Officer thinks about ending life; doesn't regret decision to get help

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Charlie Nichols
  • 97 AMW PA

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. I sat in my hotel room and thought about ending my life. I was at tech school, 12 hours away from my family, and 22 hours away from my own bed. I had been living out of a hotel room for the last month, surviving on delivered pizza and frozen corndogs. As someone from a small town, I was living in one of the largest cities in the U.S. While I had made a friend or two at tech school, this was the loneliest I had ever felt. To make matters worse, my long-term girlfriend had just broken up with me the day before.

Every Thanksgiving I had ever experienced before this one featured dozens of family members, a big feast, and watching Mississippi State play in the Egg Bowl. This time, however, I sat in my hotel… lonely, broke, afraid, overwhelmed, and heartbroken.

Before this moment, suicide had been a lingering voice in the back of my head, not something I had ever acted on, but an option I remained aware of. I was what I would call passively suicidal up to this point. I didn’t want to die, but I wouldn’t exactly be upset if it happened. More importantly, I was scared to tell anyone how I felt. I was scared that it could affect my career, my friendships, and simply how people perceived me. I had heard horror stories of Airmen using the s-word only to immediately lose dream assignments or face separation.

I had experienced suicide firsthand as a child and I knew of the pain it could cause in others' lives, but at this moment none of that mattered. Luckily, all my firearms were in another time zone, so I decided that the next morning I would drive my rental car to a scenic overlook nearby, and well….

When I woke up the next morning, with a now sober headspace, I decided to give getting help one last try. After all, if it didn’t work out the result would be the same anyway, right? I gave myself three months. In these three months, I promised myself I would take care of my body physically and mentally, and give seeking help my best shot.

The next week, my tech school class was given a briefing about suicide from a now-retired Army Major that changed my life. It was far from the “It's okay to not be okay” and “Resiliency” messaging I had heard many times before. He told his story candidly and kindly. He gave simple but effective tips in a way that completely changed my perspective and gave me the courage to seek help for the first time. For years I had been scared to admit to myself I needed help. I was scared to be seen as weak, weird, or a problem.

Soon after all of this, I started grad school, which came with health insurance and a free therapy plan. Starting therapy is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made and something that I had balked at the thought of for years in fear that it would cause problems for my career. I was able to go to therapy without telling anyone, there was no paperwork, and no adverse effects on my career. Once I felt comfortable, I told my supervisor I was going to therapy and was allowed encouraged to make therapy a regular part of my routine.

After a year of therapy, I’ve made great strides in my mental health. While it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, I can’t help but reflect on the progress that I have made since making the decision to get help. I gave all my guns to trusted family members, ensuring I don’t have quick access to firearms.  Most importantly, I don’t regret the decision to get help. Progress isn’t linear, but the first step was both the hardest and most important one I’ve made.

I felt compelled to tell my story after I recently had a friend tell me how lonely and isolated they expecting to feel this Christmas. This is their first holiday away from family, and they are over 2,000 miles from home.

If you feel isolated this holiday season, please talk to someone. Friends, family, and coworkers are there to listen and be there for you. The Altus Air Force Base mental health clinic is currently taking walk-in appointments, Military One Source offers free counseling services to those in need, and non-Air Force resources are available. 988 is the national suicide hotline, which has help available 24/7.

If you feel like suicide is an option, please know that you are not alone. It is not weak, shameful, or “a career killer” to get help. You will not regret seeking help – I know I didn’t.