The battle over my mind started while I was serving in the navy. Instead of attending university after my secondary education, like I had dreamed of and planned, I did something I never considered I would do: join the military. Nearing the end of my last year in high school, I had been accepted to every school I applied to, and ultimately decided that I would attend University of Washington with the intention of studying chemical engineering. That plan soon fell apart when I found out, even after financial aid was applied, I would owe around $80,000 by the time I graduated. I’m from a working class family that had very little to offer for my education. I knew that my father, knowing how important my education was to me, would do anything in his power to help and I couldn’t bear to put him through that. I was considering piling a bunch of debt onto my 18-year old shoulders until I heard about the nuclear program the U.S. Navy had.
I wasn’t always depressed and anxious. In fact, for the bulk of my life I was quite content. Sure, I was occasionally neurotic and still worried about circumstances outside of my control, but the important matter was that it wasn’t debilitating. However, for the past eight years my life has been derailed by my ever-fluctuating mental health.
I knew I wanted to go into science. I loved mathematics, physics, and chemistry. I had taught myself several languages from around the age of thirteen (that being HTML & CSS, PHP, MySQL, etc. I knew a bit of French though too :P), and this was before Youtube became a powerhouse, or any well-organized online teaching tool for that matter. My point is that I was an ambitious and determined young adult. I could focus and lose myself in the material for hours on end. I worked hard, and oftentimes that was still not enough to satisfy me.
The navy’s nuclear program seemed to be a good alternative for me, and in many ways it was. It was not only a way for me to gain and hone practical skills, it was also a way to pay for school once I was done with my six-year enlistment. Did I ever think that the military life was for me? Nope. Not once. But I thought I could hash it out. I wanted to prove to myself that I could hash it out. And in most respects, I did. It wasn’t until the final six months that changed, along with my mental health.
I was only one of two women in my section of about forty people (only 5% women, but in general there’s a 10% cap on females in the nuclear program, or at least that was the rule when I enlisted). I got along with most of my colleagues, and even had some close friends. In general, my peers treated me very well. Hell, even most of the staff treated me well. It wasn’t until I garnished attention from one specific asshole by being at the top of my section. I don’t doubt that me being a woman was the reason he treated me the way he did. This man would not only come to haunt me at the workplace, but my dreams as well.
He was a staff member (and not even in my direct chain-of-command, and if there’s anything to know about the military, it’s that the chain-of-command is something sacred), but he would make it his mission to stalk me, and if he found me, do everything in his power to get me alone with him so he could quiz me on various subjects, always wanting to test my knowledge because he clearly didn’t seem to believe that I deserved to be at the top of my section on merit alone. I started to resort to hiding in the women’s restroom, knowing it was the only place he couldn’t reach me. I spent a lot of time in there with my blustering emotions, either angry and brooding or crying and blaming myself. At this point, I had fallen into a severe depression. The first time in my life. Of course I didn’t comprehend how dire of a state my mental health was in.
My only solace was suicide. I began obsessively thinking about it and planning how I would do it. It was quite freeing for a while. I knew that no matter how trapped or how badly I was treated, I could always resort to taking my own life. Sort of like a GOTCHA MUTHERFUCKA.
Finally, the day had come. I had broken and knew what I was going to do. I was done with returning to work day after day, continuing to hide, brood and cry, or if I did work like I would have rather done, risk being confronted by the only person I’ve ever truly hated and continue to be harassed and belittled. Instead, I was ready to end it all.
Fortunately, I went and got the help I needed before I could make my last decision. Unsurprisingly, however, the DoD counselor that initially helped me was awful. He blamed me for how I was feeling. I practically had to beg to get the help I required, which was to be hospitalized for at least 24 hours because I was a severe danger to myself. In the end, I lost my job as a nuclear power plant operator. The man that persecuted me for months didn’t, and was instead sent back out to sea, probably where he would continue to torment and belittle others.
For a long time I allowed this event to define me. Even though I went on to complete my Associate of Science straight after being honorably discharged from the military, I struggled with my own identity and self-worth, and ultimately was unable to continue my studies at University of Washington after being accepted upon completion of my AS. After years of therapy, learning coping skills, and taking medications, I am finally closer to being the person I know I can be. I no longer define myself as a victim, but a survivor. And although I still think about what happened, I am not in constant fear of it happening again because I know I am equipped to deal with shitheads like the above mentioned staff member.
I am now no longer on medication and have been accepted to University of Florida’s computer science program in order to finish my Bachelor’s before moving on to my Master’s. I can still occasionally feel the tendrils of depression attempting to pull me back under, but thanks to therapy and the coping skills I’ve learned, that isn’t happening. Of course a relapse is always possible once your mental health has been compromised so severely, and thoughts of suicide often seem like muscle memory when it has plagued your mind for years, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, and that doesn’t mean I can’t beat it if it does. I have the evidence that I’m more than capable to rebuild myself after being completely dismantled.