Depression seems to be one of those widely talked about things, that is completely unknown or atleast misunderstood by most people. It can easily be seen as a “sign of weakness”, a phase that requires you to “get over (it)”, or something that requires there to be a causing event (grief, trauma, etc). One of the greatest facts about me that I don’t talk about to most people, is the tug-of-war battle I have everyday with depression. This post isn’t a cry-out, nor is it an inspirational message to say “you can do it”, it’s just a series of my thoughts and experiences being written to offer up what depression looks like to me.
I wish I could put my finger on where depression started. For most, it’s quite an easy thing to say: “Aug 30th when your brothers-in-arms died!” Yeah that would definitely be a great place to it, after a year of smooth sailings, the aroma of invincibility could be smelled for miles away. The 173rd in Logar providence was conducting routine patrols when one of the trucks hit an IED, killing all four passengers, our brothers. Like many in our unit, this will a day that will never be forgotten for us.
I remember basically every feeling one could feel during the grieving process, the one to top them all, is survivor’s guilt. You see, for all of my deployment, my chance of running a Company-led Intel group (Company Intel Support Team, or CoIST) was thrown out the window when my unit joined me in Afghanistan. Months of preparing and anxiety to use my new found skills and training was traded up for being placed into our “TOC” (Tactical Ops Center) with my Company’s Leadership and manning the radios. While my description doesn’t do it justice, I basically sat in a corner with 6 monitors, 4 radios, and multiple different systems running for 12hours a day/365 days a year. I was a machine as much as my computers were, being able to multi-task like no other, constantly listening to every traffic over the radios, monitoring intel traffic, maps, etc. I was incomparable to anyone else that we knew, and I didn’t really have anyplace to go.
Obviously, I can’t do this day and night, though I have spent many 36hour duties, so come the end of my 12hours I’d typically switch out with my relief. My relief was normally people on extra duty, or medical people who are on profile. We never really had a position that anyone trained for, so this was one of those positions we had to just come up with.
Well the guilt comes in to play with two facts, both as absurd as the other one for obvious reasons:
- The IED explosion happened just 2hours after I gotten off shift. I was in bed and asleep comfortable and safe, dreaming of the good life. I was awoken to the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) being spun up, and charged over to the TOC to help man the radios.
- I initially was part of the platoon that was on mission that day, only to be pulled out and put into HQ Platoon during deployment. I then spent the entirety of my deployment having never left the wire except for 3x with the previous unit, and 1x with the platoon a few months later. I was always on base, safe, with bunkers even built around my corner in the office. (No lie, my 1SG built a wooden cubicle and filled the walls with sandbags to offer protection. I stayed in this rather than run to a bunker during IDF (In-Direct Fire, mortar attacks)).
Any reasonable person can see the lunacy of these two thought-processes. Survivor’s Guilt is one of those things that I really hate, because while you’re going through it, everything you say sounds logical and makes crystal clear sense. It’s only afterwards of some time do you realize how far wrong you are. You couldn’t have prevented it, you didn’t cause it, and at best a change of events could have only made it worse. Nothing actually rids you of the pain, but over time, I found acceptance for what happened. You can’t change the past, so accept that it happened, and move on. Find more beautiful memories to overcome the terrible ones.
Death of the family
Perhaps though, maybe the germ of my depression started long before the Army. Another day that will live in infamy for me is the day that my grandfather (G.D) passed away. A great man from all accounts that I knew of him, he was some what of an idol for me. He lived with his own pain, having terrible PTSD from Vietnam, a constant drinker, and in the end, suffering many of our summers together with the symptoms of a stroke. One stroke too many, and possibly too many years of constant alcohol, caused him to believe in the years of the Wild West being the current present day.
This was also a great amusement for us kids though, as we were raised to be “Cowboys” with G.D, learning to pan for gold, camping, shooting, everything a Cowboy needed to be a man. Each one of us male kids in the family had a cowboy hat, lived our summer preferring boots to shoes, and a wide variety of blue jeans. At night, he’d challenge my knowledge with far-reaching theories of life, space, and science. We’d spend many moons looking to the stars for answers, talking up about history, and enjoying the serenity of a quiet nature unpolluted with cars, city lights, and people.
The day he passed away in Arizona was also the day I was an 8th grader, attending a Junior Highschool wedding with a family friend. I’ll always remember this day for that reason. I was finally a big man, hanging out with people 3years older than me, and being passed off as one of them. The night was a great night for me, one of the highest moments I felt in a long time. However, much like experiences that G.D theorized and explained that he felt, I remember standing on the dance floor and feeling some a sense of loss. Slow dancing with a pretty girl, playing an Junior-imposter, loss is the last thing you should feel.
I just remember staring out, around the room, and thinking of my grandfather. What I think I was thinking at the time was how I wish he could see me now. He’d probably standing off to the side, where some people’s family would be giving the thumbs up, he’d be motioning to tell me to grab her ass. The loss would be knowing he’s not there to see it, for he lived in Arizona compared to me in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until later that week I found out he had passed soon after.
This sorta coincides with the same experience my granddad explained to me when his parents died. How he told the story was that he was up in the mountains and out of the corner of his eye he saw his Mom there. She was at peace and the experience brought comfort to him.
The loss of my grandfather definitely brought a change onto me. I remember many summers that I would hear my family ask about me because of how closed off I was when we flew out. Admittedly, I took it out on my parents and grandmother the hardest. My parents for not telling me when he passed, and not bringing me with them to fly out for his funeral. My grandmother for not being able to talk to her, in the same fashion as G.D., but also because we were missing an integral part of the equation without him. Normally with my grandmom, was my granddad. Now it was time to learn how to have one without the other.
It took many years to grow up from this thinking, and understand the logic of it all. What a trauma it would have been to fly in only to have G.D pass right before our eyes, or to have him already gone. This trauma itself wouldn’t happen for another few years when exactly that happened with my other grandfather: He passed mid-drive down to see him, with me and my sister to hear the news. We were only 30minutes out. So I understand the decision that was made, and fortunately wisedom definitely comes with age, my grandmother understood the pain I was going through.
My grandmom and I would forge our own new bonds, where G.D and I had cowboys and mountains, she and I had Germany. Germany being a place and people I love almost as much as I do my own country.
So depression could have been witnessed there, maybe the germ to start it all off. Only to be put into hibernation with the next 4years of highschool where I re-defined myself, and then 2 years in the army until the aforementioned IED attack. So, I guess the question remains, what is depression for me?
This post will be continued later to look into that.