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May 31, 2022 5 min read

Introduction

The following is an interview with war veteran and good friend of Feeling Swell, Mark DeYoung.

Our goals with the interview are to 1) destigmatize the conversation around PTSD and the mental health of veterans and 2) remind veterans that they are not alone in their experience and that resources are available! (see bottom of post)

 

Briefly explain your experience in the military. 

M: I was in the Marine Corps for 4 years. I served in the infantry as a rifleman, designated marksman. I was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom in Marjah, Afghanistan and also served in Jordan, Japan and Guam.



How would you describe your transition from the military back into “normal life”?

M: That was the biggest challenge in my entire life. 

You become a different person through a career in the military.  

I said goodbye to my friends as I graduated highschool and shipped off to bootcamp almost immediately after. My friends did their thing, went to college, got jobs, built careers and new lives.

You get a bit of a taste of transition when you come back from a deployment or you come home for the holidays. Everyone is excited to see you but the truth is I wasn’t as excited. 

I came home to essentially strangers that you don’t know how to talk to anymore. All I wanted to do was leave. Connections you once had are lost and broken.

I got out of the military in 2014 really hyped to start a new journey but I came back to essentially nothing. I’m thankful for the friends whom I fully consider my family  that stuck with me but the transition back into normal life was the hardest journey I’ve had.

You start asking yourself “Am I still useful to society?”. You get stuck in figuring out how to live amongst “normal people”. In the military, you form a super powerful bond with your coworker. That comradery is hard to replicate in the civilian world.  

Normal people ask about your experiences, but the conversation is glazed over because there is a lack of understanding or experience. Like a rocket scientist explaining how to make rockets: it’s interesting but only to someone who shares that knowledge and experience can really, truly understand. 

It was tough finding a job, tough trying to find a new profession, and especially hard when you’re acclimating to normal life again in the process. Having to break out of that survival mentality is rough.



You’ve mentioned in the past that your experiences in the military have affected your mental health. Do you feel comfortable sharing in what ways?

M: Yea, of course. I think in many ways my experiences have made me a stronger person mentally but it doesn't come without some side effects. Being deployed to a warzone there is a lot of stress that you have to fight back and bury while you're out there. 

It’s an emotional rollercoaster throughout the entire deployment. I always describe my deployments as 3 phases emotionally. The first three months are crazy you’re really scared, nervous, paranoid, and in my case getting used to the heat. You know, lots of stress.

 Then you get to the middle section where your fear gets pushed down, you're like “screw it”. You know how to control it. It’s the new “norm”.  You have no choice because, at the end of the day, you have to stay focused and have each others’ back. 

The last few months of the deployment and you begin to get more careful again. You try not to test your luck anymore and just try to make it out still breathing.

Then you get back, and things slow down. All that in such a short time frame, it just shocks your brain. To an extent that your brain doesn’t know what to do. A lot of people go numb and lose the ability to feel anything. In my case, I struggle with my emotions. It’s like a complete disconnect.



PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) is often associated with veterans. Can you explain why or relate to that in any way?

M: Sure. It affects people in so many ways. There are a lot of reasons why PTSD is so common in veterans. Stress alone is such a huge component with a career in the military. 

In my opinion, PTSD doesn’t really happen when you're in war, when you’re chest deep in a firefight, pinned down trying to call in support. No, PTSD sets in when you're all alone, when the constant chaos stops abruptly and your brain is struggling to figure out what normal is.

PTSD is often associated with veterans, but we see the same thing happen to other people: car accident victims, abusive relationships, traumatic experiences. And that significant experience affects each person differently depending on their circumstances and their character.

 

What are a few things you think that veterans who are navigating their mental health should know?

M: We have a saying in the Corps “Til Valhalla”. It means Until we meet again on the eternal battlegrounds of Valhalla. I’ve said this over caskets of friends I’ve served with that have taken their lives. 22 veterans a day take their lives each and everyday because of how much they struggle with mentally.

I see a lot of groups that bring veterans together to hang out and network, and I think that is one of the most powerful things that can help fellow veterans: surround yourself with other people who know what you have been through. Talk to them and share your stories and your struggles. 

And for the times you can’t be around other veterans, continue to learn new skills. I find learning to be an incredible tool to overcome that stress, to keep growing as a person no matter how hard it may hurt or how dark your whole world may be, force yourself to learn something new. 

With me, it was photography. I started thinking one day as I was transitioning out of the Marines, “How do I make a personal change so I don’t add to that 22?. Let me learn a new skill, maybe I can be good at it!” Fishing, photography, something that puts your brain in a completely different frame of mind and helps you to focus!

What is one small way that any person can contribute to creating a mentally healthier world for veterans?

M: Contributing to different veteran outlets. MA22 is a fantastic organization focusing on veterans mental health. Support smaller, local veteran nonprofits, any small veteran group that is trying to make a change. What those groups do is incredible. They bring veterans together. 

You can even volunteer and help put together cool events that you enjoy just as much as we do.

If you’re having trouble transitioning, there is help out there. The community is there. Do your research, reach out to these veterans groups in your area. There are some really cool events out there for just veterans. 

 

 

If you are a veteran and need support with your mental health, please start by visiting the VA's website below or find local resources for veterans. You are not alone!

https://www.va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/mental-health/