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Courage

13 February 2023:


Over the past few months since I've decided to share openly about my mental health journey, I've been told by many different people that I am brave and more specifically, that I have a lot of courage. While the feedback is encouraging what I feel is not what I believed courage to be. I recently looked up the meaning of courage (via a google search) and found the following:


1). The ability to do something that frightens one.

2). Strength in the face of pain or grief.


Doing things that scare me is something I've been doing since the day I entered elementary school. The day I decided to be a loner in middle school to be true to myself rather than fake who I was and participate in things I didn't believe in, just to remain in the company of other people. The decision to pursue a commission into the USAF even though I had been told repeatedly that I was dumb, slow, weak and then feeling shame for demonstrating evidence of this by failing my AFOQT test and having to repeat it while others easily passed; being placed in remedial English and math classes for entry into college because my test scores for the placement exams were so low. Being shown over and over and over again that my worth was connected to being desired by and or being in a relationship with a man but spending the majority of my life living single. Showing up to work every day in a job that values knowledge and literally calls itself "intelligence" meanwhile, I never quite feel that I have enough of it. Working everyday with men knowing full well that I could be criticized, taken advantage of, harassed, and or assaulted by one and more often than not, they may not receive consequences for it. And then I'm black. History (and living my own life) continues to reveal to me that living while black is not a safe way to exist in this world. So doing something that frightens me... what does it mean or feel like to NOT be frightened? I am afraid ALL of the time.


After I was released from being admitted in the psychiatric ward at Camp Humphreys back in August, I was required to meet with my mental health provider, Squadron Commander, and 1st Sergeant for a "Treatment Team Meeting." The focus of the meeting was to go over the "Safety Plan" that I created with the Psychiatrist while I was hospitalized. The safety plan was designed to help me write down what my triggers were, identify what some of the thoughts and physical effects I experienced from those triggers, name places I could go to destress and feel safe, and identify who I could talk to (who were here on the Korean peninsula) for comfort when those triggers occur. I filled out the form as best as I could.


During the discussion my 1st Sergeant asked me, "I noticed that outside of your husband, you didn't put down anyone else. Do you have anyone else who is here in Korea, that you can go to outside of him?" I told him, "I did have one friend, but she PCS'd last month and is back stateside. I don't have any other friends here." I felt ashamed. I felt pathetic. I felt incompetent as a leader because I couldn't even execute the most basic of skills: to make a friend. I was reminded of the feedback I had received months prior that, "I needed to improve my relationship with my peers" that essentially, "my peers did not like me" and it pretty much was left up to me to find out who and why and find out how to encourage them to like me. How to earn their favor. The discussion brought me back to elementary school where I spent years trying to learn and figure out how to make friends. How to connect with other people. How to get them to like me and want me around. The Commander asked me if I was ok with meeting with her and our Director of Operations weekly for coffee to check-in as I was away from work, going to my treatments and I told her yes I was.


It's interesting looking back at this safety form and remembering the shame, anxiety, and hopelessness I felt at that time and all of the healing work I have done and continue to do to get to where I am today. I couldn't even see a person from work without having an anxiety attack. The sight of an email from work made me want to die (not in a figure of speech way- I craved and felt very real and strong urges to kill myself). Any lying or inconsistency ignited my entire body with rage and any contact from any of my parents drove me to plummet into a deep, DEEP depression. It was really bad. I was scared of people. I was scared of living. I didn’t trust myself. I had no safe space to fall apart, and I didn't know where to go to find it or how to create safety for myself.


This weekend I was invited to a hike for minority women; women of color. Activities like these I formerly avoided or felt a sense of guilt or shame attending as I felt that they could be perceived as "exclusive." I have spent my entire life being and/or feeling excluded, the LAST thing I ever want to do is do this to someone else. How would I feel if there was a get together only for white people? How would I feel if there was a group only for men?


What I didn’t know then that I know now (simply because it has risen from my subconscious to my conscious mind) is that I have been SWIMMING in this. My experience in academia and especially in the Air Force, has largely been this environment; predominately and exclusively men and/or white people. And someway somehow, I’ve been able to scratch, claw, and fight my way in, even though so many of the messages I've been receiving have been "you do not belong here" or "you are not enough". And while I have made it, it is not without injury. I have not been unscathed.


Today I accepted the invitation to the hike that was targeted to minority women. I went. I brought other women of color who were officers with me. I was reminded today of the power of community and the power of a "safe space." There are so few spaces and so few times that I have felt safe that I have gone years believing that I didn't deserve this. Having support and having community is something that I believe is critical to the human experience. During one of my undergraduate Social Psychology courses, I learned that human beings are social creatures. For our own survival we NEED other people to connect to. There are many ways to connect with other people. Experiences in diversity whether it be common interests, religion, sexuality, gender, ability/disability, cognitively, or race are ALLOWED to be one of them.


So back to the comments about courage. I guess I don't feel courageous in my actions because I no longer feel afraid. I don't feel strong because I've accepted that in order for me to survive and have any chance to thrive, I must be true. True to myself. So all of the pain and grief and fears that I've been carrying within me, I am releasing it in order to create the safety I crave within me. It feels good to feel safe, and it’s OKAY to BE safe.


Photo: The safety plan I completed after being released from USAG Humphreys inpatient care


Photo: Myself and some of the women I went hiking with at the top of the mountain we climbed


Photo: Myself and some of the women I went hiking with at the top of the mountain we climbed



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