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COVID stinks: A story of depression, recovery, resilience

Airman sitting in the dark.

Tech. Sgt. Ceaira Tinsley, 57th Wing Public Affairs NCO in charge of command information, poses for a photo at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Dec. 10, 2020. Tinsley shared her story of depression, recovery and resilience. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

What if we lived in a world where people were forbidden from making physical contact with one another, and the very air we needed to breathe was filled with a potentially deadly virus so new and easily contracted that everyone had to wear masks to leave their homes or be within six feet of another person?

Oh wait, we are living in that world. 

The Coronavirus took the world by storm this year, reaching full-blown pandemic status by spring, forcing everyone to redefine “normal” and adjust to a quarantined life--spent almost entirely indoors with minimal social interaction.

We all put on a brave face and continued to power through, taking things one day at a time, but let’s be honest, the world could now easily be mistaken for the opening credits in any post- apocalypse zombie movie. Simply put, it’s a new world that most of us hate we have to brave. 

Like many others, I eagerly dashed into the first 14-day shutdown with naïve expectations and excitement for the unexpected downtime. However, that excitement soon turned to uneasiness when I realized that we were in a 10-month stand-off with the virus, and there was no end in sight.

People are doing what they can to minimize the spread by adhering to CDC guidelines and safety protocols. Across the globe bars, gyms and restaurants are closed and public gatherings have been canceled. Unfortunately though, for most places of business those closures have gone on for longer than their savings accounts, or let’s be honest my mental health, could sustain. 

Every time I thought the year couldn’t get any worse somehow it did.

Simply put life has been hard. As an active-duty Airman, single mother and full-time graduate student, my days were already long, hectic and overwhelming. Then the Coronavirus swept over the world. It settled into our lives for the long haul, bringing with it some other unwelcome guests--fatigue and depression. 

Before I knew what hit me, I was in the midst of a full-blown mental breakdown and “ugly” crying in the daycare parking lot for no apparent reason. Yep, I started to cry that day, and I continued to be inconsolable and just down on myself and my life for months. 

In the midst of my storm, I didn’t eat for two weeks, lost 13 pounds from stress, experienced countless sleepless nights and eventually had to send my daughter 2,000 miles away to stay with my mom while I, “got myself together.”

I felt like a real loser.

No matter what I did, I just couldn’t shake the negative emotions, feelings of inadequacy or my own perceived shortcomings.

See, here’s the thing — although I’ve been going to school in pursuit of becoming a mental health counselor for five years, I still didn’t recognize the warning signs of depression in myself. 

I mean why would I? I’m usually a happy person. I have a wonderful family. I bought a new home this year. I have a blossoming career. Plus, I’m certified to teach resilience. My life checks all the boxes.

I’m sure from the outside looking in no one would have guessed I needed a hand because I was showing up, going through the motions and not openly crying out for help. I can’t say that I blame them. The person I described isn’t what depression looks like, right? 

Yet, I was indeed depressed. I needed help. In fact, I needed professional help, and getting it for myself was the best decision I have ever made.  

These days, I can honestly say I’ve gotten things back on track. Lately the person I see in the mirror is starting to look more like the pre-COVID me. My daughter is home, and we’ve adjusted to being so far away from our family and friends.

However, I didn’t just show up to one counseling session, where a magic wand was waived and “voila” I was cured. Nope, that sort of thing only happens in the movies, and for those of you taking notes, if 2020 were a movie it wasn’t a fairytale, but I am excited for the ending credits.

But back to my story. My road to recovery started with just one appointment and, just like this COVID-19 rollercoaster we’re all on, I’m not sure when or where it stops. I’ve showed up to every session, did the work and things are looking up, but I know I have a long way to go.  

Sadly, my story isn’t unique. In fact, it’s far too common.

As military members, though we are armed with “a particular set of skills” that can help us cope with life’s stressors, those skills are not all encompassing. Know that you may need more tools, or professional help, when you find yourself “ugly” crying in the parking lot for no reason at all. 

Sayings like “take care of your Airmen” or “be a good wingman” should become the daily standard for how we operate, because if the past year has taught me anything, it’s this: you can get through anything as long as you reach out for help and check on those around you.

So, let my story serve as a reminder to check on your strong friends, and if you are that strong friend, don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.

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