There is a lot I find hard to remember from my time in Afghanistan, and the military in general. Sometimes I wonder if this is my mind slowly removing memories that are toxic to my health. Or if this is a positive sign I am, in fact, moving on from the experience. I am healing. This is an aspect in my mental health that sometimes has been more difficult to fully come to grips with. A part of me feels relief, that many memories from my past no longer haunt me in the way they once did. Then again, I awake some days and the poisonous vines of mental health creep into my mind, causing me to feel guilt, and betrayal. How dare I forget.
One aspect I believe I shall never forget, are the mountains. Damn those beautiful mountains. I found myself, quite often, looking out into the vast emptiness of the Afghanistan scenery, not fully able to enjoy the beauty in the landscape that surrounded me. I cursed, and complained inwardly at every step I took up the dauntingly aggressive vertical slopes that couldn’t possibly serve us any purpose in scaling. Day and night, I walked up and down the countryside. Hours and hours in silent patrolling, walking. Isolated inside my head, because communication was only held when required outside the wire (base). Catching glimpses of your fellow soldiers walking near you, seeing the familiar wearied look upon their faces that shrouded my very being. Growing tired, feeling complete and utter discomfort, in misery. Maintaining a stone-cold gaze. Diligently warding off complacent tendencies. However, I knew the very thoughts that circulated inside their minds were the same thoughts that were in mine. In all of us.
I took comfort in the misery I knew my fellow soldier to be experiencing. Not because I wished this upon them. It was quite the opposite. I knew that in every step they took forward, was a step I also would be pushed and driven, to take. In the same way, I knew that each step I took was also pushing them to follow.
What is the significance of this?
My war with mental health found itself often feeling like those mountains. One continuous steep incline, towering higher and higher. Aggressive slopes, seemingly serving no logical purpose to scale. Pushing, in agony, upwards. Holding onto the hope that once over the top, you would finally be heading back down. Only to be met with the realization that the vertical slope itself, covered the next peak in view. So, what do you do? You carry on. Because once you find yourself halfway up a mountain such as this, there is no turning back. Finally, you take one last step. You’re at the top. You lookout, in a moment of relaxation, feeling accomplished and at ease. This is a fleeting feeling. A false sense of hope. You had not only not climbed the highest peak that lay before you, but you were miles and miles away from the end of your journey. Casting your gaze from your first conquered battle, seeing the beautiful mountains still yet to come. The challenges that lay before you.
If you’re someone reading and following my page, and you’re near the beginning of your journey, you will find yourself in a similar state. Feeling as though every mountain you climb will never end. But it will. You will find that each time you think you have finally reached the top. It was but one peak, needed to be scaled, in your path. Maybe you have already been struggling with mental health for some time. Hopefully this correlation resonates within you, helping seat some solace and comfort in your soul. Maybe, catching a glimpse of my struggle, will help push you forward on your mission. There will be long days and even lonelier nights.
A war is not won in a single battle; however, it can be lost in one.
Do not lose hope. Do not give up. For at the end of your journey you will lay your head down on a pillow. In that moment, you will feel the weight lifted from your shoulders, you will rest your weary feet, and you will smile once more.