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Let yourself get help

Heather Heiney, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs, holds her son, Nathan Heiney, May 23, 2014 at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

Heather Heiney, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs, holds her son, Nathan Heiney, May 23, 2014 at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Heiney has been at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. since January 2020. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --

My son was born pissed off.

I don’t really blame him. I’m five feet tall and he was more than nine pounds, so he got stuck on the way out. The doctors broke his collar bone saving his life.

Every parent holds their breath to wait for the sound of that first cry after the birth of their child.  But then the crying didn’t stop.

It wasn’t the soft, sweet cries that most newborns make, it was loud and intense and made my heart race and only stopped in the moments he was sleeping, which were much fewer than the ones he was awake.

When we finally got home, he kept crying. Once, he screamed for hours because I was so out of it that I’d accidentally zipped one of his pacifiers underneath his armpit on the broken clavicle side.

I cried too. Almost every single day.

My post-partum anxiety got so bad I became convinced my son was going choke to death on a dog hair. I’d read about it happening to someone else in an article. Or at least I thought I did. My mind was so cloudy and sleep deprived and my body so weak that I could have imagined reading about it.

I started having intense anxiety attacks where my vision would go fuzzy and the ringing in my ears would become even more deafening than the crying and I could hardly breathe. I started smoking again. I stopped answering most calls. I sent weak excuses via text message. Then I felt guilty about smoking and blowing people off and became even more anxious.

I crawled deep into a dark thought spiral and almost completely isolated myself.

My husband wanted to help more, but his squadron at the time didn’t have enough manning so he had to go straight back to work the day after I gave birth.

I was active duty myself until one month before our son was born and I wonder what it would have been like if I’d stayed in. I’m good at hiding behind text messages, but I know in person my coworkers would have seen through my façade immediately and got me the help I told myself I didn’t need.

There was even someone from the base’s mental health flight assigned to me, but when she came to the hospital room to speak with me a few days after I gave birth I decided instantly that I didn’t like her. I don’t even remember why.

I wish I wouldn’t have ignored her calls. She probably could have helped.

It was only eight years ago, but I feel like there is so much more awareness of mental health now than there was then. I didn’t understand that anxiety or depression or any other mental struggle isn’t something that you can just turn off. Most people cannot will their anguish away. That’s what mental health professionals are for. They can treat those illnesses just like a medical doctor treats any other illness.

For military members and dependents there are so many people available to help -- a whole army, if you will. There are first sergeants, chaplains, military and family life counselors, supervisors and so many more. I can’t speak for other branches, but at least in the Air Force, every single one of us, including civilians, is trained to at least get you to someone who can help if we can’t help you directly.

Letting people help me would not have made my son’s collar bone heal faster and it might not have made him cry less, but it could have made that first year a whole lot easier for me.

I could have spent that time savoring the moments when he smiled and felt confident that I was doing the best I could instead of focusing on the moments when he was upset and feeling like I was failing.

The problem was I told myself I didn’t deserve the help. I told myself that I was the one who’d chosen to become a mother and I should be able to handle it. I told myself I’d be wasting their time and that there were people who need the help more than me.

But even if other people are struggling more than you, that doesn’t make your need for help invalid.

I did deserve help. Everyone who needs it does.

For a complete list of resources and contact information for Department of Defense and Malmstrom-specific helping agencies, visit https://www.malmstrom.af.mil/Resources/Helping-Agencies/

 

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