Category Archives: veterans

Is it just a Blue Christmas?

Is it Christmas blues or could it be depression

Sometimes signs are all around us and yet seeing them is difficult. The holidays can be a time of mixed emotion for anyone. For those of us who serve, those feelings can be compounded. Sadness can hide in the glow of holiday lights and loneliness most certainly lurks in places far from home. So, how do you tell the difference between a Blue Christmas and depression?

If you’ve been around here much you will likely know that I’m a Navy veteran. You may even know that I have a son currently serving in the Marine Corps. What you likely don’t know is that I suffered from my first bout of depression while I was on active duty.  

Because I have the unique perspective of someone who served during a time of war, having been a military spouse, and now being a Marine mom, Med-IQ reached out to me for help in spreading the word about how to recognize the symptoms of depression – or major depressive disorder. Through this sponsored post I hope to shine some light on the signs of depression and dispel some myths along the way.

Looking back I wish that I’d understood that what I was going through wasn’t just homesickness. I wouldn’t have put so much blame for my sadness on being half a globe away from home. Maybe I’d have recognized that it wasn’t all Bing Crosby’s fault even though every damn time I visited the chow hall that December, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” seemed to be in an endless loop – that is just cruel! The truth was I’d been spiraling downward far before that holiday season began.

With the benefit of hindsight and talking with Dr. Leslie Citrome, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College, I now understand that I’d been experiencing some of the signs of depression for months. I now know that things like changes in sleep patterns, pervasive sadness, loss of interest in things once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating and feelings of hopelessness are all signs of depression and not just the blues – Christmas or otherwise.

I served in the early nineties, a time when seeking help for mental illness meant an almost sure smudge on your record. Even if I’d known that I was going through was depression, I would never have sought help in that environment. The good news is that these days the military has gotten a bit better at allowing active duty members to seek mental health care. A bit.

There is still a long way to go. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is getting more attention, the fact is that those with PTSD tend to also suffer from depression. The two are not one in the same. Those with PTSD have higher rates of anxiety, are more irritable and have more difficulty sleeping, which can also mean that the signs of major depressive disorder go undiagnosed. PTSD and depression often travel together. 

Knowing the signs to look for can help us distinguish the difference between just having a Blue Christmas – which let’s face it, the holidays aren’t the same when you serve – and suffering from depression. Recognizing a bout of homesickness from the beginnings of an illness is only one part of the mission. We all need to do a better job of dispelling myths that create a stigma around those who suffer from mental illnesses because ignorance can be costly.

Though rates of suicide in the military have decreased since an all-time high in 2012, the rate at which members of the military take their own lives still far outpaces that of the general public. In my own military family, we’ve experienced two suicides attempts in the last year. One successful and two too many.

 

The truth is that if you have major depressive disorder, you are sick in the same way that someone who has cancer, diabetes or heart disease is sick. There is nothing defective about you. Whether it is genetics or environment that caused your illness, you didn’t bring this on yourself.

Those of us who serve have had each other’s backs time and again to complete the mission. I’m asking that we do the same in this mission of spreading awareness. Knowing the enemy is the first step. Med-IQ, in conjunction with Dr. Citrome, has developed a quick and confidential survey to learn how much we as a military community, as caregivers and even as civilians understand about depression.

This survey does not collect your personal information; it is completely confidential and secure. It is a quick (10 minutes tops) and easy way to help us help each other. You could also win one of 10 $100 VISA gift cards for your participation. To keep your response confidential and still participate in the drawing, simply email surveydepression@gmail.com and let them know you’ve completed the survey and would like your shot at winning. START YOUR SURVEY

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, don’t think you are alone. There is help out there. Veterans and their families can reach out to ptsd.va.gov . If you believe you are suffering from holiday-related depression, visit the Mayo Clinic for resources. Also, avoid Bing Crosby at all costs, haha.

 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through a grant from Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. and Lundbeck to write about depression awareness. All my opinions are my own.

