HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

Overcoming pride to prevent suicide

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- As my office has just completed a resiliency stand-down day, I am struck by the increasing numbers of suicides in the Air Force every year. There are more agencies and programs than I can count to assist anyone thinking of hurting themselves, and we receive regular training on how to engage in positive behaviors. So why is this still a problem?

From my personal perspective, as long as people see asking for help as a weakness, positive change cannot occur. As long as there is a stigma attached to getting help, people will continue to shoulder their burdens alone and continue on this path. I learned this lesson the hard way.

My personal experience

When I was younger, my father was very sick. He had a malignant brain tumor that should have killed him. Instead, he had a stroke in the exact spot where the tumor was, which saved his life, but it paralyzed him and put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

I spent all of my time at the hospital. I wallowed in self-pity and watched my father suddenly unable to take care of himself. I learned how to take care of my father at a very young age and, along with my mother, committed myself to his care. I withdrew from all of my friends at school, who frankly did not know what to talk to me about. I was depressed and withdrew from the normal aspects of growing up. The situation eventually escalated to my former friends making fun of my father, calling him a vegetable, which resulted in my getting into fights in school.

All of the warning signs were there. My behavior changed. I was isolated. I was quick to fight and I simply was not myself. I thought seriously every day for a long time about ending my life. The only thing that stopped me personally was what it would do to my father, who I was extremely close to. I was very close to ending things on several occasions. Several relatives, teachers and counselors saw what was going on and tried to stop what was happening, but their efforts were futile. I chose not to act because of my father. I chose not to act because of the devastating consequences my actions would have on him. I knew if I hurt myself, it would kill him.

Accepting help

Years later, as I reflect back on that dark time in my life, it frightens me to know how close I was to ending my life. As I grew older, I developed a wonderful support structure in place amongst my network of friends. My father passed away 11 years after his stroke while I was in college. Two years later at the end of my first year of law school, very unexpectedly, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within a month. Once again, I was forced to deal with personal trauma.

This time around, my friends refused to cast me aside or to allow me to wallow in loneliness and depression. I credit them with getting me through law school. I tried to quit several times, and fortunately every attempt was thwarted by the registrar being out of the office or a friend noticing and physically removing me from the building. They were true wingmen for me and I can never repay them for being there for me during some of the darkest days of my life.

While these were tough times, I never seriously considered committing suicide in law school. I struggled, but I got through and graduated law school on time. I succeeded in law school because my support structure gave me the resiliency I needed to survive. It is what kept me sane. It is what kept me going. I have been an attorney for six years now and pride myself on being the kind of lawyer to go out of my way to help people in my job. This is because others did the same for me.

Pride

Examining these two difficult times in my life, I was seriously contemplating suicide in one, and never considered it during law school. Why did I react differently in these two situations, even though both represented difficult times?

I believe the answer is because I knew what I was going through the second time around was too big for me to do alone. The difference was I did not believe that it made me a weak person to ask for or accept help, which is significant because I have a stubborn streak a mile wide. I learned a valuable lesson from my earlier dark days: It really is okay to accept help.

As I reflect back on the first experience, pride is what almost killed me more than anything else. When my father was sick, I felt it was me against the world. I would overhear my mother talking with friends and family about what a rough time I was having in school and dealing with my father's illness. That only stiffened my resolve that I was tough, that I could hack it alone, and that I was okay. I refused to acknowledge or admit that I needed help from anyone. To ask for help was to admit that I was too weak to deal with the problem on my own.

As someone who has made a career of helping clients in need, I can testify there are a lot of people out there with huge hearts who want nothing more than to help those around them. For me personally, when I help someone out of a hopeless situation, I repay a little bit of the kindness that has been shown to me. It is something I will gladly do for the rest of my life. There are people in all of our lives who will bend over backward for us if only we will let them know we need help and be willing to accept it.

Accepting help does not make you weak

One thing I have learned through my experiences is that no two people go through trauma the same way. There is no correct way to feel after experiencing grief, separation, anxiety, trouble at work, stress from a deployment or whatever problem you are going through.

Needing help to get through law school after I lost my parents did not make me a weak person. Needing help made me a normal person. One of the reasons that pride stopped me from accepting help when I was younger is that I would see patients in worse shape than my father at the hospital. I would see kids my age seemingly deal with it in stride. I would hear about kids in worse situations than me overcoming adversity and rising above it all. My pride wouldn't let me ask for help if they could do it with no problems.

What I have learned is that the people who seem to be in the same or worse situation than me are in just as much pain, but they are just hiding it. However, it all comes out eventually. My advice to anyone thinking of hurting themselves is to swallow your pride, and don't try to shoulder that burden alone. Whatever you are going through, someone else has gone through before and needed help as well.

You are not alone

In the past, whenever I have told friends and colleagues my experience with thoughts of suicide, a large percentage have immediately responded by telling me they have had a similar experience at some point in their life. I suspect my experience is in no way unique. I know that I am not alone. I know plenty of people had to go through this before I did. There will still be people dealing with these issues long after I write this.

In all the years of dealing with the loss of my parents and in dealing with my father's illness, I have tried every remedy I could to find a happy life. I consulted school counselors and mental health professionals at my family's urging to deal with my loss. Nothing worked until I was ready to swallow my pride and admit that I could not go it alone. Once I was willing to accept help from everyone around me, I learned how to be truly happy.

