestly felt like I had no choice, as the mental shock of the break up along with my chronic trauma symptoms led me to a series of terrifying thoughts and events that put me on the VA suicide watch list for six months, and eventually, a 70% disability rating (with the addition of binge eating disorder added to the mix).
Everything I have done since moving back to CA in Feb 2021 has been about healing, processing, finding a proper and healthy medication regiment, and creating the boundaries that I so desperately needed since I was a child. I know, that in order to not go back to that dangerous mental state, everything has to be changed for the better, and maintained. People tend to want to run away and avoid their mental health concerns. They want to push it to the back burner, I was no different. It feels like the ‘right’ thing to do, until it builds up and comes crumbling down on you in a way that gives you no more options. Get better and learn to live, or keep dying a slow and painful death. Death is guaranteed, but our struggles in life vastly depend on whether or not we are willing to prioritize our wellbeing. For some people, this actually means they must change everything. I had to change my residence, my relationship status, and my career, all within months.
My final out as well as my transition into the civilian sector has been plagued with mental illness and transitional stressors. I will never lie about that, nor am I ashamed of admitting my mental illnesses. They are an imprint, they are not my fault. I monitor myself every day, I act with intent and purpose. I find reason for every thought and every emotion. I am mindful, I am even a bit spiritual at times. I am grateful that I had the ability to find out all that was harming me, remove it, and replace it all with something better. I am reformed, maybe one day, I’ll even be able to thrive. If I could go back in time, I would have spent more time after the military looking for mentors as well as more positive ways to take care of myself. I would have especially worked on my sense of self-worth.
The military has a way of robbing some of us of our identities and our sense of self. This can take a lifetime to get back… assuming we ever had it to begin with. I see now very neutrally and clearly that I was indoctrinated into a world that prioritized mission above self, and that taught us to be sacrificial. They taught us that boundaries do not exist, and that our ability to be highly functioning while in horrible situations is something to be ‘proud of’. This, along with my childhood trauma, led me into an increased pattern of self-destructiveness. I am faced with the daily task of undoing these thought patterns and habits little by little, but every painful step of the way, it gets easier. And then, my mind feels lighter.
One thought on “Final Out￼”
I am at a loss for words. My heart cries for you, my brain is overwhelmed for what you went through but my whole self is so proud of you for being brave enough to share all this with us and for the courage you show each and every day to find answers and ways to continue on with your healing process.
LikeLiked by 1 person