*These links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any healthcare provider or practice. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

don’t thank me for my service

Grills are firing up, traffic is piling up, and the cost of a mattress is dropping. It must mean that Memorial Day is nearly upon us. As you hang a flag or pack a bag I ask that you also remember what the day is intended to celebrate and… don’t thank me for my service. 

If you’ve read this blog much you may know that I’m a Navy veteran and the mother of a currently serving Marine. Causes that support veterans and service members are near and dear to my heart. You could say that one of the common threads in all of my storytelling is pulled from this experience. I feel it is my duty to raise a voice for my sisters and brothers at arms past, present, and future.

Memorial Day is one of the most misunderstood of the days set aside to honor those who serve. For example, did you know that it was first celebrated in 1868 as Decoration Day? No, it wasn’t the day Lilly Pulitzer’s ancestors created the first pineapple decorated sandal.  It was a day set aside to remember those lost in the civil war.

In 1971, amid war and loss, the day now known as Memorial Day became an official federal holiday intended to be a remembrance of those who had given all in service to this nation. Not all those that served but rather the countless many who had lost their lives for the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of these United States. 

Somewhere in the decades between we have let the solemnity of the day be pushed aside in favor of three-day weekends and the unofficial start of summer. Few of us find our way to places of mourning to pay respect to those whose blood has paved the path of our freedom. Still others of us, well-intentioned though we may be, misunderstand the sentiment of honoring loss and turn to thank the living for their service.   

While I appreciate your gratitude, a part of me rails against it on this day. I have lost those I knew, their loss is fresh again when you share thanks for my service on Memorial Day. I served. I did not die. This day is not for me, nor my son, nor my extended family of veterans and the currently serving Marines I consider family. It is for the families of the fallen, for the widow who sees flags fly on Memorial Day, each one of them an echo of a flag-draped coffin.  It is for the tears shed by loved ones across the decades that built this nation. It is a day of collective mourning and gratitude. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not here to tell you that you’re wrong in hosting that BBQ or heading to the beach. I just ask that you take a moment away from your celebrations to send one up in remembrance of those who gave all that you may truly enjoy this time together. 

If you’d like to thank a veteran, do that on Veteran’s Day. If you want to thank a currently serving member of any branch of our military (though we all know the Navy is the best,) Armed Forces Day is the day to do that. Should you be so inclined as to want to do more than just say thank you, support programs that help support our military and their families.  Here are a few of my favorites;

American Widow Project

Operation Delta Dog

Bob Woodruff Foundation

United Services Organization 

Operation Welcome Home (Maryland) 

Fisher House Foundation

Vail Veterans Project

Want to visit a veteran’s cemetery to say thank you? Here is a way to locate one near you. 

 

Free Vail for Veterans

free vail for veterans

If you’ve been around here much you know that I’m both a veteran and the mother of a currently serving Marine. You also likely know that I have some issues with how this country marks Memorial Day. Typically you’ll find me up on my soapbox ranting about how this day isn’t the unofficial start of summer or the perfect time to get a great deal on a mattress. It isn’t even about current service members or veterans like me. It is the day we honor those who gave all in service of our country.  So, why would I be in any way okay with talking about a Free Vail for Veterans hotel promotion? 

The answer is this… veterans honor our fallen differently. We gather. Remembrance is a group activity. We tell worn out stories of the brave, crazy, momentous, and mundane things done by those who served before and beside us but are no longer with us. A drink, a laugh, feats of strength and airings of grievances, that is how we process our losses. 

So, to me, it seems very fitting that I share this promotion. 

library at The Sebastian hotel, Vail, Colorado
Free Vail for Veterans

The Sebastian – Vail is celebrating veterans and active military in style as the hotel is extending up to three complimentary room nights over Memorial Day weekend.  They have put together a package titled, “A Salute to Veterans” that includes;

  • complimentary Luxury Plaza room for up to three nights
  • exclusive reception
  • complimentary cruiser bike rental
  • a welcome amenity
  • nightly turndown service with a sweet treat
Whitewater rafters

This offer is valid May 26-31, 2017 and must be booked by May 25, 2017. Complimentary space is limited and subject to availability at time of reservation. Veterans and active military must show proof of military service at check-in. Additional restrictions apply.