In a perfect world, nobody will ever need to read this article. But, this isn't a perfect world and there are people around us who need our help, whether they realize it or not. We as wingmen have to be able to not take no for an answer. We have to overcome that pride when our friend or colleague wants to go it alone. And if you are in need of help, please don't allow your pride to swat away the hand extended to you. No one does it all alone.

Engage

Facebook Twitter
DYK: Aircraft have lifespans! Like humans, they require check-ups in the form of maintenance inspections to prolong their ability to fly. These "checks" prevent in-flight system failures which ultimately protects aircrew and passengers. Learn more from the 86th Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on what it takes to correct issues so aircraft can stay airborne.
WATCH: United States Air Force pilots talk about the importance of Exercise Saber Strike 18 as they refuel over the Baltic Sea on June 18, 2018. Saber Strike 18 is a long-standing training exercise designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and our allies. The training focused on improving land and air operational capabilities between the U.S. and our NATO allies. (U.S. Air National Guard video by: Master Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf)
Check out some shots from yesterday's All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game in Washington, D.C. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals U.S. Army
Air Force and U.S. Army coed softball teams render military honors during the playing of the National Anthem during the All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2018. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals
Great way to lead by example!
The United States Air Force is facing a pilot shortage. To help solve the challenge, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force was recently created to provide strategic direction and actionable recommendations to senior leaders on how to solve the aircrew manning crisis. FULL STORY: https://go.usa.gov/xUb3z
Your United States Air Force news: ✓ A B-52 crew assists in a search and rescue operation off the coast of Guam ✓ An Afghan pilot class graduates in the Czech Republic ✓ The Air Force is using innovative approaches to training pilots to make the process faster and more efficient
Now that’s how weathermen work! Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly weather reconnaissance missions into Tropical Storm Chris and Tropical Storm Beryl. http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1569944/hurricane-hunters-fly-tropical-storms-beryl-chris/
The F-22 Raptor's combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. Maintaining these aircraft can involve a bit of a learning curve. Airmen at KadenaAirBase use past technology to help learn how to work with the undefeated Raptor. FULL STORY: http://www.kadena.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1567295/hard-to-raptor-head-around/
Help us out! Can you caption this photo?
The B-52 Stratofortress has sniper pods that provide improved long-range target detection/identification and continuous stabilize surveillance for all missions, including close air support of ground forces. Air Force Global Strike Command crew members on a B-52 were able to spot a historic Pacific Island style canoe so that the U.S. Coast Guard could rescue the six passengers!
For the past 60 years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has continually helped us maintain a technological edge against our advarsaries. Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory - AFRL, a fusion of ideas is leading to newly highlighted innovations.
SOUND ON! Celebrate freedom with the sound of freedom! Happy Independence Day!
The family of #USAF TSgt John Chapman is embraced by their local community at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, Fla… https://t.co/HRc95V33gm
#DYK: The 1st Aero Squadron was the first tactical aviation unit to participate in American military action.… https://t.co/FPijKQVfHp
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: An open letter & invitation to Col "Ned Stark:" Join my team & help us re-exam our officer promotion system -- as lead…
RT @AFWERX: AFWERX is using Ideascale to offer USAF Airmen the opportunity to submit their innovative idea for the Air Force. Join the netw…
#Airman uses data from the #MQ9Reaper to give firefighters near-real-time information as they confront fires in… https://t.co/tX2TSbYrSg
#Airmen from 105th Airlift Wing learn impact of their mission as this #Airman shares her harrowing tale of survival… https://t.co/40kBNQOz3d
Maj. Onier Alejandro-Villarreal & Capt. Rodney McIntyre, 927th Aeromedical Staging Squadron medical techs, operate… https://t.co/YsMHOL2vV7
Only in the #AirForceFamily! The chances of being your sibling's replacement at a deployed location are slim to non… https://t.co/JRED65irZS
RT @AETCommand: “The squadron is the beating heart of the @usairforce; our most essential team,” - Chief of Staff of the Air Force @GenDave
.@MacDill_AFB #Airmen prove that in an emergency a wing commander can turn to augmentees for additional support.… https://t.co/Pgal3TEP3p
RT @DeptofDefense: Prepared for all situations in all conditions. @AKNationalGuard #airmen with the 212th Rescue Squadron at @JBER_Officia
Happy Monday! Let's get this week off to a great start w/ #AirForce #WIP! https://t.co/rlP3y4NQ9k https://t.co/OlzebNB1lQ
After toggling with the idea of joining the #military for years, she promised herself to stop waiting for life to f… https://t.co/7Gt22iqNlD
It's #NationalAviationDay & new aviation opportunities are here! We're partnering with @CivilAirPatrol to groom tom… https://t.co/Fe9b4jlmGw
These supply #Airmen work 24/7 to ensure there is no break in the mission @RAFMildenhall because #NKAWTGhttps://t.co/biE2BPXVe1
Every #Airman has their reason for serving. Read on as these #Airmen explain what putting on the uniform everyday m… https://t.co/ubeDmY1liq
For the first time in the 63-year history of Operation Deep Freeze, #Airmen from the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Sq… https://t.co/CdeyI4HjHT
#DYK, the #MedalofHonor is the highest award for bravery that can be awarded to members of the United States Armed… https://t.co/qei2LbbD1I
.@388fw’s 4th Fighter Squadron became the first operational unit to fire the F-35A’s the #aircraft’s 25mm cannon on… https://t.co/J7hbXrCSCv