September 22nd is National Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention Day

At the risk of Too Much Information (TMI), I'd like to share something that I've never talked about with anyone other than my wife.

Here's the backstory: a few years ago I was diagnosed with Essential Tremors, which is a disorder with hand & feet tremors that resembles a non-fatal form of Parkinson's Disease. I had hoped to retire one day and be able to tinker with electronics or play my array of musical instruments, but now I suddenly found myself in my mid-50s and facing the very real possibility that I might not be able to hold a pencil or a fork in a few years.

I went through all of the stages of grief; at first I was in denial, and then I was viciously angry at God. I kept asking Him, "Why me?" and "Why couldn't you just kill me?" It was humiliating each time I had to ask my wife to help me eat, or when I had to pull off the road and ask my wife to drive because my feet wouldn't do what they were supposed to. It was even more embarrassing when I was at a restaurant with family or friends and I kept missing when I tried to feed myself.

I eventually launched into a major depression, and all of this happened at a time when my job took a major nosedive; I was overworked and had a boss who had no idea who I was or what I did. As each day grew worse than the last, I finally reached the breaking point, and I want no sympathy for this - but I had my note written, I had all my accounts in order, I had all my passwords printed out so my wife wouldn't have to look for anything, and I had a noose all set to go. I'm great at tying nooses; I learned how to tie an ultra-secure noose as a Boy Scout, so I had everything tested and ready in our garage where I knew that nothing was going to fail on me.

I was literally within minutes of stepping into that noose when I was somehow distracted by something; to this day I don't recall what it was, but I stepped away and never stepped back.

I eventually found a doctor who put me on the right medications to manage my tremors, and I found a counselor to help me pass through the final stages of grief - from depression into acceptance. Now I look back at what almost happened and think, "Holy crap - what was I thinking?" But the truth is, when you're that depressed, you can't think. And you don't WANT to think. You just want it to end. In hindsight, I should have sought help sooner: I should have seen the doctor sooner, I should have seen the counselor sooner, and I should have told my wife that despite my day to day appearance, I really wasn't handling my situation.

When I think back on my time in the military, I realize that soldiers are taught to be completely self-sufficient, and I think that makes it hard for veterans to ask for help. But if we veterans are honest with ourselves, we were never completely self-sufficient. In every duty station where I served, I was surrounded by awesome folks who knew exactly where I was at, and we all helped each other. Oh sure, there was the occasional jerk or two in each unit that we couldn't trust, but for the most part - we were surrounded by people who understood all the ups and downs that we were facing.

Now that my situation has changed for the better, I've found a support group for my tremors where I can hear from other people that have gone through what I'm going through, and it really helps. To be honest, that's also why I love a veterans group that I belong to. There are parts of my life that no one outside the fraternity of the Armed Forces will understand, like why I laugh out loud every time I see a yellow bird lying dead outside a window. But all of my fellow veterans get it.

To finish off this post, I'm doing great now - and I've learned to take each day one at a time. I don't mean to make light of anyone's burden, but I look at the following images all the time. The image on the right reminds me that I shouldn't try to do everything alone, and the image on the left reminds me that the same drive and determination that enabled me to endure and do amazing things in my youth is still there, and I can tap into that drive and determination in order to help me make it through the stupid things I face today.


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