For more information or to book “A Salute to Veterans” package, please call (866) 684-4782.

The Meaning of Veterans Day

Susie Sailor girl.. age 19
Susie Sailor girl.. age 19

A rare and welcome cool breeze wafted through the gray cinder-block corridor, carrying on it the faint, distant notes of a nameless, yet familiar holiday tune. The sun had yet to rise which may have contributed to the vague notion that December – at least for the moment – had arrived in Florida.

I was nineteen, an entire coast away from everything I knew to this point in life, and homesick. Basic training was in full swing and it had barely paused to acknowledge the holidays.

That winter the meaning of Veterans Day began to transform for me. I’d yet to understand how much my life would change, that soon our Company Commander would arrive with a team of MPs to remove the drill weapons that stood silent century in the center of birth we’d come to call home. That war would be declared in Iraq, or that 25 years later the same surreal mixture of pride and fear that my own mother must have felt would be visited upon me. 

I’ve often written about what my time in the Navy meant to me, the honor of serving alongside so many selfless, heroic, determined brethren.   Many times I’ve climbed upon my infamous soapbox in support of those who came before me, and those who continue to take up the gauntlet of service.  Today though, Veteran’s Day comes to me with new meaning.

It was another December day, oddly enough the same, rare cool breeze wafted off the San Diego bay. This time it carried on it the equally familiar hymn of Marine Corps. In a sea of hundreds of young Marines, all dressed alike,  all standing at rigid attention, I easily found my son.

He is mine.

That day a pride like I’d never known filled me, bringing along with it an ever-present undercurrent of fear. He will serve, no matter where or when. Those who hold his fate in their hands can never know how important, amazing… irreplaceable, he is. 

He’d volunteered for this.  Worked for it. Earned it. 

That will forever bond us to each other in the same fashion that the invisible umbilical chord always will.  We have served. Willingly, with pride.

When you stop to thank a Veteran today, keep in your thoughts those that love them, for they serve as well. 2013-12-05 12.32.07While a simple “Thank You,” goes a long way on Veterans Day or any day, if you’d like to do something more tangible to show your gratitude to those who have served and are serving, consider some of the apps and organizations below. One of the beautiful things about living in this digital age is that technology makes giving back an easy thing to do.  

Veterans Call  – This app allows users to give to as little as $5 in a monthly donation. These micro-donations add up as users choose charities to support, inviting friends and family to do the same.

Hero Miles – As someone who travels a lot, this is one of my favorite ways to give back. I belong to almost all the airline rewards programs there are out there and rarely (if ever) use the miles I’ve accumulated on all of them. 

Hero Miles is a program run through The Fisher House Foundation that allows you to donate your unused airline miles to veterans and their families. Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t get to a loved one in need who was far from home because the airfare was out of reach. This program helps to ensure that military families don’t have to face this scenario.

22Kill – The driving idea behind this movement is to raise awareness that nearly 22 veterans a day take their own lives. While that statistic may warrant some scrutiny, the fact is that awareness saves lives. Veteran suicide hits very close to home for our family, so I add this group into ways YOU can help because even after hashtags die out that doesn’t mean the problem is solved.  #22pushups for #22Kill

If you’re giving to veterans charities that aren’t giving the overwhelming majority of their funds to veterans or their families, you aren’t helping. ~ The Street

Considering giving to a veteran’s charity?  Start by grabbing the Charity Navigator app.  Believe it or not there are a whole lot of veterans charities out there that spend the bulk of your donated dollar on anything but direct help for veterans. Check this app before you click donate.

