‘Facing Stigma’ with Mike K.

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“I grew up just outside of Seattle in a rather economically depressed community. The military offered a unique vehicle out of that situation and I knew college wasn’t in the cards for me. I joined the Navy in 1999 at 17 years old. As an Aviation Boatswains Mate, I was responsible for the safe movement, launch, and recovery of aircraft. In September 2001, my aircraft responded to New York on 9/11. We watched the second tower crumble from our satellite television and then were called back to the flight deck to prepare to head north. We woke up in the morning in New York Harbor and you could really smell and see everything that was going on. We stayed there for two or three days before taking a posture off the East Coast helping security air space. In 2002, we deployed for the Afghanistan campaign. We were tasked with launching bombers and aircrafts to protect ground force operations. After that we were gearing up to be deployed again in 2004 to Iraq when a critical incident happened on September 11, 2003. We had an arresting gear break on the flight deck which is the worst thing that can really happen up there. That’s the first time something like that had happened in decades in the Navy. Essentially there’s a large cable with a hook and when an aircraft lands at 180 mph, the hook attaches and brings the aircraft to a halt. On this particular day, when the cable snapped, it took out everything in its way and caused significant mass casualties. The military was different back then and we weren’t used to dealing with stuff like that in the Navy so there was no stopping or assessing anything before deploying again in 2004. We were tasked with supporting ground operations again from the Persian Gulf. I actually ended up losing another friend on that deployment that was killed in a mishap by an aircraft. I was involved in life saving efforts, but once he passed, we had to move his remains and go back to work. When you’re deployed, you get so distracted with what you’re doing and focused on the mission that you don’t have time to process the trauma.

I feel like I came home with those traumas and tried to deal with it myself; I would turn on the television and see everything unfolding globally in 2003 and found it hard to take my own issues seriously in the midst of that. After I decided to separate, I went from handling multi-million dollar aircrafts and being in charge of 20 guys to just being another person that’s just a name on an application. It’s odd to go from being an important person on an air carrier flight deck to being a nobody. I knew I had a lot to offer and luckily got onto the police department where I’ve been an officer for 16 years; however, everything I had internalized culminated last year. On May 28, 2019 I was planning on taking my life at work. I hadn’t really slept much in two or three days and that morning I decided I was going to do it. We had the qualifying range that day and my plan was to peel off and do it while everyone else went to the range. Before going out, a colleague asked if I was ok and I lied and said yes. Then once we got outside a supervisor locked eyes with me and I broke down and told him I needed to go to the hospital. I went to EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and did a month of intensive outpatient which helped a lot. My department was really supportive and allowed me to make my way back slowly. Ironically, before the incident one of my mentors at the department introduced me to Headstrong and after I got help, I decided to reach out. Part of being able to make a 180 was understanding and acknowledging that my issues wouldn’t ruin things for me personally or professionally; confronting those issues really enriched my life rather than disrupted it. I think what stands out to me about Headstrong is the incredible amount of care that I received from the organization. MaryAlyce personally brought a level of sincerity and care to our therapy sessions that really provided an environment for me to be honest and acknowledge the things I hadn’t for a very long time. Through individual therapy and EMDR, she really provided a lot of support during that healing process. I owe a lot of where I’m at today to her and Headstrong”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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