Making it off the island
By Staff Sgt. Holly Cook, 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 20, 2021
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Sometimes, life is like being on an island of misfit toys. Some people make it off the island quickly. For some people, like me, it takes years and a little help to get off the island to a place where they have better mental health.
Growing up with less than stellar mental health made me feel like I didn’t belong. I was always the different one and didn’t really fit in at school or with other people in my family. After going to college for a couple of years, I decided that joining the military would be my ticket to feeling like I belonged and would help other people love and appreciate me.
When I was in basic military training and technical school, there were rough days but I felt like I had finally found my place where I belonged and was valued. When I got to my first base, that all came crashing down very quickly.
I came to Keesler Air Force Base after almost three years at my first base hoping things would turn around but it all just got worse. I drowned myself in my work with the sole purpose of getting people to care about me. It was never because I cared about myself.
I dedicated myself to serving others and in turn neglected myself and my mental health.
I ended up losing my marriage which destroyed what little happiness I had left and just brought back memories of all the times I was told as a child that my biological father never wanted me.
Instead of just being a misfit toy that had been kicked around and misused over years of time that was stuck on an island of unhappiness, I was becoming the island itself. Negativity became my main feeling and I let it consume me.
On June 24, 2017, after having an argument where I was told, again, that I was not good enough, my mind decided it was time to let go for good. My mind cut off and I then went around my apartment, put notes on objects I valued saying who I wanted them to go to after I killed myself, grabbed my car keys and drove away.
I don’t remember driving to the Ocean Springs bridge and I don’t remember walking to the top of the bridge but I remember sitting on the bench, crying and counting the people walking by.
That day 32 people walked by me, saw me crying and decided to say nothing. It wasn’t until a young girl who looked around 6-years-old saw me crying and decided to stop.
She sat down next to me, looked at me and asked me if I was ok. This blew my mind because no one had ever asked me that before. We had a short conversation and she asked me if I wanted some candy. I said yes and when she handed me the candy she said “See. It’s going to be a good day.”
Her mom then called for her and she got up and walked away.
At that moment my mind clicked back on and I went into panic mode. I had no idea what was happening but I knew it needed to stop.
I text messaged a close friend of mine explaining where I was at and then he asked the question that most people are terrified to ask: “Are you going to hurt yourself?”
When I said I didn’t know, he then got with his friends who worked at the 81st Security Forces Squadron and they were able to call the Biloxi Police Department to come help me.
The police officers, paramedics and a couple of my friends showed up to get me the help I needed.
Over the next eight and a half days I spent at the Biloxi Veterans Affairs facility, my mind slowly released the negativity I had. I felt like I was truly valued for who I am for the first time in a long time.
After leaving the VA, I began my treatment at the Keesler Mental Health Clinic. I was skeptical at first because I knew all the stigmas around going to mental health. I didn’t want to lose my job. I remembered what one of the doctors at the VA had told me. She said to put faith in the system because my life is worth trying every avenue available.
The process of getting better mentally is not fast. This is a process that has taken me two and a half years to talk about in a public forum but I put my faith in the system and I survived it.
I’m only one person and I know I can’t help bring down or eliminate the amount of suicides happening each year by myself but I hope at least one person reading this sees people do care about them. The helping agencies the Air Force and Defense Department has set up do work. Most importantly you are not alone. There is always someone out there willing to help.
For the first time in over two decades I’m not stuck on the island like a forgotten child’s toy. I made it off the island and I don’t intend on going back and it all started with a little girl asking if I was ok.
For more information on how to overcome suicidal ideation or any problems causing you stress, go to www.resilience.af.mil. Military members, family members, government civilians and base contractors are encouraged to reach out to their unit leadership, supervisors, wingmen or key spouses for help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.