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By Tbird in My Swan SongThe night I called the suicide hotline was a super wild night. But first, a little background.
I left the U.S. Navy in December 1990 after eight years of service. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye. I had risen to the rank of Petty Officer First Class (E-6) as a Data Analyst (DA). I’d had a perfect performance eval (4.0) every year from the time I was a Petty Officer Third Class (E-4) to the time I got out. I received two Navy Achievement Medals, several commendation letters from Admirals, and was even named the “Best Analyst on the West Coast.” And when the Navy started to computerize, they hand-picked me out of all the other DAs to computerize the entire Naval Aviation fleet and train them how to use it.
But I couldn’t stay. I was too mentally fucked up.
My trauma had started at a young age, and it just continued from there. Which was kind of a blessing in a way because my father was such a crazy psychopath, a physical and emotional abuser, that there really wasn’t anything in the Navy that could phase me. The girls in my Bootcamp kept asking me how I could take all the yelling and screaming. I would say, “This is just a lazy Sunday afternoon conversation at my house.”
But in reality, the Navy was more trauma. Just … more. And I couldn’t explain to anybody how fucked up I was because I thought I could keep it to myself. At the same time, I was making a lot of bad decisions, and a lot of people at work were not good to me. It was a rough time, and I had to go.
A month later, in January 1991, a Disabled American Veterans (DAV) representative looked at my medical records, saw the fact I’d had major surgery while in the Navy (I’ll save that for another blog post), looked me straight in the eye and said, “You will be 50% for the rest of your life.”
Later in his office, as he filled out my Veterans Affairs claim for my physical disability, I started mentally breaking down right in front of him. He urged me to file another claim for PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), but I wasn’t hearing it. I was in denial. Mental health issues are often much harder to admit, even to ourselves. Besides, no one talked about PTSD back then. I thought it was just a bunch of bullshit.
Everybody seems to know about PTSD now. My niece even tells her friends, “Oh, my aunt lives with me; she has PTSD,” and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you know, my brother’s cousin has that.” It’s so common.
Back then, I didn’t know about it, and I was in so much denial I couldn’t even talk to myself about it. Just couldn’t do it.
A few months later, I was staying at a friend’s apartment in northern California, and luckily she wasn’t there that night, or she would’ve thrown me out because I wasn’t doing good. So I called the suicide hotline.
The folks on the other end of the hotline talked with me for a while and then told me I could call the VA, which I had no idea because I was just so fucked up. I didn’t understand anything. Leaving the military and entering the civilian world is very confusing. Even more so with my mental health unraveling.
I took their advice, called the VA, and asked to speak to the psychiatrist on duty. He spoke with me for a long time and eventually told me he would send the police to my house, and they would bring me to the VA hospital, and I would be safe there.
Now, having the police come to my house at two in the morning seemed like not a good idea, and it took him a while to convince me. But killing myself also seemed like not a good idea, so I finally agreed to it.
Well, about four cop cars showed up with all their lights flashing, pulled up at weird angles like they were coming onto a violent crime scene. I thought, Oh my fucking God! The cops knocked on the door, and I said, “Look, dudes, I don’t got no weapons. I’m not going to hurt anybody. Can you send some of them other cops away and turn the lights out?”
“Oh yeah, yeah, sure,” they said. Thank God. After the “crime scene” calmed down, the two cops that were left came in and asked if they could look around, check for weapons and drugs and the sort, and I agreed. With that done, they got around to saying, “Well, you’re coming with us.”
“OK,” I replied, “I agreed with the psychiatrist that you guys would take me to the VA hospital.”
“We can’t take you to the VA hospital. We have to take you to the state hospital.”
“I ain’t fucking going!”
“No. You gotta go now. You’ll just have to work it out. The VA will just have to transfer you from the state hospital.” And I realized … I’ve got two, huge cops in my house, and I’m going to the state hospital whether I want to or not. So, discretion being the better part of valor, I decided not to fight with them and got in the back of the police car. But the whole time I was thinking, This is not good. This is not good!
They took me to the state hospital where I sat in this little, tiny waiting room coming un-fucking-glued. I started plunking all my change into the pay phone and called the VA psychiatrist. “What the fuck did you do to me? I’m over here, and you’re not here. I trusted you!” The psychiatrist replied, “Well, tell them that you need a taxi voucher. Then call a taxi and have them bring you to the VA.” So I went to the window and said, “I talked to the VA psychiatrist, and he told me to ask you for a taxi voucher.” Lady at the window said, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. And you can’t leave because you’re suicidal.”
I sat down for a minute, wondering what I was going to do when this gurney rolls in with a guy strapped to it screaming “I’m going to kill you all! I’m going to kill you all!” And that was that for me.
I went to the window and I said, “I’m not suicidal,” and ran out into the night.
Now it’s three o’clock in the morning, I have no idea where I am aside from the fact I’m in a parking lot somewhere hiding behind a car thinking, OK, things have gone really badly for me here. I just needed to get home. I knew that I had maybe sixty bucks in the bank, which was supposed to last me for food money for the rest of the month, but at least it was there.
I snuck back into a side door to a different pay phone and called a cab, had the cab take me home, got my ATM card, had the cab take me to an ATM, paid him, then called the psychiatrist again. He said if I promised him I would go to the VA the very next morning at 8 a.m. he would not send the cops back to my house. I promised him I would do it, and I showed up promptly at eight o’clock the next morning. But that whole night I half expected a helicopter with spotlights to fly over me at any minute. Then I’d know things had really gone south!
I will say that the two cops who came in couldn’t have been more compassionate or kind. They were super, and I felt very safe with them. I didn’t feel like they were tricking me at all, but I did feel like the psychiatrist didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Which would be my first in a long list of people at the VA who didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.
Even so, that wild night was the start of my recovery, and though I didn’t know it, the beginning of me learning everything I could about filing VA claims that would lead to the website HadIt.com. Helping other veterans file their claims, get the compensation they deserve, and find community through HadIt.com for the past twenty-five years has become my life’s purpose.
Thanks for reading.
If you are suicidal, the Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7. Dial 988, then Press 1.
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They probably won’t send a helicopter to your house. They will listen though.
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