‘Facing Stigma’ with Spencer M.

“Both of my grandfathers served in WWII and my mom’s father was predominantly my mentor growing up. He was a submariner during the war and the way he lived his life was something that I wanted to emulate. After going to college for a bit and realizing it wasn’t for me, I made the decision to join. I enlisted in the Army as an Airborne Infantryman and left for boot camp in 2006. I was deployed within six months because we were involved with the surge during that time. We went out almost every day and got pretty lucky on that first deployment because we didn’t lose anybody in our unit. However, one day while I was the gunner in our lead truck, we hit a few barriers. Due to the impact, I hit my face on everything around me as I was thrown around my turret. Once we got back to base, I went to the med-shed and they said I was just rattled but would be good to go back out the next morning. After that I really started to notice some things going on but I just chalked it up to being at war. I returned home and after my results came back from a few post deployment surveys, they called me in to get checked out. My MRI results showed a mass on my brain and I was given a six-month terminal diagnosis. I found myself seven months later at 80 pounds heavier and on 23 pills 2x a day. I was basically bed ridden and having seizures and migraines all the time. I started drinking heavily and was in one of the darkest and most miserable times of my life. Thankfully my family fought for a second opinion and I was sent to UC San Francisco for 3+ months. I came to find out I was misdiagnosed and didn’t need to be on 90% of the medication. I was so elated by the news that I fought my way through the system to get cleared and then three to four months later I was in Afghanistan.

Seven months into the deployment, I was hurt again after a child suicide bomber detonated his vest ten feet from me. Luckily for my platoon his vest was on inside out, otherwise myself and some teammates of mine may not be here right now. A few of us were evacuated to Kandahar and I was back stateside a few weeks after that. I was seen at Womack Army Medical Center for my TBI for the first time and I was again being seen by the same providers who had misdiagnosed me the first time so it was a stressful time for me. I was quickly sent to Walter Reed, I was depressed and in pain so I was on a lot of medication again. I was drinking heavily again too and still not seeing anybody to get healthy. If my wife had not been pregnant during that time, I don’t know how I would have made it through or if I would have looked for help. Suicide felt like a realistic option! I finally received help while I was at the NICoE for a four-week inpatient program. I feel like that along with my wife’s pregnancy really saved my life. I medically retired in 2013 so I didn’t see another healthcare provider for two years because I thought I was good to go. I never thought to go to a mental health provider for maintenance or to avoid any future issues. It wasn’t until three years ago when I fell back into a funk that I decided to make it a routine priority. I reached out to Headstrong and within a week I had my first appointment. I’ve been going on and off ever since. Headstrong provides an opportunity for mental health maintenance that is really important and keeps me going to this day. Now that I am a Director at The Marcus Institute for Brain Health (a TBI treatment program for Veterans), I’m proud to partner with Headstrong and continue to give back to the veteran community on a united front. Mental Healthcare does not need to only be used at times of crisis and it’s an honor to continue advocating for those Veterans still in need.”

To provide mental health treatment to veterans like Spencer, please consider donating to the Headstrong Project at https://getheadstrong.org/

Healing the hidden wounds of war