A few years ago, I went through an intensive PTSD treatment program on Fort Hood called the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program. I wrote about that in a little more detail here. It was an intensive, 3-week long, outpatient program. It was our place of business those three weeks. We had to be evaluated and accepted into the program based on the severity of our PTSD and upon approval from our units. In other words, we really had to be hurting and almost at the end of our ropes to get admitted, but it was a voluntary program. Some people decided they couldn’t meet the requirements to complete the program because it required active participation and dropped out.
When we graduated, our counselors gave us a few way to help us cope with future stressors and also to remember the progress we made through the course. The first one was a gold hat hook that goes on the brim of a hat or placed somewhere prominently where we can see it (unfortunately, I lost the hat mine was on). The second was a set of little star stickers – the kind teachers use to put on a chart in elementary school if you were good or completed your assignments. We were supposed to put the stars in places we frequent, like the bathroom cabinet, refrigerator, wallet, rearview mirror, etc. The idea was that these stars represent bright point in our lives; to cling to them; and remember that our lives are worthwhile. The third was a rock called snowflake obsidian, which I want to talk more in depth about because I think it will help all my readers, not just military veterans.
Depression has many causes. The loss of a loved one, including a brother in arms, parent, sibling, good friend, neighbor, or Kurt Cobain. It can come from a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is a byproduct of several psychological diagnoses, like bipolar disorder. Divorce or a break up, lack of money or a job, and the prospect of Hillary Clinton being elected are other well-known causes. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to understand these causes because either they haven’t experienced them or they aren’t as important to them. For example, to some people, being in a relationship and having someone to lean on defines a large part of their lives. However, someone who doesn’t really put a high priority or emphasis on physical and emotional connection won’t understand how a break-up would be a reason to fall into depression. Someone that comes from a broken or abusive family probably wouldn’t react losing a parent. You can easily identify these people, because their answer when confronted with someone suffering from depression is usually, “get over it”.
Anyone that has dealt with depression knows how debilitating it can be. It doesn’t matter what causes the depression nor how bad it is. Sometimes we just feel down and other times we feel like there is simply no point in living. I’ve been on every end of that spectrum. More often than I care to admit and probably more than most people know, I’m on the latter part of the scale. It can cause those who suffer from it to lose sleep or even not want to stop sleeping, cause them to withdraw from the very people that can help them, or just stop doing the things they once enjoyed. The one that plagues me the most is a lack of energy and constantly feeling tired. This is why I try to force myself to keep busy or engaged in something. Regardless, we feel as if we are surrounded by darkness and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Snowflake obsidian is “a natural volcanic glass that can be polished to a very high luster. Some stones of obsidian contain white crystals of the mineral cristobalite. When polished these stones produce a gemstone known as snowflake obsidian.”
It comes in many different varieties. Some have more white “snowflakes” than black, while others are mostly black with specks of “snowflakes”. We were given these upon graduation and encouraged to keep them on us at all times. The idea is that we are feeling down and depressed or that we are surrounded by darkness, there are always bright spots in our lives we can focus on. When we feel like failures or that we can’t do wrong, we should focus on the happy – or bright – spots in our lives. Those white specks should remind us of those time. We were told to ascribe times in our lives when we were happy, successful, or content.
So, when I look at this rock that I keep in my pocket I am reminded of the day I met my wife and then when we got married. I remember being on the phone the moment my oldest daughter was born and hearing her cry for the first time. I think back to the pictures and letters I received from my kids while deployed. Something I’ll never forget is being invited to the White House and getting to sit and talk with George (that’s how President Bush introduced himself, as if he needed introduction). Becoming a First Sergeant was a recognition of all my hard work and accomplishments of “accomplishing the mission” and ensuring “the welfare of my Soldiers”.
I have hundreds, if not thousands, of happy experiences that I can point to. However, it’s difficult to remember those times when you’re in a deep, dark hole and you’re not sure how to get out of it. Your life can seem as if it will never get better. I can’t remember who first gave the advice that “pain is temporary”, but I’ve fallen back on that many times and imparted that wisdom to others as often as I could, because it’s true.
We all through dark times in our lives, but we have to focus on the bright spots to help out of that darkness. We need to walk towards them. When I am in that dark place and I find it hard to see my own worth, having this rock in my pocket reminds me of who I am. It may not remove the depression I’m feeling at the time, but I realize I’m not really as helpless as I think I am. Those bright spots represent happiness. They are what is important in my life. Each snowflake is a happy moment or person in my life.
I promise you that when you are having a hard time, that pain is temporary. It may seem permanent because it isn’t resolving itself on your time, but that doesn’t make it any less temporary. Sometimes it lasts a few minutes and, unfortunately, it can last a few years. However, in the grand scheme of things, you’ll look back at those times and see how brief they are in the aggregate.
What isn’t temporary is suicide. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I’ve lost two friends who were veterans to suicide. I’ve helped many others change their minds and get help. I’ve been there. Everyone in my Reset group had either contemplated or attempted suicide. From what I’ve been told, graduates of the program have nearly been cured. At the very least, we have the coping mechanisms needed to manage or handle tough times that crop up – and they do.
Above all, we have someone to rely upon. You need to have that someone. Someone you trust that won’t judge you, will be there at 3am when Hillary won’t, and will help you through it. If you don’t have that someone, contact me and I’ll be that someone. I encourage you to find yourself a snowflake obsidian for yourself to keep on you at all times. Though a tiny rock, it will help you through big problems. You can get one for about $2.