However you choose to thank a veteran know that we truly appreciate being acknowledged, though just about all of us will tell you it was OUR honor.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!  

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The Greatest Casualty is to Be Forgotten – Memorial Day is for Remembering

With Memorial Day right around the corner. A surefire sign is all the sale flyers clogging my mailbox and junking up my spam filters.  Everyone (myself included) is talking about holiday menus and impending summer fun. And while I’m looking forward to all of that as well, I thought I’d dust off this post again in hopes that we can all keep memory in our Memorial Day.

The bulk of this was written several years before my oldest son became a Marine – an event that forever changed what saying “my fellow veterans,” means to me. 

Don't Forget What Memorial Day is About

Memorial Day – like Veteran’s day – is not about the sales or that long awaited three-day weekend. It isn’t about nabbing a great deal on a new mattress. We live in The Land of The Free… because of the brave.  Let us not forget those who serve, but especially on Memorial Day let us not forget those who gave all. 

Memorial Day is not Veterans day. Though the bulk of this post is about my experience as a veteran, I think it’s important that we make the distinction.  This isn’t a day to thank me for my service, it’s a day to honor those who died in service to this nation. 

Think that just means stopping by crumbly old memorial in a historic park somewhere that marks the site of a battle? Think again. Yes we should honor all those who paid the ultimate price of freedom, but I challenge you to make it a point to honor those lost in recent history.  Those who never came back and those that came back only to lose the battle at home.

An average of 22 veterans take their own lives daily. DAILY! Yes, they are causalities of war. Heroes that fought for your freedom the same as any lost on foreign soil.

Enjoy your three-day weekend, grill up something tasty. While you’re at it stop by a local veterans memorial, buy that poppy from the Vet set up in front of the big box store. Ask them about their story, let them tell it. Listen with an open heart, hear what they don’t say. In the retelling they honor those who never came back. Keep the memory in Memorial Day.

(originally published November 11, 2009)

Today is Veteran’s day and I always thought it was a bit awkward to say “Happy Veteran’s Day”. Not because I’m not happy to have served my country. I think it has something to do with knowing some of the hardships that come along with that service. I was a 19 year old kid when I left the familiar surroundings of my small town and boarded a plane for Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida. It was just after Thanksgiving 1990 and I couldn’t believe how cold it was in Florida, I thought this was supposed to be the sunshine state! I was scared out of my mind, lost and really regretting being the first person in my family to have joined the Navy.A few weeks into training our Company Commanders came into our compartment and removed all the drill weapons. They then announced that the Operation Desert Storm was underway. We were allowed one call home. With the sound of Bing Crosby singing “I’ll be home for Christmas” playing over the PA I called my parents. That was the first time it really hit me what it meant to be a member of the armed services.

 

Yep that’s me on the right all snuggled up to Fifle the mouse from An American tale. I’d go on to cry every time I heard the theme song “Somewhere out there” while serving a continent away from my family and friends. Okay I STILL cry when I hear it.  To my right is the best buddy any sailor could ask for Michelle Graf! 

I went on to become a Navy Airman and made it to 
my first duty station in Rota, Spain. Rota was a stop on the way to both Iraq and Somalia when I was there. Ships came through with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force Airmen. I count myself privileged to have served, partied, jaw jacked, worked my butt off and mourned with many of them.

Among them all I was honored to serve under Admiral Jeremy Michael “Mike” Boorda. Admiral Boorda is to this day someone I admire beyond words. He worked his way up from the lowest of enlisted rank, Seaman, to go on and become an Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. I was honored to have had a one-on-one conversation with him. When he reportedly took his own life a hole was ripped in my heart and memory. He was honest and honorable, a person who stood up for what he believed, championed the underdog and no matter what others may think they know, he was a true hero.

With so many currently serving and so many giving the ultimate sacrifice there are those who’s loss has faded in our collective memory. Yet they are heroes all the same and I have not forgotten them. 

Remember you don’t have to support war to support a Veteran or honor the fallen.