Mental health visit is not the end

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I was torn, broken, falling apart. Tears were welling up and I couldn't see my computer screen, the clutter on my desk blurring. 

"Don't break down at work," I thought. "Don't break down." 

The summer of 2005 was a tough one. First, my fiancée and I split up. Two weeks later my grandfather died. Then, two days before the tears came rushing in while I was sitting at my desk, I found out my friend had died in a motorcycle accident. 

Add to this the regular stresses of moving and a new job ... I couldn't take much more. There I was, doing my best to reign in the tears. I was feeling sorry for myself, weighed down by the world, alone and wounded. 

My boss passed by my desk and noticed my demeanor - slumped over my desk, head in my hands, sigh after sigh. There was no use in me trying to hide it; as the line goes, my heart was plastered on my shirtsleeve. 

We spoke in her office for a bit, and, as sometimes happens when someone asks you if you're alright (and you're not), the dam broke and the tears fell. 

I was lucky then, to have the boss that I did. After asking if I needed someone to talk to, she picked up the phone and made a call to mental health. 

Some people may think what she did was cruel, that she was trying to end my career. Misconceptions and rumors abound when it comes to the mental health clinic: 

"If you go to mental health, your career is over." 

"All they want to do is get you kicked out of the Air Force." 

"My friend's roommate's former supervisor went to mental health and they discharged him the next day." 

What I found, however, is that there is little truth to stories like this. Those who get discharged after visiting mental health are usually those who have waited too long to seek help - by then they may actually need help beyond basic counseling. 

As for me, I immediately went to the clinic and spoke with a provider. I vented about those recent events, the loss of friend and family. In fact, I went back two more times, and by that last session, I felt a little better, ready to say goodbye to those who had to go. 

Contrary to those rumors, after my visits my career was not affected. I continued to work hard and received "5s" on my Enlisted Performance Report. A few months later I deployed to Afghanistan. I've been given medals and awards; my career is doing just fine. 

The mental health clinic is not a strange, dark place where Airmen turn into civilians, where pain begins. Mental health is there to give you just that - mental health. It is just one part of being fit to fight, ready to take on the challenges that we all face in service to our country. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to make use of this benefit, to ensure mental as well as physical and spiritual health. And if everyone opened up about it, spoke candidly about its benefits, maybe more people would visit and get help before it's too late. 

I'm glad I did.