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BEHAVIORAL HEALTH - Opening up to help those in need

By Maj. Gordon Lyons | IRWIN ARMY COMMUNITY HOSPITAL | October 06, 2017

     I offer my personal story and hope it can help someone else. Maybe some aspect of my own strug­gle might prove beneficial, even if for only one Soldier, one person. So I offer the fol­lowing — my long story made short — in support of Suicide Prevention Month.

 

DEVELOPING ISSUES

     I grew up in a dysfunc­tional home like many these days, in a safe, very middle class but not at all wealthy neighborhood in suburban Kansas. From the outside, no doubt it seemed a bit like the setting for “Leave it to Beaver” or “Pleasantville,” but in our home absolute terror unfolded on a regular basis.

     Mom became seriously mentally ill shortly after the birth of my little sister; my siblings and I were all close in age, and we were very young at the time. Mom’s illness caused her to often sit alone in the kitchen at night with all the lights off and talk to herself nonstop … while she polluted her lungs and exposed us to the dangers of second-hand smoke. She was a chain smoker, you see, which would end up taking her life early, but not before her men­tal illness brought terror to her life … and ours.

     My two sisters, my brother and I learned to walk on eggshells around Mom. If I set her off she might throw scalding hot coffee on me or drag me by my hair to my bedroom and ground me there. Or worse, she might yell that Satan was torturing her through the innocent things my siblings or I did, and she was intensely serious — in a word, terrifying.

     While Mom was ill, Dad, a middle school teacher, some­times worked three jobs to make ends meet for the six of us. When he was home, he was sometimes more physically abusive than Mom; he whipped us hard, with the full strength of an athletic man in his 30s. He used a leather belt that left us with painful welts and bruises for many days afterward.

     The abuse ended in early middle school — because Mom finally got treatment and Dad was much less stressed — but by the time I was in high school, I was anxious and nervous almost all the time. I was always on guard for threats in my sur­roundings. I was jumpy — my heart would pound and I’d be scared and start to sweat at any loud noise, nearby angry voice or if attention was focused on me for any reason. I was almost completely lacking any sense of myself or who I was and I was absolutely terrified of rejection. I avoided school social functions and had few friends — I honestly can’t re­member going to one football game. Every. Single. Day … was a battle, to get through. I sometimes skipped school or certain classes as I just didn’t have it in me, and I needed a break.

     I had vague but persistent feelings and thoughts in my early 20s along the lines of, “I can’t keep doing this.” Those thoughts and feelings wouldn’t go away. At the time I had no idea what “this” was, but I knew I couldn’t go on. Rather than being actively suicidal, I just knew something had to give; although in reality it was a choice to get help, it cer­tainly didn’t feel like a choice at the time — I had to. So I went to my county mental health center and I talked to someone.

 

FINDING HELP

     Slowly, that someone, my clinical social worker, helped me reconnect with, identify and express emotions I had buried during childhood in order to survive. It was hard — OMG I’ll never forget the incredible pain and grief I felt … and eventually the relief. In writing this right now I’m experiencing those same feel­ings of loneliness and despair and grief again … and tearing up a bit. You see, one day at a time I owned those parts of me I’d buried for survival’s sake. They became part of me forever — but they no longer had control of me. I remember being afraid that if I allowed myself to feel something, the feeling would never end, it would never stop. The op­posite turned out to be true — by finding a safe place to slowly let myself feel again, the feelings changed … naturally … just by expressing them and talking them through with my clinical social worker. They no longer had a hold on me. I started to feel a real and solid sense of self-confidence. By being more in touch with my thoughts and feelings, and by using the tools I learned in therapy to think about my thoughts, I became effective at navigating my inner self. In other words, I was free.

     I wasn’t perfect of course, and I’m still not, by far! I was, however, largely free of the effects of my traumatic child­hood, free to begin building the life I wanted. That also hasn’t gone perfectly … LOL … but on the whole I’m very happy. In fact as you’re read­ing this story, I’m on leave in Europe with my Dad, whom I love with all my heart. He isn’t perfect either of course, but over the years I’ve learned to accept him as he is; for his part, also over many years, Dad has grown to respect and be proud of the person I’ve become.

 

GIVING BACK

     I am now a clinical social worker myself, board certified, well-connected socially, with great long-time friendships and grateful for the many years I’ve been able to give back and pay forward the powerful help I received when I so desperately needed it. It is truly and absolutely my honor to serve as your Director of Behavioral Health.

     If you’re feeling suicidal, if you’re suffering in isolation, please call me or someone on our team at 785-239-7208, call a buddy, call a Chaplain or call any medical professional or sui­cide hotline, and follow through with treatment as I did. Seeking behavioral health care doesn’t, in itself, negatively impact your military career — but not fol­lowing through with treatment very well could — just as if you broke your leg and didn’t follow through with treatment for it. Therapy takes courage. I won’t lie — it can be scary to take an honest look at yourself and allow yourself to heal. We in your Behavioral Health teams and your “Big Red One” hospital get it … we really do … and we will face that fear with you.

 

 

GETTING HELP

If you’re feeling suicidal, if you’re suffering in isolation, please call the Behavior Health team at 785-239-7208, call a buddy, call a Chaplain or call any medical professional or suicide hotline, and follow through with the visit.

 

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