You're always fine

Veterans day special

November 11, 2023 Even Health Season 1 Episode 19
You're always fine
Veterans day special
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Does the thought of transition from military to civilian life seem like an uphill battle? Strap in as we venture deep into the nuances of veterans' mental health. Our very own team member, Nick, a veteran himself, opens up about the personal journey that led him to find solace and purpose at Even Health. We unfold the many layers surrounding the stigma of mental health help seeking, the feeling of purposelessness post-military service, and how Even Health offers a lifeline through tailored support initiatives.

We shed light on the often overlooked challenges of the shift from military to civilian life. Nick shares raw accounts of his own struggle with reintegration, and his cousin’s decision to return to war, as it was easier to face than the alienation of civilian life. Our conversation touches on the fear of imposter syndrome, the growing disconnect due to the dwindling number of service members, and the profound impact of expressing gratitude towards service members and their families. Nick's story is a testament to the arduous journey of finding a new identity post-service.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome back to your Always Fine a space to show up for yourself and embrace the mess that lives underneath because, let's be real, it's exhausting always being fine. So grab your headphones and allow yourself to listen, laugh and even cry, because you are not alone and we aren't always fine.

Speaker 2:

And that's okay.

Speaker 3:

Welcome to the show, nick. Thank you so much for being here today.

Speaker 2:

Thanks for staying. It's great to be with you guys.

Speaker 3:

I've been so excited about joining you on this Nick you're part of our internal team here at Even Health, but can you go ahead and share with our listeners just a little bit about yourself, your background?

Speaker 2:

Sure Army veteran a tent at West Point back in the 90s and then served in the Army for seven years, had three deployments, all with the 10th Mountain Division, which is based up in upstate New York. Transitioned out, wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, knew I was good at school but we probably packed like dive into my transition a little bit but was fortunate enough to land at Circus University. I thought I'd just be there for a year for grad school but was right timing, right place. Was able to join a startup research center within the university called the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and help build out their research shop. Really kind of a one of a kind, not your typical academic center. We did do research. It was very much applied and focused around designing programs and interventions that support veterans and their family members and their transition to civilian life. We've been with them for good nine years until joining the even health team here a few months ago. That's sort of a high level sort of arc.

Speaker 3:

You know I want to dive into all the feel my hot takes on how I don't believe we support our vets enough. But before I get there, not many of our listeners may know the military component of even health. Can you just share a little bit about your role here and specifically with mental health military?

Speaker 2:

Sure, absolutely. I head up our public sector side of the even health work and really that's focused on helping to grow our partnerships with agents, particularly federal agencies, though also state and local folks that are looking to grow peer support opportunities. So, particularly with the VA and the DOD work, we really started our work with the Air Force and the Chaplain Corps, sort of developing capabilities for anonymous peer support, and then with the winning third place with the VA's mission day break suicide prevention grand challenge, and that project in particular is focused around adapting our platform to support, provide support groups for veteran survivors of suicide attempts and so just with that work getting up off the ground, there's just a ton of potential in terms of being working closely with our VA partners to expand capabilities for peer support. That's just a big growth area for VA and state government and even in the nonprofit and philanthropic space of folks recognizing the opportunity to get further upstream and providing access to mental health and social support earlier as an attractive tool for preventing suicide.

Speaker 3:

I know, for me, one of the things that I loved as a therapist when I came to even health, was I did my research know before the interview and everything and their whole idea about this like anonymous support for veterans. I have some veterans in my family and I've worked with veterans and there's all the barriers we know in terms of like I'll get into it guys, the transitions and how we like support and all that. But then there's the stigmas and there's like that internal thing that they go through and this idea that, oh my gosh, they could address this PTSD or address these high level issues while in the comfort of the space they feel safe in, was just like for me I was like why is this already? Like what do we do? And so I think that it really does speak to the unique kind of needs of the population and yeah, yeah, I mean it's.

