Saturday, December 24, 2011

No more suicides

I have a pact with a couple of very close buddies. I call them buddies because to me, a buddy is more than a friend... it's the shortened form of "battle buddy" which is what we all learn in Basic Combat Training, is our military buddy. It's the person you're paired up with on Day Zero (the first day of Basic) and the person you go everywhere and do everything with. We never leave our Battle Buddies. After a while, the term gets shortened to "Battle" because it sounds way cool and that's what our Drill Sergeants called each other.

When you leave Basic, calling someone that becomes sooo "Basic Training" so you stop. I now just call them, "Buddies." It's a way to differentiate them from just "friends." My buddies are the guys I've served with. The ones whom I've either almost died along side, almost lost or who "get it." And I have an extremely small and close few (it gets smaller ever so often when one gets twitterpated but that's another story) that I know I can call no matter the time or day. They also know that they can call me. No matter what is happening or who we are with, we will take each others calls because we never know - we might be sitting at the bottom of a well or on the edge of a cliff.


After I realized what burn out was... I did what I always do when something doesn't feel right. I Googled it. I did a ton of reading, searching, discussing with others and although I came away with a much better understanding of what I was going through and how I ended up here, just finding the answers didn't help me feel better. In fact, I think I'm going to have to work a lot harder at feeling better after this malady.

And as life has a strange way of it, I started to see things around me differently. The people I talked to and observed started to exhibit the early symptoms of burn out. Messages came to me through various means and almost every day, I was hearing about something someone else had gone through and this began to deeply concern me.

I had a drink with someone I'd once considered a friend until the competitiveness in the veteran non-profit world made so many of those friendships uncomfortable. After we got through the niceties and the room temperature liquids started to take their affect, I learned that she'd attempted to take her life. I was in shock. I was completely taken aback and so greatly and desperately saddened by this. To think that not only had she gotten to that point, but I hadn't been there for her.

Many conversations like this were to follow. Whether it was news of a successful suicide, an attempt or a contemplation of it - I began to wonder if we're all a lot closer to it than we think. I had this vision while sitting in this dark place, that I now affectionately call 'burn out hell,' and while wondering where I'm at and how I got there, I look up and see so many people that I know riding freight trains that are barreling down the tracks, right toward me. I see so many of us headed here and that terrifies me. You don't want to be here. Please hear me when I beg you all to slow down.

So raising awareness about burn out is my new personal soap box lecture. I am seeing so much of it around me in my peers - especially those of us who work in veterans advocacy. Some have called this "founder burn out" and others have used "caregiver burn out." Whatever the label, the diagnosis is the same...

And that's another reason I'm re-opening the blog and opening up about my own, very personal, issues. We, as vets, are a proud group of people. We think we can handle everything on our own and those of us who have dedicated ourselves to serving our own after we get home, are some of the most stubborn and most proud. I'm outing myself. I'm outing us.

No more suicides. No more attempts. We're losing too many of us. I know I can't stop them all, but I also know I can't live with a clear conscience if I don't try... and right now, this is the only way I know how to try. By trying to be a better friend, a better listener and by being more present... maybe I can help. By being honest, being real and being more authentic, I can lead by example here and now. By not becoming a statistic and by fighting this, I can help others.

If I've learned anything over these last few months, I've learned that I've taken on a lot. So much more than any one person should have but that's not even the issue so much as it's that I didn't know how to take time for myself. When I was asked what goals I had for my life outside of AWV, I could think of none. When asked what was missing from my life... the only answer I could come up with, was me.

I am missing from my life. My goals, my dreams... me. I now know that not only do our vets need support and understanding when they come home but so do and perhaps more so do our very strong and very dedicated vets who've taken to task this business of ensuring that all the rest of us have it better.

And it's this realization and so many more that I believe is starting me on a very new and different path in this life. I don't know what it will end up looking like, but I do have some ideas. I also have a great deal of faith that one day at a time, one revelation at a time, I will end up exactly where I'm supposed to be, doing just what I'm supposed to be doing. And I can think of nothing that I would feel more honored to do than to help my fellow vets... I'm just not sure how to do that in the best way yet.

