This may seem like a strange thing to say but one of the steps to good mental health is allowing yourself to enjoy life and be happy. While we would be pleased if everyone were happy all of the time our focus at No Fallen Heroes is to reduce and then eliminate veteran suicide. And one of the keys to reducing veteran suicide is to reduce the risk factors that contribute to suicide and depression and poor mental health rank high as risk factors for suicide.
Allowing Yourself to Enjoy Civilian Life After Life in the Military
Some military service members never really leave the military even though they retire, go back home, and find a successful life. People generally believe that those who served the nation in uniform, risked their lives, lost friends, and spent much of their lives away from their families deserve satisfying and happy civilian lives. What many do not think of is that service members take memories of traumatic events in their military lives back with them to civilian life. At the extreme veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (11% to 20% of veterans) but even those without PTSD often feel guilty to have survived combat situations in which they lost comrades.
What Is PTSD?
The central aspect of PTSD is the inability to recover from the trauma of a terrifying event that one experienced or witnessed. Post-traumatic stress disorder can last for months, years, or a lifetime. Memories of past trauma are commonly triggered by experiences in civilian life and bring on strong physical and emotional reactions. Veterans with PTSD commonly avoid situations that tend to provoke flashbacks. Successful treatment of PTSD involves psychotherapy along with drugs like psychedelic medicines that all the patient to relax, remember past events without panicking, and then sorting out the past from the present with the goal of living a PTSD-free and happy life.
Viewing Happiness As a Bad Thing
Some of us were raised in families where the goal was to prepare us for difficulties to come and the focus was on hard work, discipline, self-denial, and never on the ability to enjoy life as it comes. All too often when a person such as this enters the military they focus on the disciple, hard work, and performance of tasks to the exclusion of the comradery which is also present. When they leave the military, they lose much of the performance and discipline-based reinforcement that the military gave them. Learning to take it easy, enjoy civilian life can be a chore which they never can conquer. This all too often leads to sadness, depression, and isolation. Life may look good on the outside but on the inside the vet finds himself or herself hating themself, hating civilian life and even entertaining suicidal thoughts.
Putting Loss in the Past
Death and injury are facts of military service. A service member gets to know people, makes friends, and then loses them in combat, training accidents, or from taking their own lives. Service members are responsible people and commonly feel responsible for the death or injury of their comrades. With time most vets sort this out but not everyone does this successfully. Debilitating depression or PTSD can be the result of being unable to put loss in the past. A vet feels like they are abandoning their buddy again and again and the act of regret becomes self-reinforcing. The point of therapy is to sort out the past and separate it from the present. We are happy with the research in use of targeted therapy with psychedelic medicines that helps relieve the stress and apprehension too often associated with recalling past loss.
Whether the goal is to treat a condition such as PTSD or depression or simply to enjoy the fruits of one military labors, don’t feel bad about being happy. Your served your country and you deserve to enjoy the rest of your life!