Speaker 2:

it's about meeting a population where they're at. You know, I still like just fucking back on my time in the military and I, granted, I've been out for 15 years and you know, I think there has been some, some change in like positive change in terms of trying to like leadership, addressing issues around help seeking and stigma. I still think there's a long way to go, but you're starting to see even messages from the top. You know the Pentagon, like even the Secretary of Defense, issuing guidance that you know mental health is health. And like the, the, the importance of the whole health and. But just repeating back, you know, like I, so I transitioned out in 2007. And both my side reflect back on my time getting out and sure, knowing what I wanted to do. You know I like had a degree, like could get a job, and things like that. But just like the loss of your tribe, your loss of your sense of purpose, you're not sure, not sure where to turn in terms of what resources are available to you and that's really like what. And focused on the last 10 years at IBM, fno, at the, even health. You know they're. They call it the sea of goodwill. There are all these resources for veterans out there, but it makes it hard to to, to know how, to, how and where to turn. But you have this sort of in craneed sense of of being able to, you know, figure it out yourself and you know also process right, like I feel like the military runs on order.

Speaker 3:

Maybe this is naive of me, but I think you know and as someone who is, like you know, worked with veterans, I'm like I have my degree right Is in social work and to understand this process, and I don't get it, like you know, like I get stuck in different places or held up, and that's so frustrating. I definitely want to go back, though, to you know. You were saying reflecting back on transitioning. I think that's there's so many aspects here, and, as it relates to mental health, I guess my first question, though, is why do you feel that, or what do you think makes it so that it's such a barrier? Right Like that we don't like talk about it, and yeah, well, I've part of it's. culturally, you're just sort of built to and trained to be resourceful and and, and you know, only ask for help when you're you're you're truly in a, in a in a bad place, and I think that how could you guys I want to know how can you guys who are in the middle of like war and putting your life on the line, how could you ever like if it's not that bad, like that level you're used to, that that's a hard flag to like pull right, Like to say, like oh, it's really bad, Like I think your threshold is a little different.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, I mean so. I was previously married and I think I'm still grateful for my ex who actually dragged me into a vet center to talk some to somebody Because I would you know I'd gotten out. You know this was right during the height of the Iraq surge. You know had experienced some grief and loss, but also that loss of loss of purpose, loss of you know the almost survivors guilt, you know of survivors guilt, but also just sort of feeling like you leave, you, leave your, your friends and the folks who've invested in you, and like there's this total loss.

Speaker 3:

And I think it's really hard when you're like my cousin. He served in Iraq and you know, when he came back, him and his wife didn't like they hadn't. They just didn't know what to do, right, they couldn't integrate and so he made the decision to go back to war. And like now as a little further, like you know, I can understand it a little differently now, but quite honestly I Can't imagine transitioning back and then your family not understanding right, like why you would want to go back, like you know, or like there's no disconnect.

Speaker 2:

Then it's so true, I remember, like so I was after I was at SU for a while doing some research. We it's funny you say like so we were up at Fort Drum doing some focus groups with if soldiers about Potentially what, what they would do when they would get out and go use their GI Bill and go back to school. And in the focus groups they're saying the same, exact same thing as like I would rather go back to Afghanistan, then Go go sit on a college campus just out of fear of the imposter syndrome and like what it would be like as an older adult Even in like older being, like meaning like mid 20s, um of coming to a university and also in a different mindset.

Speaker 3:

Right Like not, in a, I'm sorry, coming back from Iraq and you know me at 18 like I'm not sure. Right like that. You see different things, you experience different things and yeah. I mean, I think right connection is so important but, for whatever reason, it feels it. A lot of times I feel like the military truly only is the ones, not just because they're the ones who went through it, but I think we haven't done a good job of like Help me understand that experience for you, or and I don't think you guys are gonna like come and talk about your feelings to the table. Do you know what I'm saying? So I feel like there's a disconnect.

Speaker 2:

There is disconnect you know, I don't think we figure that out as a, as a society, but I I do think it's. It's it's not just An American thing, you know, it's just sort of though. It's such an intense experience that, again, like leaning back into, like why we're doing peer support right, like like you feel more comfortable sharing, at least initially, things you're wrestling with. From what you experienced downrange, like in combat or the ploy, it's just easier to open up and have that sort of sense of connection. But still, you know, I think that's also a reflection of fewer, fewer people served today and in the military. You know it was. It was different, you know, 30, 40 years ago when you had like more, a higher percentage of our population were come. We're connected to the military in some way as that's even as a family member, you know.