So many of you have been worried about me and I greatly appreciate your support and encouragement but please don't worry. Everything that's happening now, is just the beginning of something truly incredible. Remember the butterfly I wrote about in my last post?

I hope you all truly have a very merry and joyful holiday. Whether you celebrate the Christian holiday or not, I do hope you take the time to enjoy family and friends or in the very least, to do something for yourself.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

The internet diaries

I started blogging again back in August, knowing that it's something I've needed to do for quite some time but feeling terrified of getting back into it... and of exposing myself to the world. It's one thing to blog anonymously and something altogether intimidating to blog as yourself when you already have so many critics and people who'd garner great pleasure in seeing you fail.

Writing again is sort of like getting back on that horse... the one that betrayed my trust and showed me what fear really is.

When I wrote these earlier posts, I thought this blog would be about my journey with and in starting AWV... but so much has changed in the last few months. Even so, part of AWV's journey is undoubtedly tied to me - at least for now. Part of what I hope AWV will do and be for the women who are a part of it, is empowering, inspiring and life-changing. Would it not make sense that I get myself to the best place that I can for the sake of it all? And why not document it along the way? I'd never be able to recall everything at some later date so that I can use the experiences as teaching/learning points.

And that's what I really need to get into over the next few weeks - how I ended up here and where I'm going from this place.

So this blog is about me. Same as the original Army Girl blog from back in the day. It's a recording of my life.

Many people ask me why I'd blog about myself... insinuating that it's a purely ego driven act. Perhaps that's more of a reason than I care to admit but it's also fear driven. I fear that I won't remember. I've always had a terrible memory but with the pace of my life and the amount of stress I succumb myself to, I've forgotten so much more.

But why blog publicly? Why not? I've always believed that no matter what hell we go through, the least we can do is share empathy with others and give them hope that they can come through it and things will truly, get better. Even as a child when I couldn't make sense of the insanity that was going on around me, I knew that there were other kids who were just as confused as I was. I wanted to show them the way through that...

And now, as I sit in hiding - from my friends, family, the organization and myself... I know that I will get through this dark period and things will truly, get better. I also know that I'm not alone in this place and whether misery truly does covet company, there are others who were here before me, many that are here now and several more who will pass this way. For those that will allow me, I want to show them the way through this so they don't have to go it alone.

For what is happiness, suffering, love, joy and fear? What is it to experience life and to be human if we are to do it alone?

I've spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to be someone I'm not. I expended a great deal of energy and resources trying to be what others told me I needed to be, to do the work I want to do. I pushed myself to meet the expectations of people, companies, entities, often without any encouragement.

Not anymore. It didn't serve my purpose and it certainly hasn't served AWV's.

I arrived to an emergency room visit, alone. I'd felt that I needed to make some dramatic changes or I was going to end up extremely ill or worse but laying in an emergency room hooked up to wires, machines, and an IV - I could/can no longer ignore the calling. I've escaped to a place where I can take the time I need to do a lot of thinking, journaling, exploring and discovering... not to mention, reprogramming. Martha Beck would say that I've gone into my cocoon and I think that's a far better way to describe this.

In the past, I'd call life transitions or growing pains "molting." This is not the same. Nothing about it feels like I've just outgrown my skin. This feels so completely like everything about me is dissolving in much the same way that a caterpillar that's entered a cocoon becomes complete mush so that its cells can reform to create something entirely different. I'm not sure I'll be much of a butterfly when all's said and done but what I do know is that whatever happens, I could no longer stay a caterpillar.

It seems it's possible after all, to stop yourself from hitting rock bottom. I want to make sure I share that experience with others despite what my critics will say and how they might use this against me.

It's interesting that part of the change I'm going through includes coming back to this blog... That's a good sign that I'm not going to completely lose me, right? Although I've a feeling that for some of the people that have only known me the last few years, this might be somewhat of a shock to you. Don't worry, it's perfectly okay to read my diary when I put it on the internet...

Photo & Blog © 2011 Genevieve Chase