Sometimes the helper needs help
“It is my duty, as an air rescueman, to save life and aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE.”
This is the code of Air Force Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), my profession, and a sentiment that reflects much of my life. From 6 years of volunteer firefighting and EMS, to my 12 years in the USAF as a Combat Systems Officer (CSO) on HC-130’s the CSAR version of the C-130 cargo plane. I have spent my entire adult life even starting in High School training and preparing in hopes that I can prevent someone’s worst day from becoming their last. I have been blessed with the opportunity to do this a few times as well, and it is a level or rewarding bested only by being a husband and father. My life is dedicated to helping others, but sometimes, I need help.
I was always able to deal with the traumatic experiences my work has put me through by leaning on friends who understand. This is often the first line of help one can get and it is VITAL even if not always sufficient. Whether it was my first dead body, or seeing an unconscious classmates broken face wedged between the dash and windshield of her car 2 days after graduation, my many close calls, or losing a close friend; I could always find help and relief in the arms and ears of my friends and family. They gave me the strength and support to ensure post traumatic stress never became PTSD. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. All of these events gave me nightmares; sometimes for a night, sometimes for a week, occasionally for a month. There would be sadness, depression, anxiety. But all of this would fade with time and help.
But what about when that wasn’t enough? For the last 4-5 years I have been struggling with bouts of depression and anxiety. Nothing new, except that it was not tied to anything. I couldn’t get past it because I didn’t have a trauma, life event, or anything else I could associate it with and thus, could not worth through the cause.
In the early days I just shrugged it off, pushed through and got on with life. But the episodes were getting worse, and more frequent. After years of this I was sick and tired, I needed help. After all, being a good husband and father are my top priorities, and this was degrading that ability…
But… I’m a military aviator…
Now, no doubt some of you think you know where this is going. After all, you have seen movies about military aviation, aviators are macho, tough, so surely there is a stigma with getting help! No, actually there isn’t, in fact we share our feelings with each other pretty regularly. No, I was scared I would be grounded from flying and bound to a desk either temporarily or permanently. But enough was enough.
With the encouragement of my wife, I made an appointment with the aviation psychiatrist at my unit. He reassured me that grounding was unlikely and only even a possibility if I was diagnosed with a mental illness. Ok, so now I am less worried!
So I opened up about how I was feeling with the psychiatrist. He gave me some great techniques for dealing with the depression and anxiety such as mindfulness and grounding that have been helping. I have follow up appointments to keep working on this and life is already getting better
Emboldened by that experience, at my annual flight physical with the flight surgeon the next week, I discussed the issue with her as well. She asked some questions about other aspects of my health and determined we should check my red blood count and vitamin D levels. My RBC was in normal limits but low considering I live at 5500ft above sea level and do a lot of running and mountain biking. Probably not contributing to the issue but worth addressing. We also checked my iron which is good so I am now on a B complex supplement. But the real concern was my vitamin D, it was severely low. I never would have thought of it as I spend a ton of time outside. But one of the symptoms is mood swings and depression (hmmm… sounds familiar). So now I am on a high dose vitamin D supplement.
After 5 years of suffering and worrying I would lose my flight status, my fear was unfounded, and what I needed was vitamin D and professional counseling. My only regret is that I didn’t seek help sooner.
Please, if you are struggling, even if it is something you have handled without issue before, reach out. Talk to a friend or loved one. If that doesn’t work, or is insufficient, seek professional help. Please don’t suffer in silence. I am still flying, still doing my job, but I am now also a happier and healthier person on the road to further improvement. And most of all, I am able to be the best husband and father I can be.
Thanks for reading,
I am so impressed with your extreme bravery and selflessness. I am also so proud of you and feel privileged to say you are my cousin.
I am so glad you sought and received the help you needed. I am very happy that you are physically and mentally better now.
It was an honor to read your letter and learn of your amazing service to your community and country. I wish you all the best that life can bring to you and your family.
Thanks Shelley! I am definitely glad we have been able to connect and get to know each other a bit in recent years! My work has genuinely been my pleasure and honor, and it is a major relief that I did not have to choose between my work and my health in this case.
First I thank you for your service. My family’s history is synonymous with service to the military so I know how important your service is.
Like you I too have suffered depression. Also like you I have lived with a severe vitamin d deficiency. My levels were so low that I was given 50,000 IU pills to take on several different occasions. I currently take 5,000 IU a day just to keep my level in a respectable range.
Your courage to seek out help is inspiring for so many. Often times especially in roles such as yours people expect you to be emotionless because the situations you face cannot be done with extenuating factors. Your bravery not only to answer the call to service, but to serve those who might make a final roll call at Dover otherwise is nothing short of incredible.
It’s ok to need help, that was a lesson I learned incredibly hard myself so I understand completely. I’m proud that you’ve made the same realization I took ever so long to make. I also am proud that you’ve shared your story with us here. It is important that our stories are shared because somewhere someone may read them and finally make their own steps out from the shadows. That is the greatest thing we can do for others.
Bryan, First of all thank you so very much for your service. This piece is such a testament to your strength and courage. I think it takes a lot of both to go get the help you need, especially when you don’t even understand the root of the problem. I am so happy that you are feeling better. It’s is so important to express yourself. And I am so glad you have the courage and confidence to do so. Thank you for sharing your story. I am certain that it going to help more people than you even know.
Thank you for being a part of our Unsealed family and for sharing your story.
Thanks! Because of my past I have very good coping mechanisms and techniques for dealing with a known source of trauma, depression, stress, or anxiety. A lot of it came from counselors during my firefighting days and from family and friends who had been there and done that. But ai was completely at a loss for what do do when the source was unknown.
Mental health is so tricky sometimes. Nothing can chance, and suddenly it can hit you all at once. It won’t let me share the link. But put in the search box “To all the people I could not save” His story reminds me quite a bit of yours.