Speaker 3:

Yes, and I, and I also feel I Feel like, too, it's not something we lead with. You know, like I felt, you know what I mean, like I know, whenever someone tells me that they have served, the first thing I think about is that this person's family me, because that's just the role. You know what I mean. So it's like thank you for your service, thank your family for their service, because it is. It's like this whole unit Experience, um, and so when you just said that, I was just like oh my gosh, you're right, like I don't.

Speaker 2:

When was the last time I said that, you know, and that was just no, now, having been out 15 years, you recognize that it's a big identity shift too right. So, like when you're first out, you're like that is like your identity. You know You're like this fish out of water or have this fish out of water or imposter type of feeling. But through time I think you know as someone who's successfully transitioned, you know like you don't lead with that so much you know.

Speaker 3:

Can I ask do you feel like you? Do you think it's different phases of the transition? Do you feel like you ever truly like you know? Do you ever truly phase? I mean, we're talking about, I think, just experiences that are into the extreme right, like we could get into PTSD, we could get into, you know, some of the and I think we're just talking about the things that happen, even if it's the best possible way it could have gone. But do you, I feel like, did you ever transition fully out, or I mean I'm still, I mean you're working with the military.

Speaker 2:

Exactly. So I still think that, like this is sort of my, this is part of I guess you know my way of wanting to continue to serve and stay connected to the community. You know, like there's still very much a need for this work and you know, I think that sort of goes back to my time in service and, you know, even back, you know, to what brought me to serve anyway, like this sort of military family connection. You know, yeah, I don't think I've truly like. I think we're always transitioning, transitioning is, it's not.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah, we're always transitioning.

Speaker 2:

you know it's a process.

Speaker 3:

There's no destination, right, it's a journey, yeah exactly Everything we call life and everything we put into it. It truly is. Yeah, you've said a few times now like loss of identity, loss of self. I know I struggle with that in terms of just having a real disease and sometimes I'm like, well, is it just an older or is it like my disease? Like, you know what I mean, and so do you ever struggle with, like this idea of like shedding, like who you used to be, or you know, like, talk a little bit to me about the like loss of identity piece and you know how do you find what your purpose is if, like, maybe your purpose shifted right, like the boy who enlisted is probably not the man who came out.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's a great question, you know, I think I like the identity shift. I think was probably most acute the first few years, and I think that's pretty common for a lot of people.

Speaker 3:

Isn't that the one. The suicide rate, though, is the highest too.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely right, I'm going to call that the deadly gap, or the VA is now calling it the deadly gap. So the first year post transition. Now, like through statistics, if you want to get into the wonky side of that work younger veterans in particular are at greater risk in that first year post transition and a lot of it has to do with I mean, there are a number like, as you all know, like suicides are very complicated issue. There's no one specific cause, but there are risk factors and certainly there are a lot of heightened risk factors. Or for veterans is are leaving out, related to financial employment, but also loss of social connection. Right, I think that's the biggest. For me, I think, even though I was still so maintained a connection, you know, with friends and still today, like this.

Speaker 3:

There's also a difference I just think about when I'm college or roommates, right, whenever you have that right Like it is so easy when you're in just court, like right to like build, it's an effortless connection, as opposed to like even just being next door to someone, it's like, oh, I got you know there's more steps that take that it takes to. You know, nick and I we both live in Western New York. He doesn't want to say clean Western New York, but it is Western New York. He's a bills fan.

Speaker 2:

From Michigan originally, like Buffalo, new York originally.

Speaker 3:

Oh blue, I know, however. So I'm bringing this up because they're doing some. Wayne County has just gotten some sort of grant for VA and they're building these condo buildings right and they are for vets. All this stuff they are $400,000 and like they're expet. So like, yes, all night I'm not saying I'm, but I I don't know the exact logistics, but I'm just sitting here and thinking to myself like that is terrifying If I'm coming out and like not in a bad way, things were portioned, things were like it regimented for me, and now I've got to worry about this burden. So, yeah, thank you for finding me a house, but are you meeting them where they're at Right, like are you giving them what they need and to succeed?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's, it's Maslow's hierarchy right, Right, stable income, roof over your head, family and social support you know are, and then working your way up, and I think that's that's a big challenge, especially like like, even reflecting back on when I transitioned. I was ready. I just wanted to get out Like they had. They had a checklist of offices and things that you would need to.

