Ten years ago I was in a downward spiral. I just finished up my five year enlistment in the United States Air Force. I was trying to transition into being a civilian and I soon realized how different military life was.
I struggled with my self-worth. I went from being in charge of all combat flying missions to working a mundane job. I lost all of my self-worth. I constantly felt that I reached my peak. I would never find another job as important and exciting. I was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety but I didn’t believe it. I never took my prescribed medication. I assumed I was just having a tough time transitioning to my new life and I would snap out of it. I was wrong!
I started looking for anything to give me that rush I had in the military. I started spending money more recklessly than MC Hammer. I would buy new cars and boats, expecting these items to get me out of my funk. I would get the initial rush, but it would soon subside and I would fall deeper in my depression. I would stay awake all night with negative thoughts racing through my mind. That led me to drinking a 12 pack every night just so I could get to sleep.
I started to realize that my social anxiety and depression was more serious than I thought. I started isolating myself and I trained my mind to only feel comfortable at home. I would go to work and come home. The only way I would leave the house is if I was going to a bar. And if I was going to a bar, I would have to be drunk before I even got there. It was my confidence in a bottle. For a short time I would feel like my old self. But that feeling would only last as long as my buzz would last. I realized I needed to start seeking professional help and start taking my medication. I was turning into a non-funny version of Frank the Tank.
Over the next few years I went through every medication known to man. I was starting to lose faith. I started missing work and isolating myself from my friends and family more and more. I was embarrassed about my social anxiety and depression. I started to feel like I would never get better when I stumbled upon a flyer at the VA hospital about a hockey program for disabled veterans. I was sick of drinking every night and I was desperate for a change. Without giving myself time to talk myself out of it, I went to a practice and I have been hooked ever since.
The program started with about 6 skaters and a goalie. We would meet up every week and play hockey for a couple of hours. The program was just what I needed. Not only did hockey help relieve my negative stress, it also provided me with the camaraderie I missed so much from the military. We all had similar issues and we didn’t judge each other. Soon the program began to grow. Within a year we had enough disabled veterans to fill three teams. We would go play other cities veteran teams and it soon felt like a big military family. I still had severe social anxiety & depression but when I would walk into the rink that would melt away.
Unfortunately, I would slip back into my habits whenever we would have a break between games or practice. I was now seeing my doctor 1-2 times a week and taking my medication as prescribed. I again started to feel frustrated. I was happy that I found joy in hockey, but I couldn’t play 24-7. I was still a mess. One day I was walking out of my doctor’s office when I saw a teammate from the hockey team. I was mortified. I began to panic, I had to come up with a lie as to why I was leaving the mental health clinic. I think I told him I was getting a penile reduction just to spare myself the humiliation of him knowing I was sick.
Believe it or not, he didn’t buy it. He was also there for help and for the first time in my life I told someone (besides a doctor) about my mental health struggles. It was a freeing experience. Not only to get it off my chest, but to know I wasn’t alone. He told me about how going to group therapy had helped him and convinced me to give it a try. In fairness, my doctor was already on my case about starting CBT & DBT groups but this was the push I needed. He even went to the first couple of groups with me to make sure I went.
I went to group therapy for two years before I moved. I really enjoyed it. It taught me a lot of important lessons I carry with me today. I recently moved to Florida and we do not have the same hockey program down here. I had a lot of idle time in my hands, and more importantly, a lot of idle time in my mind. I started to slip into a deep depression and I shut myself out to the rest of the world. I once again needed help. I took myself into the hospital and started getting therapy.
I have been in Florida for over two years now. I play golf with a veterans group every Friday and I volunteer with the sled hockey team on weekends. I still have severe depression and social anxiety but I am grateful have found some healthy hobbies to keep me on the road to recovery. My medication may always be a work in progress but with sports therapy, counseling, and meeting regularly with my psychiatrist, I am confident I have to tools to keep me from losing my battle with mental health.
About the Author: Joe Guz
Joe Guz is a military veteran who writes a humorous blog about living life with anxiety and depression at Guz Gets a Buzz.
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