This blog is one that has never been more important for me to write and one that I hope gets read the most (if you don't read any further than this please skip to the bottom and read the last paragraph). Why? Because I know that no matter what corner of the world you live in, coming home from operations is no small task.
Depending what country you're from and what Task Group you belonged to, you could spend anywhere from 4-12 months in a war zone. Coming home you need to put as much effort into rehabilitating as you do with pre-deployment training and battle prep before going on deployment.
What most people don't realize is you change and you change drastically. You can't spend months in a country where the idea of killing is the norm and hunting humans down at night is your greatest source of purpose and not change.
I like most other people thought when I came home from Afghanistan that I was "normal", but after a few days on home soil I realized I was not the same 19 year old kid that left all those months ago. Now 20 years old my world view had changed and changed a lot.
For me I didn't struggle with any emotions like anxiety or depression, I didn't freak out at loud noises, for me it was my mind was still in Afghanistan. As I was driving down the road I wouldn't drive over manholes or close to objects on the side of the road, I would scan the surrounding terrain thinking of all the positions I could be ambushed from or what would make good aiming marks for some piece of shit sitting on hill wanting to hit me with an RC IED.
Now even though I was thinking that, I knew I wasn't in an Afghanistan and I knew I was safe. I knew there were no IED's on the roads and I knew there were no Taliban fighters on the hills waiting to hit me with machine gun and sniper fire, yet I would still assess the terrain in a tactical manner.
The major difference about me was I was prepared for this, so as it was happening I was more of an observer than actually stuck in this loop of thinking I was in Afghanistan still. I would literally think "my brain thinks it's still in Afghanistan" because of this I believe I rehabilitated back to life as I knew it really fast.
My Top 5 Tips For Post Deployment Rehab
1. Prepare during the pre-deployment phase. Before I deployed I was given information about the process of returning home, I did what most didn't do, I read it. This helped me know I wouldn't be "me" when I got home, to expect it to take time to get back to that place. This enabled me to prepare my family to support me during this period, so if I wasn't feeling like doing something they would leave me to it and give me space. Before you deploy, sit down with your loved ones and let them know you will require their support when you return and let them know your plan for returning to normal life.
2. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. When you get home after deployment, it has been some time since you were able to kick back and have a few cold beers or a whiskey on the rocks with the boys (or girls). My biggest piece of advice to you is to post pone it, for at least 4-6 weeks, I personally didn't drink for 2-3 months, not one drink. Alcohol is a depressant, the more you drink the more it begins to effect the chemical balance in your brain. You can go from chilled, cool, calm and relaxed to a complete mood change where something might happen that you just don't need post deployment.
3. Establish routine. In order to rehab back into "normal" life you need to get your routine back. Operations are demanding, filled with long periods of concentration, night work and the underlying stress of being in a combative environment. Make sure you reinforce a time you go to sleep and a time you wake up. Build a routine that you stick to and one that enhances your recovery, for example waking up and going to the gym before you come home and read a book or spend time with your family and friends.
4. Start or maintain your physical training routine. There are many studies that back this up, physical training enhances mental health, it just makes you feel good. It doesn't matter if it's going to the gym, running, cycling, hiking, walking or a combination of them all, establish a training routine and stick to it.
5. Take time to process your thoughts and feelings. You have to take some time out to be alone, to process the thoughts and feelings, to make sure everything is dealt with so that you can move on. For me it was soaking in a hot bath, it gave me the mental satisfaction of knowing I was looking after myself, gave me a great environment to process everything and to think about the future and what I wanted to do moving forward. Whilst I personally believe it was good to have alone time you might like to talk with a friend or a health professional, there is no shame in reaching out to someone for a conversation.
The most important thing post deployment is that you look after yourself. Try some of the tips above and see how they work for you. If you're ever struggling our team is here for you, yes we are a brand but behind the brand is real people who have been through the same experiences as you. If not us then reach out to friends, family or a professional, remember you are not alone.
One thing I ask to any of you who make it this far is if you know anyone who has deployed, is deployed or might benefit from this blog please send it to them so that they can have the right tools to look after themselves and return back to fighting fit.