Speaker 3:

Of course they did.

Speaker 2:

Get you know, you know turn your equipment in and you know get a briefing on, like how to write a resume, and it's very much like the mindset of the transitioning service members. Still very much of like you know, what do I need to do to just get out of here and like turn in my ID card and drive off.

Speaker 3:

Do you remember, like in high school there was a similar like prep for college type of things, where it was like you show up for the loan ceremony, you do this, you do that. It's like I was like I wish someone would have like told me what like I actually was signing or what I was like you know what I mean, like what I was actually getting into, as opposed to just being like, oh, we've trend, we've success, like we made them go do their resume. Okay, because one of the things I also wanted to ask about, like identity and what to do, is how overwhelming it must be when there's I know how I feel when there's just two choices chicken or pizza. You know. But you then get out of the military where it's like you know what to expect, you know it's going to be consistent, it's going to be structured and and humans do much better with structure and consistency and then you take away the choice part of it, you get orders and and while not for everyone, most humans at a level really do thrive in that kind of environment and then you kind of get thrown back into real life and I hope I'm not the first person to break break the news, but life has actual no rulebook and you know you have to do all that like cognitive, like load on your, on yourself.

Speaker 2:

Oh, you think, like even my, my former boss always like tells this joke and so like he is also Air Force veteran, like PhD business professor, but like, when he got out, he's like how do I, how do I schedule a dentist appointment? How do I even do this? Because like it's all there for you. You're issued every practice, literally everything. It's like like that's so and I'm not like.

Speaker 3:

I don't want to like, I'm not trying to glorify, I'm not.

Speaker 2:

I'm just trying to say, though, that there is, that's a really difficult transition, like just all those, all those little things and of course they like that's sort of a it's not trivial, but like, if you think about that in the context of all the other things that folks are thinking about, like you know, finding a job and just finding the first job, that's one of the like. One of the big things that we were focused on at IBMF was around the employment transition. You have a lot of folks that in in they're actually really interested or turn to small business ownership, in part because they made like the work, like fitting into the civilian workplace isn't for, isn't for everyone, but one. So, like you've got a high percentage of folks that are turning to. You know, business ownership is one pathway but just also helping folks understand like it's like how to fit in in a civilian workplace setting is more than just like a tutorial or write a resume right and how to translate your skills and speak, and I think, right, so let's say you're even bright item, but you tell that you got your checklist on, you did your resume thing.

Speaker 3:

Then you go and you realize something as simple as like maybe you just don't know what gross right, right or something very trivial, right. I have to think. Then you, there's got to be some sort of imposter syndrome or like feeling I don't want to say dumb, right, like I should know this and I don't in this context, and so that then affects your ability to go forward and get a go for the job you want. And I feel like it's like small Microdoses of that, even for the bushy-eyed and ready to go out of the military, I think ends up when we're in this vicious cycle. I just know your thoughts on that and, like that, you know what, mind what you end up. Negative self-talk, just that, end up being for you when you can't. Yeah, I early.

Speaker 2:

So no, so For one thing, you know, I landed at Syracuse for grad school. I mean I I interviewed as a as I was getting out with with an engineering company. But just you know, part of it was the identity thing is like I just wanted to continue to serve and like for a. In some ways, going back to grad school was like a way to just buy myself time. Yeah, yeah let's figure it out, and Never in my wildest dreams that I thought about going after a doctorate but had a, had a professor who encouraged me to consider it and you know again Decided to give it a try but was still very much felt that I was an imposter. You know like I should be. I should be back like leading troops in combat. And what am I doing here?

Speaker 3:

Well, imposter is a little bit like, like you said, survivor's guilt, and I find it funny too. You're your wildest dreams. You said you couldn't imagine having a doctrine, but then you know a professor. Right, like that same kind of dynamic you know, I'm not saying it was orders, but right like it becomes like easy to be, be more, I think, like Passive as opposed to purpose, like you know, like to what you're saying, and grab the first job, or don't you know, do that. And also school has a flow, right, like so it's like in terms of buying time. I'm sure that that's like a good one. Right, like I have I can externally have a purpose. Everyone can understand this, but I can also, I know I this, this and this happen at school.

