Minot Air Force Base, N.D. --
“It’s 3am and I hate myself.” That was a message I typed to myself on my phone after a night of crying with no sleep. I remember typing it with tears running down my face and my nose snotting. I was in agony every day. I didn’t want to wake up and when I did, I just wanted to go back to sleep. Every step to start the day was painful only thinking about having to hold myself together while I was at work, and there were many days I had no idea how long I’d be working.
My story starts with my application to become a Military Training Instructor. I was so energized and excited at the thought of having the impact on new trainees; the same impact my MTI had on me. I joined the military initially because I wanted to improve myself, and now as an MTI, I was thrilled at the thought to impart that same desire on others. As a former reservist, I had to submit an application and complete an interview before possibly being selected. I remember practicing my interview answers over and over again. I wanted this and I wasn’t going to rest until I was selected. I talked about my desire to have a tangible impact on trainees and the ability to better myself in the process blah, blah, blah. A few days later I received a phone call that I was selected and I couldn’t contain my excitement. It felt like my dreams were coming true and I was hitting the high point of my life. It was the beginning of my downward spiral.
I began training to become an MTI and through the experience, earned an “Excellence in Instruction” award by graduation I made strong, powerful connections with my classmates that I hope are still strong today. Admittedly, my mental wellness has kept me from continuing the connections I’ve made during this time. Thinking back, there’s a short moment where I felt so passionate and so alive. Being an MTI invigorated me and I was so happy and excited to wake up every morning. Unfortunately, this was a short moment in my time on this assignment.
I still to this day can not identify when it started; all I remember is not feeling like myself. It was subtle; I didn’t feel very assertive or as confident as normal. This started to spiral into more. More self-doubt, more anxiety, more self-hate, more internal pain. I didn’t want anyone to notice and I tried to hide it. I did this by throwing myself into my work, even though I always felt like I was phoning it in. I was lucky to be identified for several professional opportunities but I never thought I merited even half of what I received. During each of the awards ceremonies, I was astonished to be standing beside such impressive people.
When I was with my flights, I refused to let them see my internal weakness because I needed to be strong for them. I needed to motivate them in uncomfortable conditions, and I needed to be their rock. There’s one moment I remember my own pain bubbling through the surface.
I just taught my flight how to make beds and we were doing bed drills to improve their speed. I don’t remember much, all I remember is I needed to be alone. The urge to be away from others was stronger than I’ve ever felt. My chest got tight and I needed to be in my flight office for just a moment. I gave feedback here and there then started the timer again and left the bays. Normally, I’d be giving tips and tricks to my trainees or talking with my dorm chief or element leaders to help them see the bigger picture and fix issues before they became issues. But I couldn’t be there. I needed to be by myself. I closed my office door and closed my eyes and breathed and counted in my head. I don’t remember how long I was in my flight office, but I remember being out before my timer went off, so it must have been less than 15 minutes. I cried in my car on my way home that day. It was the first time my personal issues ever surfaced in a real way at my job.
Despite my internal struggles, I went on to earn my “Blue Rope,” Master Instructor Badge, and multiple awards. I was selected to lead several projects, teams and tours. I never felt worthy of the tasks I was given or accolades I received. Each new endorsement of my work ethic pushed me deeper into a dark spiral that I can’t explain.
I suffered in silence for about two years before I finally went to behavioral health. I had been given the position of instructor supervisor and with not only trainees but now MTIs also relying on me, I finally prioritized my mental health. After several appointments, I met with my doctor and talked about prescription medication for my issues. I began medication and it was a night and day difference. I still didn’t feel like myself, but I was no longer in agony. It was like a huge weight was lifted and I could breathe again.
Currently, I’m still on medication that I may be on for the rest of my life. I tried tapering off my medication with my doctor’s guidance, but it didn’t go well and we resumed my regular dosage. I have an emotional support dog who loves being by my side and brings a smile to my face. It is work every day to maintain my mental health, but I will continue to give my mind and body the healthy attention it deserves.