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My ART was there when I needed them most

(U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

(U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- In August 2018, I was assigned to shift work following my selection for promotion. I was excited to have the opportunity to work with the joint personnel on the operations watch floor, but nervous about meeting expectations required of my new rank.

This nervousness was normal for me as I have always been anxious about doing my best and being capable. As time moved on however, I began to become more anxious, feeling my heart would race for no apparent reason; I found it difficult at times to catch my breath and I found myself dreading even the thought of going to work.

These feelings piqued in early February 2019, when I noticed I was incredibly irritable, waking up randomly at night, and unable to fall asleep because both my heart and thoughts were constantly racing. I had to physically will myself out of my vehicle each day just to go into my office. 

I spoke with a peer and friend about how I was feeling, and was encouraged to reach out to the 692nd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group’s Airmen Resiliency Team (ART). My friend suggested I email the mental health provider and the rest would figure itself out because it had been successful for them.

The next day, I did send what was essentially an “I need help” message to the mental health provider, and within the hour received a response. To my surprise, I was told I could be seen the next day, and pretty much anywhere that was convenient for me.

I chose to meet on base and spent an hour basically crying and talking in the provider’s office. As the appointment concluded, I was identified as having general anxiety and mild depression, and asked if I was open to medication in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. My provider explained the benefits observed by coupling medication with the therapy, and its success in easing symptoms. I told him I wanted explore these options, and was escorted next door to schedule a follow-up.

The next day, another medical provider spent more than an hour learning about me, my concerns and troubles, my physical and emotional responses to situations, and then discussed medication options with me. The medication I was eventually prescribed treated depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress, social anxiety, and panic disorders.

Both the ART medical and mental health providers continued oversight of my care, and met with me routinely for continued therapy and medication monitoring to evaluate my response to treatment. Within a week and a half, I began seeing results. I noticed I was no longer experiencing the heart racing instances nearly as often, and that I was able to give my logic and rationalization reign without the physical response to anxiety overwhelming me. I found myself again, and it only continued to improve.

Then, last month, I began to notice I was re-experiencing some of the same issues I initially sought to treat. I was waking up again without being able to calm my brain or fall asleep, my heart was racing again, and I noticed a slump in my overall mood. Because the ART sits immediately downstairs in the Occupational Health Environmental and Safety Services within my work center, I was able to walk down and see the ART medical provider immediately to address my concerns.

My vitals were checked and I was asked about my life to see if any major changes had occurred. It was then explained to me that I was on the lowest dose of my prescribed medication, and that sometimes it plateaus after initial treatment. After careful examination, it was determined my dosage needed to be adjusted/increased. As of today, I am feeling much better again, like myself; I find myself excited for things I was once again struggling with.

I credit the ART with changing my life. I was able to reach out to someone immediately in my time of need and get the medical attention right away. They removed barriers I might have had from a mental health perspective, and minimized time I may have taken to talk myself out of seeking help.

The close working relationship and proximity of both providers allowed optimized care. The mental health provider was able to speak directly with the medical provider about my case and get me the help I needed. Their presence, not only on base but also at our work center, made them incredibly accessible and able to address concerns in an expeditious manner. As a shift worker, this flexibility has been imperative to my success with my mental health treatment.

This entire experience helped me realize that anxiety has been a lifelong issue, and the ART’s treatment, both medicinally and therapeutically, changed my life. I no longer fear routine situations, I am able to slow my thoughts and stop overanalyzing situations to the point of physical paralysis; I have newfound personal and professional confidence. I am incredibly grateful for the ART, and do not know what I would have done without their presence and availability to help me in my time of need.

Editor’s note: This commentary was provided by an Airman in a subordinate unit with the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing who wanted to share their story of resilience thanks in large part to their local Airmen Resiliency Team.