Speaker 2:

Yeah in it. They the yeah I very much, at least in the first year too it was. It was kind of one of those things where you start to get a sense for like. Okay, they're like your peers in school are looking at you or like who is this guy? What the coming with no like, also from a from a from a genuine place of curiosity. But then I'm like it might Like like these folks are, you know, you know a lot. A lot of them have parents or like, they're multi like or or who are faculty members or so like, understand, like how to navigate higher ed in a way that I didn't. You know your base probably right like that right, so it took time to work through and so figure that out.

Speaker 3:

I was just wondering if you know you 15 years you, I would, you know, agree you're very successful. Do you ever get any of that like imposter syndrome back, or has it kind of passed?

Speaker 2:

Um, always, I think, like put like public speaking, depending on the venue. But you know, like being invited to testify In the Senate a few years back, like for my first time, of what am I doing here? But you know, sure, I think. But you know it's also, I think, over time you just recognize that like that's, that's natural, a natural feeling. And you know, I guess you don't feel that way if you don't care about what you do. You know, and that's what I tell myself at least.

Speaker 3:

My last question for you is If you could go back and tell your 18 year old Self the day one before you, even like you know you're, you're about to enter bootcamp. What would you tell him?

Speaker 2:

Um, it may not all play out like you think it will, but it will work out.

Speaker 3:

I love that. Is there anything you would tell those who want to support and and and help Build that connection with you? What's the advice you have for them?

Speaker 2:

Absolutely there. There are no shortage of incredible organizations that are doing great work supporting veterans, some that many know about wounded warrior project, certainly, the Institute for Veterans of Military Families, where I came from, is supporting Thousands of veterans and their family members in transition. One in particular, if you're looking to give back and in in Support veterans that are transitioning into your community, is a an organization called onward ops, and they are a peer support Organization that is partnered with the VA, where you connect I am actually a Trained peer sponsor with as a volunteer, and they're they're always looking for. You don't have to be military connected and frankly, I would argue that it's. That's even better if. If you're not, and it's a great way to you know, help Help an individual veteran or their family member navigate to different resources and supports in your community as they Take the uniform off. Oh, sorry, break, what was? Uh? Helped me the last part. You're muted. I can't hear you.

Speaker 3:

I said thank you for saying break. You'd be surprised how much, how many times just like having that word, knowing I can cut the entire thing out. Um, so I was just saying you, you went from like micro to messy, and now I was just wondering if you can go like just like as a person. So if, if someone is new into your organization, someone is like like, how can you make a connection with them? Um, in a way that you know is, you know, not being a shitbag?

Speaker 2:

Sure, yeah. So you know, if, if you're, if you're looking for a way to engage a veteran in your company or a neighbor recently moved back, um, you know everybody talks about you know, thank you for your service. You know that's uh, it's uh for some. It can be even an awkward thing to say for some because, like you know, many just volunteered and did their, did their thing and, um, I think the best way to engage is just to ask, ask about their service, like, oh, did you serve? Where did you serve? Uh, you know, tell me more about that and sort of invite them into being able to share what they're willing to share. And I think that's that's probably the best way, in my opinion, um, of being able to just strike up a relationship and learn a little bit more.

Speaker 3:

I think that that's so powerful. Mostly, I feel like that just hit home for me. Obviously, we talked about this in the beginning of the episode, about my like feeling like I have to thank them. But for me you know I'm an inquisitive person, you know like I always am looking like, oh, tell me, tell me more. I do feel like I the it starts to feel like I did I never thought of them like yeah, why don't I just ask like where did you serve? What was your experience? And so I love that, this idea of just like investing that time into you. Know not that your gratitude can be shown through your curiosity? I guess 100%.

Speaker 2:

That's a great way of putting it.

Speaker 1:

Seriously, you're fine. You're fine because you have the power to access your place of peace anytime you need it. However, if you get stuck or right at the palm of your hand to help check out our show notes for this week's source list, recommended content and cabana live group schedule, We'll catch you next week for a brand new episode of You're Always Fine.

Supporting Veterans' Mental Health
Challenges of Transitioning After Military Service
Transitioning Out of Military, Finding Identity
Expressing Gratitude Through Curiosity